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BELL'S BIG NUMBER - It Costs a Quarter of a Million Dollars to Raise a Child

Baby with stethoscope

If you're thinking about starting a family, your wallet is in for a shock. The Department of Agriculture says a middle-income family is expected to spend $233,610 from birth through age 17 - to raise their child. Housing is the biggest expense (29 percent), followed by food (18 percent) and childcare/education (16 percent.) And this number doesn't even include college costs!

Here's the SCHOOL BELL'S A-B-C plan on how to tackle the high expenses:

A - ASSESS - Do you have children already or are you planning to start? Take an honest look at your financial situation. If you can't afford a child, it might make sense to postpone your plans. Can you decrease or eliminate childcare costs by enlisting the help of family or friends?

B - BLUEPRINT - Now's the time to map out solutions. Start thinking of situations that would put you in a stronger financial position. Does changing your job or moving to an area with a lower cost of living make sense? Refinancing your mortgage can also chop off hundreds of dollars from your housing costs. With food as the second highest expense, transform yourself into a smart shopper. Stock up on your favorite items when they go on sale. Consider buying generic instead of name brand foods. In some cases, you can't even tell the difference in taste and quality.

C - COMPLETE - Now it's time to implement your plans. If you refinanced your mortgage, use the extra money you'll save each month to open up an account to save for your child. You add to it regularly by scheduling automatic deposits from your checking account into the designated account. As your he/she gets older and starts working, have your kids contribute to the household by paying bills for services they use: such as the telephone or the cable. It will teach them about money and responsibility.

The School Bell has rung! Class dismissed!

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