Fatherhood

Money can’t buy you happiness, but it can make you happy with having children

Our fatherhood columnist Jamie Millar looks into the costs (both avoidable and unavoidable) of raising a child in the city - and how to hack the system

A study of one million Europeans in 35 countries over 10 years, published in February by America’s National Bureau of Economic Research, sought to explain the ‘common finding of a zero or negative correlation between
the presence of children and parental wellbeing’. In other words: why having children appears to make parents no happier, or less happy. After controlling
for financial difficulties, the researchers found that having children does make parents happier, but only if they have no problem paying the bills.

The total bill for raising a child in the UK until they turn 18 stands at £151,000 for couples, according to the Child Poverty Action Group charity’s annual report.

That rises to £185,000 for lone parents, which perhaps explains why the NBER study found that children ‘do not raise happiness for singles, the divorced, separated or widowed’.

Those figures include rent and childcare, with the latter constituting nearly half. Regular readers may remember that I wrote about the cost of childcare in a previous column. The day after I filed the copy, our eldest daughter’s nursery fees went up, without warning, by £400 a month. (At another nearby nursery, fees doubled overnight). If our youngest daughter starts there early next year, we’ll be forking out three times what we do on accommodation. Still, that’s a First World problem compared to lone parents earning the national ‘living wage’, or a median income, who are 21 and 16 per cent short respectively of meeting their families’ needs.

Childcare is not something you want to skimp on if you can help it. But there are other areas where you can economise. ‘Baby travel systems’ can set you back as much as a second-hand car if, like us, you’re a sucker for bougie buggy brands. We bought a used Bugaboo Bee, which costs the best part of a grand new with all the extras, from a friend for £200. It needed a little more outlay before it was roadworthy, but not much. When our second came along, we picked up a Phil & Teds double buggy on Shpock for £90 – with all the extras.

Wanting everything pristine for your precious cargo, particularly your first, is entirely understandable. But so fast do children grow out of things that some of their clothes don’t even have the chance to get stained. My wife regularly unearths very wearable items by chichi brands – Polarn O Pyret, Petit Bateau, Mini Boden – at our local Salvation Army charity shop for 50p apiece. Books are similarly priced – with free pen and teeth marks, yes, but new versions won’t stay spotless for long. Not that you need to buy books at all: every Saturday, we choose a ‘new’ selection, protected in plastic jackets, from the library.

Two things worth investing in, if you can afford it, are biodegradable nappies (we use Naty) and shoes that support development (we like Clarks). Expensive electronic toys that masquerade as ‘aids’, less so. It’s a cliché that children play with the packaging more, but true. And I’m pretty sure that they learnt to walk and talk just fine before these high-tech dust collectors came along. The only thing getting played on is your insecurities. If you really want to help your child’s education, save the money towards their university fees.

Jamie Millar is our fatherhood writer – when he’s not browsing the kids’ section in Bethnal Green Library with his daughters