The Cost of Being a Better Parent

Remember the good old days? Of course not, because they never really existed — at least not the way they're recalled in old TV shows and movies. But you can still get a flavor for how things have changed by watching old episodes of black-and-white classics like Leave It to Beaver. Speaking of which, here's an old public-service clip featuring Hugh Beaumont before he became famous as Ward Cleaver. (The satirical comments are provided by the silhouetted robots and human of Mystery Science Theater 3000.)

 

If you don't want to watch the whole thing, here's a line that will give you a taste: “The women of this family seem to feel that they owe it to the men of the family to look relaxed, rested, and attractive at dinnertime.”

My, how things have changed.

Not that my wife doesn't look attractive every night, but she and my daughters don't owe anything to me and my son that we don't owe to them (though we have that whole “don't leave the seat up” responsibility).

The era of Super-Dad?
Watching this clip — and this actor who came to epitomize the ideal father — it occurred to me that, actually, Ward had nothing on the dads of today. The dads I know are far more involved in the parenting and household duties than their fathers were.

Part of this is necessity, because over the past few decades, moms — who were already super — have increasingly added “make money” to their list of daily chores, requiring them to become super-duper. Dads had to pick up some of the domestic duties or we'd be overrun by feral children who reeked of decomposing McNuggets.

But I don't think it's just necessity. I think today's dads see an active, engaged fatherhood as one of the big ingredients of a successful life. It's not that previous generations of fathers were bad dads. It just seems to me that today's dads are more involved — not to mention more likely to be affectionate and sappy.

This could be just a return to how things used to be (except for perhaps the affectionate and sappy part). Before the industrial revolution, most people worked on farms or in a trade out of their homes, and kids worked alongside their parents for a good part of the day. But then adults increasingly left the home, and commutes got longer, and you eventually have parents who see their kids for just an hour or two each weekday. Perhaps today's dad realizes that's not enough (and that he should help out around the house more so his wife has some time with the kids, too).

The cost of being a better parent
What does all this have to do with getting rich slowly? Financial planning is often about getting things done:

  • Creating and sticking to a budget
  • Finding lower-cost solutions
  • Researching investments
  • And so on

But it's tough to do that when you work all day, and then take care of the kids and their related maintenance in the evening. By the time you're “free,” it's 9 p.m. and you're exhausted. This, of course, applies to both moms and dads.

Having kids can be a financial double-whammy: You have higher expenses, but less time to earn more money. Raising a child costs $8,333 to $23,180 a year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture [PDF] (which is in charge of this calculation because, far too often, there's little difference between a kid and a pig). The total cost through age 17 is $205,960 to $475,680. Reproducing ain't cheap.

Several years ago, I asked Motley Fool readers for their reasons why they don't save enough for retirement. In an article, I explained that one of the most commons reasons was the costs associated with raising kids (and that's why I eat my children's scraps).

Also, a schedule chock-full of income-earning, household-managing, and child-rearing means you're more likely to have higher expenses due to paying people to do things for you, such as cook your food, clean your house, iron your shirts, and, yes, even help raise your kids. As a wedding gift, I promised my wife I'd learn how to cook. More than eleven years later, she's still waiting. (That's just one reason why I, personally, have not reached “super-dad” status. Another involves leaving the seat up.)

As productivity evangelist Merlin Mann explains in one of his presentations, “The things you COULD do are infinite, while your time and attention are FINITE.” He references Joel Spolsky, who uses the metaphor of a box. Only so many blocks can fit it in it, and if you choose one block, that means you have to ignore another one. All this super-parenting and career-building by both parents means that something has to get left out, and I suspect that is often the boring, mundane (but important) financial tasks, especially the ones that have long-term — not immediate — consequences.

And your point is?
Sometimes I write a post or article, re-read what I've written so far, and ask myself, “Ummm… what are you actually trying to say here?” I've reached that point with this little ditty.

Here's why I think I wrote this:

    • I'm curious: Do you think today's dads are more involved?

 

    • I'm fishing for commiseration. Over the past couple of months, I've found it particularly difficult to get all the professional, family, and financial things done.

