Kids are priceless in more ways than one

I could have been a multimillionaire. A regular Warren Buffett, or at least a Jimmy Buffett.

That’s what I concluded after seeing the government’s projected cost for raising kids in America, and added up what I’ve spent over the years. Even though I was never very good in math and relinquished the responsibility of balancing the checkbook to my wife long ago, I figure I spent a whole lotta money in my role as Big Daddy and Provider-in-Chief.

If I didn’t have four daughters, I could have put all that cash toward meaningful causes like philanthropy, a vintage Harley, a hot tub or two, a time-share in St. Barts, research to find a cure for male-pattern baldness or at least a hair transplant. For the price of one semester of college, I could have gotten a full head of hair, and it would have been black

The Agriculture Department, or maybe it was Homeland Security, recently released a report that said a middle-class family will spend $241,000 to raise a kid until age 18.

But, I have to wonder, what kid leaves home at 18? And let’s not forget additional expenses like paying for college and weddings, along with car insurance, premium cable service and J.Crew sales days. These are the things that make financial planners mutter to themselves and parents gasp for breath.

The government’s estimate includes seven areas of spending, such as housing, clothing and transportation. Of the total, clothing represents 6% or $13,200; health care, 8% or $18,420; transportation, 14% or $30,900; food, 16% or $36,210; child care and education, 17% or $39,420; and housing, 31% or $69,660.

Over the past 10 years, the cost of raising a kid increased 40%, largely because of food, gas and health care. Wealthier families typically spend more while poorer families struggle to provide the basics. Of course, the big metaphysical question is this: Is parenthood worth all that money? Do the benefits outweigh the bills? I would answer with a RESOUNDING YES … well, maybe with a quiet, tentative yes, which means to say I sometimes have my doubts.

My friends who don’t have kids take long exotic vacations, they have candle-lit lobster dinners in restaurants overlooking the rocky Maine coast and they stare lovingly into each other’s eyes while stuffing jumbo shrimp in their mouths, which can get a little messy if cocktail sauce is involved. They also have condos in the Caribbean and belong to the Wine of the Month Club.

I, on the other hand, canceled my gym membership along with my subscription to Hobby Farms magazine, although I occasionally savor a glass of carbonated grape juice from Trader Joe’s.

But my four kids are priceless — in more ways than one. We’re always on the phone, and when they call, it’s only a matter of moments, not minutes, before they tell me about a new crisis or emergency expense.

Fortunately, kids grow up and leave home — if you beg them and change the locks — and when you hear from them, there’s usually a problem that needs solving like, say, they missed a car payment. This naturally means they won’t have a car to visit you in the assisted living facility, when they enroll you.

Most parents sacrifice so their children can have the things they never had. Nevertheless, we all eventually reach the point where we wonder whether we gave our kids too much. Maybe it would have been better if they got less “stuff” because “stuff” doesn’t make them better people.

Many parents are committed to giving their kids any and every material pleasure imaginable, but the things that cost nothing are more important — a sense of right and wrong, compassion, charity, belief in a Higher Power, gratitude, respect and honesty. And that’s even better than a Harley or a hot tub.

Joe Pisani may be reached at