Revealed: how the expense of raising a child has soared to an all-time-high
Parents in Northern Ireland will pay out a staggering £238,000 to raise a child from birth until their 21st birthday, we can reveal today.
That figure is higher than the UK average – which has hit an all-time high – and it makes us the third most expensive region for raising children.
And it means that parents must now typically spend more than half as much again to bring up a child as they did in 2003, according to the Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR).
Its annual Cost of a Child report, commissioned by insurer LV=, found that parents now spend 28% of their annual income on raising a child, increasing to 54% for single parents.
It is believed Northern Ireland parents carry a particularly heavy burden in childcare costs.
Marie Marin from the Employers For Childcare Charity Group said the option of affordable childcare had suffered because the issue didn't feature highly enough on the political agenda for over a decade.
She said childcare here is difficult to source, typically inflexible and expensive. And the situation for many is also exacerbated by our lower uptake of financial support than the rest of the UK.
Overall, the hike in the cost of raising a child – up 5% in the past year alone – comes at a time when families have seen a reduction in their child benefit payments and wages have failed to keep up with inflation.
Education and childcare are the two biggest financial strains, with their soaring costs hitting hard-pressed parents.
To educate one child, for example, Northern Ireland mums and dads have to find £75,123, while childcare and babysitting demand an equally substantial £66,113 chunk from an ever-diminishing budget.
Meanwhile, the food bill comes to £21,484 per head, clothes cost £19,399, and hobbies and toys represent a £9,433 drain on finances over the years.
In total, the data suggests that regional cost variations mean we pay some £10,693 per child more in comparison to the UK average.
It should be noted that the figures highlighted by the thinktank's study do not include the loss of earnings from parents taking time off to raise their children – which is happening more often these days as the cost of childcare continues to escalate.
Mark Jones, head of protection at LV=, said that Northern Ireland was the costliest UK region to raise kids after London and the South East.
"Having children has never been more expensive and in Northern Ireland those costs are higher than the UK average," he said.
"As a result, greater numbers of parents are cutting back financially and sacrificing savings plans and products that offer financial security to rising costs. We would urge parents to think again before cutting back on insurance such as life cover or income protection.
"If either parent becomes unable to work or is no longer around then this type of insurance can protect you financially at a time when you most need it."
In Northern Ireland, 87% of parents said they were making cutbacks to the family budget due to financial pressures compared to a national average of 71%.
The report shows the cost of a child's first year has increased the most in the last 12 months due to the rising cost of childcare.
But the costliest years of bringing up a child, on average, are between the ages of 18 and 21, when he or she is likely to enter higher education, as this is when parents find themselves making a significant financial contribution to tuition fees and living costs.
The next most expensive are children aged one to five, when they have the greatest need for childcare and are constantly outgrowing clothes and shoes.
We've used our savings and now it's becoming a big concern
Local government employee Julie Campbell (35) is from Belfast. She has two children – Lily (6) and one-year-old Calum – with her husband Robert Campbell (43), who works in sales. They have a combined annual salary of £60,000.
She says: "Our biggest issue is the cost of childcare. Lily is in P2 and Calum goes to nursery. I went back to work when Lily was six months old and since then we've spent about £43,000 on childcare alone.
"At the moment we're paying about £1,200 a month. When we had our second baby my mother Elizabeth was alive. She was due to retire and she was going to help out with the childcare, so we weren't too worried.
"But three weeks before Calum was born mum was diagnosed with cancer and she died two months later, so now we're faced with the fact that we're going to be paying this for the next 10 years.
"It's had a major impact on our decision whether or not to have another baby.
"Calum gets dropped off at nursery in the morning and we rely on friends to take Lily to school. She gets collected at 2pm and goes to the after-school in the nursery. We pick them both up at 6pm.
"At present we're really worried about the summer because Lily isn't going to be in school and her childcare costs are going to increase because she'll need to go in every day, all day. It means it will cost £3,000 for the two of them.
"We've used all our savings and we're just about managing our monthly childcare costs, so it's starting to become a major concern. We know that we won't be able to afford £1,200 a month for the next 10 years."
We have had to make a lot of sacrifices
Personal assistant Jolene Keys (31) is from Omagh. She has two children – Leah (4) and 16-month-old Joey – with her husband Gareth Keys (32), who is a self-employed joiner. They have a combined salary of under £40,000.
She says: "We're lucky because our children go to one of the cheaper daycare nurseries in the area.
"Initially when I went back to work after having Leah, she went to nursery four days a week and her grandmother then looked after her one day a week.
"However, the cost of childcare was around £500 a month and it was crucifying us.
"Our accountant actually worked out that we were only £80 per month worse off by me staying at home one day a week, so that's what I did.
"It meant I only had to send Leah to childcare three days a week.
"After we had our second child Joey I reduced my hours again, down to three days, because the accountant told us we would only be £20 worse off.
"Now their grandparents look after them two days each week so it means that we're only paying childcare for one day a week.
"We spend about £250 a month, including the cost of sending Leah to a breakfast club, and we honestly can't afford to spend any more than that.
"We have had to make a lot of sacrifices.
"We haven't been on holiday for five years, for example, and we don't expect that to change.
"We don't go out very much and we wouldn't have takeaways or buy clothes very often either.
"All of the normal things take a hit when you have to be careful with money.
"I get childcare vouchers worth £243 a month, which help, but my husband isn't eligible because he is self-employed.
"I think that's something that the Government needs to really look at."