NEW YORK (MainStreet) — The cost of raising children keeps compounding with experts predicting the lifetime expenses totaling a minimum of $250,000, which puts an added burden on parents trying to save for their retirement simultaneously.
Faced with saving money for their children’s college education, many parents eschew their retirement or lower the amount they allocate into their 401(k) or IRA, putting their own retirement at risk. In 2014, the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimated that a child born in 2013 in a middle income family will cost $245,340 -- that's $304,480 adjusted for inflation.
“Young people may make the costly mistake of waiting to get started with funding their 401(k) or a Roth IRA until the table is perfectly set with all of their debts gone and everything is in place from a lifestyle standpoint,” said J.J. Montanaro, a certified financial planner at USAA, a San Antonio, Texas-based financial institution.
Parents need to develop two plans concurrently - one for their children and another one for their retirement. Focusing on saving enough money only for college means that many parents neglect to accumulate enough funds for their own retirement.
Americans who have at least one child under the age of 18 said they spend another $29 each day compared to people without younger children, according to a Gallup Poll.
Parents should not comprise their retirement goals to fund their child’s education and should strive to find ways to “compromise and accomplish both goals,” said Katie Coleman, a financial advisor with Ameriprise Financial, the Minneapolis-based financial services company.
The true cost of raising a child includes a myriad of other costs, including insurance, a car, cell phone and extracurricular classes such as music or sports. Only 25% of the total price is college tuition, she said.
“While college planning is important, ongoing budgeting is just as critical,” she said.
The amount many parents are spending to raise their children often correlates with income, said Sheri Atwood, CEO of SupportPay, a Santa Clara, Calif.-based company whose platform helps separated parents manage and track their shared child expenses. If the mother generates a salary of $80,000 and the father’s income is $100,000, the total cost to raise a child averages between $54,000 and $72,000 per year.
“We are seeing the average cost to raise a child each year is between 30% to 40% of the total income,” she said. “Where both parents are involved, the percentage decreases slightly to 30% to 34% of their income, but the total dollar amount is greater. Children get more expensive as they get older – parents are swapping day care costs with more expense extracurricular activities and medical expenses.”
Parents who neglect their own retirement to save money for their child’s education are choosing a poor strategy because while there are loans available for tuition, no one can “borrow money for retirement,” Coleman said.
Budget and Tax Tips for Parents...
Examine your budget and look for items that you don’t really need, said John Heath, directing attorney of Lexington Law, a Salt Lake City-based credit report repair provider. Start by canceling any services that you might not use often such as premium cable and Internet packages.
“While you could pay $150 per month on hundreds of channels on cable and high-speed Internet, resulting in $1,800 in spending each year, you could cancel your cable service and put that money toward baby supplies and other expenses,” he said.
Working parents can claim tax credits each year for the money they spend on childcare, said Rebecca Pavese, a CPA and manager with Palisades Hudson Financial Group’s Atlanta office. The amount of the credit ranges between 20% and 35% of your allowable expenses with a maximum of $3,000 for one child or $6,000 for two or more. The percentage you use depends on your adjusted gross income.
Another credit could be worth as much as $1,000 per qualifying child, depending upon your income, she said.
How to Save for College and Your Retirement
One tax incentive for parents is to fund their Roth IRA to the fullest, because they are also an “effective way to save for college” since the contributions can be withdrawn at any time without paying a penalty or taxes, said Heath.
Parents can get a head start by saving for college even before the child is born, said Montanaro. At the very least, before a child starts attending elementary school, parents can start funding a 529 savings plan, where any growth generated is tax-deferred. Withdrawals which are used for qualified education expenses are tax-free. As the child grows up, parents should not get complacent and recalculate the college savings needs if a pay increase or other changes have occurred, he said.
By the time your child is 10 to 13 years old, “it’s time to reassess your college plan at the half-way point,” Montanaro said. By using tools such as FAFSA4caster, parents can determine how much financial aid their child could receive and can help determine “how your savings are tracking against anticipated college expenses,” he said.
Once your child advances to high school, parents should start to set “expectations about the cost benefits of choosing an in-state or community college,” he said. This is also a good opportunity to encourage your child to take AP or dual credit courses to save money on tuition.
Although there is no “stock answer,” the costs of raising a child could easily exceed $500,000 even without funding a college education, said Brent Lindell, a financial advisor with Savant Capital Management in Madison, Wis.
“You simply try and keep it as tight as you can afford, look out at the long term and systematically keep your eye on the spending ball,” he said.
While it is hard for many parents, they must “put themselves and retirement first on the priority list and that means college education has to come in second,” Lindell said.
Once parents can address how they can fund their retirement adequately, they can address paying for college, Lindell said.
“This is a ‘back to the budgeting’ exercise,” Lindell said. “We all know this is tough and the college loan issue is potentially one of the next great financial pitfalls out there.”
Attending community college for two years and then transferring or attending a public college can alleviate some of the headache, said Coleman.
“Keep in mind that your child can borrow money for his or her college education with low-interest student loans,” she said.
Even Montanaro, who is a CFP, said in hindsight he should have made a commitment to “more moderate gift-giving combined with more robust ‘stock up the college fund.’”
“I’m not sure how much we’ve spent on gifts for our kids over the years, but last weekend we spent some time watching videos we had taken over the years. A lot of them were holidays and included images of long-forgotten toys and gifts.”
Of course, additional costs could arise even after your child has received their college degree. A May 2015 Pew Research Center report found that 61% of parents with adult children said they gave their adult child money in the preceding 12 months. Boomerang children can further upend retirement plans.