 

    • I need your help: How do I finally learn how to cook? A class? A good book? YouTube videos? The Swedish Chef? Börk, börk, börk?

 

  • I love Mystery Science Theater 3000.

Happy holidays, everyone. I'll see you in the 2011.

More about...Planning

Become A Money Boss And Join 15,000 Others

Subscribe to the GRS Insider (FREE) and we’ll give you a copy of the Money Boss Manifesto (also FREE)

Yes! Sign up and get your free gift
Become A Money Boss And Join 15,000 Others
guest
107 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Mike V @ DadCooksDinner
Mike V @ DadCooksDinner
9 years ago

Learning to cook? I can’t recommend Pam Anderson’s “How To Cook Without A Book” highly enough. I learned by cooking my way through the techniques in this book. A cooking class or two wouldn’t hurt, especially knife skills, but the best way to learn to cook is, well, to cook. The more you do it, the better you’ll get.

LifeAndMyFinances
LifeAndMyFinances
9 years ago

Haha! Mystery Science Theater 3000!!?

Squirm has got to be the best one ever! There were so many great quotes in that one!

Bridgette
Bridgette
9 years ago

Learning to cook? I don’t really “get” it when people say they don’t know how to cook. Can you read? (obviously). Try allrecipes.com and find a highly rated recipe that you want to try and follow it exactly. There, you cooked something delicious.

Lefty33
Lefty33
9 years ago

Any post with a nod to the Swedish Chef is excellent.

Here chickey, chickey, chickey, chick.

Börk, börk, börk.

Great post Robert.

BrokeProfessional
BrokeProfessional
9 years ago

I do not have children yet because my wife and I have too many student loans to add any additional expenses at this time (which is sad, really), but I often see people make a choice when it comes to their children and money: They can either: A) Pay for their children’s College Educations; or B) Adequately or close to adequately fund their retirements. There is no middle ground for the vast majority of “middle class people.” I did not think of this when my parents contributed to my college and now I just hope I can make enough money… Read more »

Jessica
Jessica
9 years ago

I’m just glad to hear that I’m not the only one that feels like I can’t get everything done! Everyone else seems so much more together than I feel! I can’t really say for certain that Dads today are more involved, but I know my husband is and it makes things a lot easier! Since he works closer to the day care he drops off and picks up our son and since my commute is long he even starts dinner! He’s a super dad! As for cooking – start with simple things, weeknight meals don’t need to be fancy. Any… Read more »

Rob Ward
Rob Ward
9 years ago

My wife taughtbme to cook…just like birgette said, if you can read you can cook. Have your wife pick out some “easy” recipes at first and take it slow. Even though I can cook it still takes me longer to make the same meal as it would take my wife. Also, get every ingredient out before you start so it is all right in front of you.

I do think dads are more involved these days. And I’ll be finding out how much kids really do cost next August!

Raghu Bilhana
Raghu Bilhana
9 years ago

JD

Can’t you cut the number of articles by other writers and put more written by Robert here.

Robert’s articles are both entertaining and enlightening with respect to personal finance. All his articles are right on point and only involve personal finance.

Feel very good to read Robert’s articles.

Nicole
Nicole
9 years ago

Dude, you need to stop leaving the seat up. I was all impressed at the beginning when you were acting like you didn’t. Seat up is not cool. (And I’ve been seriously considering docking job market candidates who leave the seat up in the coed bathroom near my office… haven’t yet, but boy do I want to.) If you can read, you can cook. If you’re like my husband, you will make some spectacular mistakes (fish cookies…burnt everything) but then you persevere and will become a better cook than your wife. You just need to get started. (Also, I recommend… Read more »

Kevin
Kevin
9 years ago

“Expense” and “Loss of personal free time” were the two main reasons my wife and I opted to remain child-free. Consequently, we’re far less stressed-out than most of our friends and co-workers with children.

This post graphically illustrates why we made the right choice.

Cue all the frazzled, financially strained parents saying, “but it’s all worth it” in 3 … 2 … 1 …

Brian B
Brian B
9 years ago

I know how crazy this will sound, but I learned how to cook by cooking.

