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Families dazed by the running of the bills

  • 10 April 2018


Back in the early 1980s, my dear old mum would dragoon her four kids into our weekly Pamplona; the running of the bills. Sourcing, buying, carrying and putting away the groceries was a drawn out affair. Then, drawing on familial Irish wisdom, she always looked at us and fervently declared, 'There's no point in buying you lot food; you only eat it.'

Mother Dear had a point; feeding the ravenous 17-year-old 'biggest brother', the 15-year-old ne'er-do-well (moi), the sweet 12-year-old-girl and the seven-year-old baby boy meant that she and Dad expended a king-sized portion of their weekly income on a soon-vanished bounty of meat, fruit, grains and veggies.

Parenting is expensive, financially and emotionally. We love our kids, and I would be fibbing if I didn't acknowledge the love and pride — the spiritual benefits — we receive from laughing with our progeny. Seeing them grow. But I'd be lying, also, if I didn't acknowledge that being a mum or dad can be hazardous to your financial, social, sexual and physical health.

Time is a resource almost solely expended in transporting young'uns. To school, church, libraries, competitions, stores and shops. To parties, concerts, sports practices, swimming pools and cinemas. Better still, take the fiscal view. It's probably the only parenting aspect we can empirically trace across Oz, with any hope of accuracy.

Is choosing to be a parent, in and of itself, now becoming a luxury lifestyle? It is a complex issue, with diverse sources of data, radically diverging standards of income and the maze of family and income support programs (e.g. middle class welfare) that were built up post-1970s.

The University of Canberra's NATSEM, the National Centre for Social and Economic Modelling, joined forces with AMP in 2012 to calculate the cost of raising kids. Depending on the age of kids and the income of parents, back then it cost from $86 to $1059 per week. On average, they found, parents spent from $144 to $717 per child each week.

All up, the study found the average middle class family was destined to shell out $406,000 per child, from the day you bring them home until the day they fly off to their own crib as adults (which may or may not happen, post-uni).


"I seriously doubt our Curtin Uni friends' belief that single parent households, and single income households, would see their existences as 'comfortable'."


Those figures were up more than 50 per cent from 2007.