Steve
Steve
9 years ago

I offer the following comments for your consideration: * I’m curious: Do you think today’s dads are more involved? YES. They have to be because most families have both the dad and mom working and that has to be balanced with dad being involved because there isn’t enough time in the day for mom to be “June Cleaver”. * I’m fishing for commiseration. Over the past couple of months, I’ve found it particularly difficult to get all the professional, family, and financial things done. There is never enough time to do everything. Something has to give in the overall balance.… Read more »

Betsy
Betsy
9 years ago

The biggest obstacle is that Americans work 200 to 400 more hours per year than people in normal countries.

Meanwhile, almost 10% of our workforce is unemployed.

You’d think the solution would be so obvious …

Betsy
Betsy
9 years ago

… As for learning to cook, I’d start by making a pot roast. Why? High yield per hour invested (your family will eat for a week), vegetables are included (all you need to add is bread, and you’ve got a square meal). It’s basic enough to be manageable for a beginner, but you learn things like braising. Plus, a cooked pot roast feels like an accomplishment.

Jenn
Jenn
9 years ago

Robert – I always look forward to your posts for the humor. It is not a surprise, but still a delight, to see that you are an MST3K fan. God I miss that show!

Thanks for the belly laughs today 🙂

Jenn

Rosa
Rosa
9 years ago

My partner is a way better and more involved father than either of our own fathers, who in their turn were more present than their own fathers – my maternal grandfather was the stereotypical ’50s “get home from work, make a martini, and disappear behind the newspaper” dad. But he just doesn’t have it in him to work full time, do half the parenting, and also learn new things or have time-intensive hobbies – parenting itself is so learning-intensive and social, it replaces most of our other free time activities. There’s time later to make up the money (plus since… Read more »

Chickybeth
Chickybeth
9 years ago

I love all of Robert’s posts, and this was no exception! ‘m still laughing about “Unemotional conversation aids in digestion”. Wow. My husband and I have no time now as it is without kids, so I can only imagine how stressful it would be to have them. When I watch those old PSAs it just makes me sad for people who believe that was the way things ever were. People never really lived like that or there would be no need to even make a PSA about it! If they made them today they would all be about the same… Read more »

Aaron
Aaron
9 years ago

I also learned by doing, but I also picked up techniques like how to properly use a knife from watching TV chefs. You don’t even have to have cable, PBS will do. Watch Julia, Jacque, and America’s Test Kitchen. ATK is like a poor-man’s Good Eats.

Ryan J Alder
Ryan J Alder
9 years ago

“Also, get every ingredient out before you start so it is all right in front of you.” I’d also recommend doing all your prep work before you start cooking anything. Chop anything that needs chopped, measure out any spices. Most recipes will say ‘while that’s sauteing, chop 2 onions’, etc. Later you can multitask and prep stuff while part of it’s already going, but doing all the prep work first will remove a lot of the frustration from rushing around trying to do too many things at once and not knowing how to time it. I’d also recommend avoiding meals… Read more »

Joan
Joan
9 years ago

LOVE the Swedish Chef. Not much help on cooking. Tons of commiseration on the “getting it all done.” Really, it’s a nicer way of putting the concept of work/life balance that gets trotted out in many articles. The question isn’t really balancing “work” with “the rest of your life,” it’s balancing “work” with “family life” with “financial life” with “spiritual life” with “friends’ lives” etc. If only there were only two parts to balance!

Reading “The New Good Life” by John Robbins right now. Speaks much to these same concepts.

ali
ali
9 years ago

I’m going to disagree with the “if you can read you can cook” comments. I know several people who have no problems reading but they have difficulty cooking. It’s not following the directions they have a problem with it’s all the little subtleties of cooking they have problems with. For example tasting your food as you cook and being able to adjust the seasonings is something that many people don’t even think to do because it’s not in a recipe. I’ve seen novice cooks struggle with “season to taste” and also “cook for 30 minutes or until done”. @Robert, you… Read more »

Timm
Timm
9 years ago

Hi Robert

thank you for this nice article. A good resource for minimalist cooking is http://thestonesoup.com/blog/

Donna
Donna
9 years ago

Dads are now realizing what they missed out on back in the 50s/60s. I think they want and need to be a part of their kids life. We have every episode of MST3K (either on VHS or DVD) plus a bunch of RiffTrax (Mike & Kevin) and Cinematic Titanic. Your clip is a classic. We keep threatening to show the ‘Is This Love?’ short to our daughter’s boy friend. We just went to see Cinematic Titanic in Oct at GW. Our daughter (age 15) has been forced to watch MST3K her entire life so she was thrilled to meet Joel,… Read more »

Chad
Chad
9 years ago

The best way to learn to cook is to do it. Go to any bookstore and get a book on simple (< 30 minute) meals to make, and follow the directions. My ability to cook came directly from the too many blocks scenario you mentioned. My father worked 12+ hours a day, and my mother had a full time job. Much of the left out blocks fell to me. I had to cook and take care of my younger sister. All that time still has an adverse effect on my relationship with my sister. I had to be a parent… Read more »

KB
KB
9 years ago

I think I’m in the minority here, but this post had me thinking “huh?” I usually like Robert’s posts, but I’m just not sure that there what the takeaway is from this…having a family is more expensive than not? spending money on kids means you have less to spend on other things like retirement? Both of those seem like no-brainers to me.

If you are looking for commiseration there are tons of parenting websites and message boards out there, I don’t think a website about personal finance is the place for this article.

Jen
Jen
9 years ago

I’ve always hated the he does/she does argument. My dh & I don’t measure who does what – we are a team. I happen to have the traditional SAHM role while he earns our income but we both are heavily involved with our son & our budget. So I’m not going to give Kudos to dads or moms. We both try to 110% to each other & carry each other when one of us needs a break. If we need a break at the same time we just let things go. Learning to cook – just do it. ;O) Really,… Read more »

Janette
Janette
9 years ago

Sart with a crock pot and head to READING http://crockpot365.blogspot.com/search/label/chicken My husband worked at home for four years while our children were in high school. The trade off was that I had to make his salary- so I quit teaching and hit the road with sales. It was the best decision we ever made. Our children are stable, productive, loving adults. I blame it on this decision. I have to tell you , I am sad that no one stays home with the little ones. The whole “day care is good for them” is BS- IMHO (putting on a flame… Read more »

HollyP
HollyP
9 years ago

I’m fully prepared to comiserate. I find it easier now that my kids are a bit older and more self-reliant, so I have a little bit of time to pursue my own interests. My dad was fully hands-off until my siblings and I were nearing 10, and he could relate to us. He was never one for cooking or housework but he did do other things with us. He was our Girl Scout leader, teaching my friends and I to wire lamps and make snowshoes. My husband MrP is much more involved with housework than my dad. For cooking, don’t… Read more »

getagrip
getagrip
9 years ago

“I’m curious: Do you think today’s dads are more involved?” Most are to a large extent because many homes are duel income and society now expects the Dad to be engaged in child rearing. In my old neighborhood all the Dad’s and Mom’s were old school, and that was pretty normal. Most were in labor jobs, and they were pretty tired at the end of the day and just wanted dinner and chance to take it easy and read the paper. The Mom’s didn’t work, and everyone got by. It’s hard to “shrug off” that kind of raising because we… Read more »

Vernor Stanton
Vernor Stanton
9 years ago

This post seems pretty empty of anything useful.

Example:

“Financial planning is often about getting things done:

* Creating and sticking to a budget
* Finding lower-cost solutions
* Researching investments
* And so on”

Gee, ya think? C’mon getrichslowly.org, cut the vapid posts by guest bloggers and get some more substantive stuff up there.

LauraElle
LauraElle
9 years ago

– Yes, I think fathers are more involved. And it’s about time.

– Don’t worry about doing it all. It’s not going anywhere. Or, have the kids pitch in.

– Basic, helpful cook book series: The Best Recipe… by America’s Test Kitchen. They make all the mistakes so you don’t have to.

the other Tammy
the other Tammy
9 years ago

My husband learned how to cook because he was too impatient and hungry to wait for me to get home, change my clothes, feed the baby, and THEN start dinner. So he started doing it himself. And I’ve gotta say, he’s done a great job…he’s a really good cook just from learning off of Allrecipes and such. My only complaint is that he is a very messy cook and doesn’t clean as he goes like I do…but I can live with that! And I totally commiserate. With a 4 year old and a new baby, me working full time and… Read more »

Carrie
Carrie
9 years ago

hi Robert, check out the online cooking classes (5 ingredients, 10 minutes) that Jules offers on http://thestonesoup.com/blog/ . Yup, you can learn a ton from an online course and everyone in the family can watch with you – you get live webinars, how-to videos for every recipe, tips and suggestions for troubleshooting or adapting to special dietary needs or preferred spiciness, etc. I took her Solve Your Dinner Dilemma, and it rocked – couldn’t believe the value for the money, and loved the awesome meals my family shared. If you don’t want to take a course, she posts often on… Read more »

Virginia
Virginia
9 years ago

I definately think dads are contributing more today than they did 50 years ago and it is great! There hasn’t been enough attention given to this topic. Thanks for the great post!

Peggy
Peggy
9 years ago

The USDA’s estimates of the cost of raising a child are generally overinflated, for a number of reasons. (Health care costs are the main exception.) I’m currently wading through their methodology, to update my book. Even the USDA admits that what people actually spend on their children depends heavily on household income and family size. Also, just because everyone else is spending tons of money on their children, doesn’t mean that you can’t get away with spending much less on yours. As for learning to cook, I would say start with a slow cooker/crockpot…all you do is throw the ingredients… Read more »

Joe DeGiorgio
Joe DeGiorgio
9 years ago

Great post Robert—
The best way to learn to cook, to echo the sentiments of some previous posters, is to just do it. Experiment with it. Take a handful of simple recipes and master them.

Crock pot recipes are a great place to start. Best of luck!

Trina
Trina
9 years ago

Dads had to pick up some of the domestic duties or we’d be overrun by feral children who reeked of decomposing McNuggets.

Love it!! Thanks for the laugh today. 🙂

Laura D
Laura D
9 years ago

I learned to cook from Allrecipes.com, heh. I just sorted the results for whatever I wanted to make and made one of the top-rated versions. I still follow recipes a lot, but not as much as I used to. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with being a “recipe” cook as opposed to an “instinctive” cook. The other nice thing about that site for me (although I’m sure the other major recipe sites would be the same) was the extensive reviews that usually accompanied whatever I made. Reading other people’s thoughts and changes helped me gain confidence making my own… Read more »

Nick (Macheesmo)
Nick (Macheesmo)
9 years ago

Hey Robert!

I learned to cook a few years ago just by cooking every chance I could. Heck… now I write about cooking!

My advice would be to learn to make really good tacos. Skip the little packets… you can do better than that.

Here’s my favorite tacos at the moment. While the salad and guac are also good in this post, the tacos are the bomb.

http://www.macheesmo.com/2010/09/hosting-a-taco-night/

Good luck and great post!

Nina
Nina
9 years ago

I love reading your articles!

Yes, dads are more involved. It seems more acceptable to see dads toting around diaper bags and packing lunches as opposed to the typical dad outings of playing catch, for instance.

In my family, I still do about 65% of the child-rearing, but my husband is very much involved. I know this because the times when he’s had to travel for work, I am just about exhausted at the end of the day without his help!

Erika
Erika
9 years ago

I loved this post & the responses. There doesn’t have to be a point! So many people are in the same boat. Dads more involved: YES, and I love it. Still, some traditional things always fall to me: scheduling doctor’s appointments, playdates, cooking/buying food, etc. Getting it all done: I don’t know, I’m lucky that we’re finally in a financial situation where neither of us works 100% full time. We work, we’ve got kids, but we are also able to use our extra time for “admin.” Learning how to cook: Taking a class or watching others cook is helpful, especially… Read more »

Dan
Dan
9 years ago

Robert,

Kids just aren’t that expensive. We are a single income family, my wife stays home and the kids don’t eat much (yet!). I tell everyone that with the tax credits, we were money ahead the first year my daughter was born. Not to mention the happiness they create more than makes up for the lost income of my wife. Nothing better than sitting on the front porch with my wife watching the kids play.

As for cooking help, my brother became an excellent cook but started with this book: A man A Can, a Plan

AngelB
AngelB
9 years ago

When our eldest was about 18 months old, we decided the crazy, hectic two income lifestyle just wasn’t for us. When a job opportunity opened up in a less expensive part of the country, we jumped on it. I’m now home with our two girls while my husband works. We’re actually probably better off financially now than we were before. Above and beyond the cost of living differences between where we lived before and now, we also don’t have to pay for childcare, professional clothes for me, dry cleaning for said clothes, take out for all those nights where we… Read more »

Rachel
Rachel
9 years ago

In terms of learning to cook, the perfect is the enemy of the good. I ‘learned’ to cook just by trying to cook things. Learn from your mistakes (there will be a decent amount) and don’t be afraid to try new recipes and techniques. If you don’t understand something in a recipe, or a technique, ask Google. You want to be a cook, not a chef. You don’t need the perfect cookbook to start, or the perfect knife chopping technique, or a cooking class. (These are all worthy things, but only if you are actually, you know, spending time in… Read more »

Daniella
Daniella
9 years ago

Our kids are 5, 3 and 1. Here’s how we’ve “afforded” them: 1) I breastfeed for the first year and we bought a baby food grinder at a garage sale for $1 so we make our own baby food from whatever we’re eating that day. The price of formula and baby food is insane. I don’t see how we could have done it any other way! 2) I’ve worked part-time off and on, depending on our financial needs. We’ve always scheduled around each other, so we don’t have to pay child care expenses. After all, we didn’t have children to… Read more »

Amy
Amy
9 years ago

I agree with HollyP – start with mastering one meal and move on from there.

In the meantime, definitely find a knife skills class. It will be the best kitchen investment you ever make! (And you wouldn’t believe how much time you save when you know how to use a knife.) If you can’t find a class, this is a good start: http://culinaryarts.about.com/od/knifeskills/tp/knifeskills.htm

Kevin
Kevin
9 years ago

@Dan: “Kids just aren’t that expensive. We are a single income family, my wife stays home” Dan, when determining just how expensive your kids are, are you remembering to include the lost income you’re foregoing by having your wife at home, rather than being gainfully employed? How much could your wife be earning in the job market? You have to remember to include that as part of the cost of having kids. If your wife could earn $50,000, but instead is at home watching Backyardigans, then your kids are costing you at least $50,000/year (plus all the diapers, food, and… Read more »

Slug
Slug
9 years ago

As you suggest, there are significant opportunity costs associated with having kids. You actually end up giving a lot more than you or the USDA could calculate. That said, the gains are even more immeasurable in my case.

Slug

Katelyn
Katelyn
9 years ago

I agree with the people who recommend just finding a recipe and trying it out. Now I know there are people out there that can’t seem to follow a recipe verbatim (my boyfriend is one of them). He seems to find it necessary to make impromptu substitutions and additions to everyting he makes. If this is your case I would definitely recommend buying a book of substitutions. I have one that gives a basic explanation of what ingredients do (baking soda makes things rise, eggs help cohesion of the batter, etc.), and then gives options for how to substitute something… Read more »

Golfing Girl
Golfing Girl
9 years ago

“Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff with Your Family” (Simple Ways to Keep Daily Responsibilities and Household Chaos from Taking Over Your Life) by Richard Carlson is a good read–you can read a couple of pages each night together. Since becoming a SAHM last year, I’ve strived to make our house a wel-oiled machine so that when my husband gets home, his time can be spent with me and the kids instead of doing all the stuff I used to consider “his” duties. Do I like doing more? Not really, but I think spending quality time with him is worth the… Read more »

shares