No matter how you slice it, kids are expensive. Even if you try every cost-saving measure in the book — from relying heavily on hand-me-downs to becoming a coupon-clipping fiend — you’ve still got to cover the costs of their diapers, food, transportation, health care, education and day care.
That’s a tall order for many parents of one, two or three children. But how about if you’re a single mother with 14 children — including eight newborns?
With news of the first surviving set of octuplets dominating headlines in recent weeks, TODAY set aside time on Tuesday to provide a reality check about the true costs — both financial and emotional — of raising so many children from birth to age 18.
Needless to say, the price tags are staggering.
According to one estimate from Stacy Francis, a certified financial planner in New York City, it will cost at least $1.5 million to raise all 14 kids to age 18. Francis based her calculations on the assumed annual income of $44,000 or less for 33-year-old Nadya Suleman, the California mother of the octuplets and six other children.
Francis broke out a variety of eye-popping cost estimates on TODAY:
- $22,000 a year in food for the kids.
- $500,000 in total housing costs until they turn 18.
- $225,000 in total transportation costs. “That’s a huge nugget for her, even outside of maybe having to buy a specially outfitted car,” Francis said.
- More than $90,000 for clothing.
- Almost $125,000 in health care costs if the children have no special health needs.
- Nearly $150,000 in day care bills.
And with 10 children under the age of 2, Suleman also must foot the bill for at least 23,296 diapers a year. That, of course, could cost her thousands.
Francis did not factor in the cost of sending any of the children to college.
‘Throw those numbers out the window’
TODAY financial editor Jean Chatzky told TODAY co-anchor Matt Lauer that Francis’ estimates seem low to her.
“Three of her existing children have disabilities,” Chatzky said. “We don’t know about these new ones. You add special needs and you throw those numbers out the window.”
In fact, the Suleman octuplets’ medical costs from their current hospital stay alone could meet or exceed Francis’ overall estimate.
Dr. Nancy Snyderman, NBC’s chief medical editor, has estimated that the cost of delivering the octuplets and keeping them in neonatal intensive care until they are ready to leave the hospital will be $1.5 million to $3 million. The Los Angeles Times has reported that Kaiser Permanente Medical Center, where the babies will remain for several weeks, has asked California’s medical insurance program, Medi-Cal, to pay the tab.
On Tuesday, Lauer asked whether a huge financial windfall, such as a TV-show deal or a book deal, could be the answer and the ultimate salvation for the extremely large Suleman family.
Chatzky said she’s not sure whether such a deal will materialize for Suleman.
“It's really interesting. If you look at the people on reality TV, you either love them, like the family on ‘John & Kate Plus 8,’ or you hate them, like Simon Cowell, and I think America is not sure about her yet,” Chatzky said. “The money has not started to roll in.”
Not only are any future TV or book deals uncertain, but donations have been slow to materialize as well. Women who give birth to six, seven or eight babies are often showered with dazzling gifts from big corporations, local businesses and strangers. But that has not been happening with Suleman.
The news that she is a single mother with six other children — and that all 14 were conceived by having embryos implanted — seems to have turned off many people, and companies are not exactly rushing to get publicity by piling on the freebies.
One baby-products company, Prince Lionheart, gave eight BebePods, small seats with trays for eating or playing, to the children. They also donated eight Slumber Bears, stuffed animals that contain a machine that makes sounds like those in the womb, to comfort the infants. The total value of the items donated by Prince Lionheart was about $600.
Other companies have shied away from helping the family with donations of diapers or baby gear.
“They don’t trust her judgment,” developmental psychologist Michelle Callahan told Lauer on Tuesday. “It’s obvious that she’s got some limited abilities to think things through.”
Emotional costs may be biggest of all
Callahan also noted that the children growing up in this situation face serious risks of another kind.
“There’s a huge emotional cost to the kids,” she said. “The first five years are the most critical in terms of their development. So they’re going to be at risk for depression, social isolation, antisocial behavior, lower academic achievement scores, lower health care. I mean, they’re really at risk.”
Recent news reports have revealed a tremendous level of strain in the Suleman family. Suleman has no job or source of income at the moment. She lives with her mother, Angela Suleman, in an already crowded three-bedroom home in Whittier, Calif., about 15 miles east of downtown Los Angeles.
On Friday, Angela Suleman told The Associated Press she was not supportive when her daughter decided to have more embryos implanted last year.
“It can’t go on any longer,” she said. “She’s got six children and no husband. I was brought up the traditional way. I firmly believe in marriage. But she didn’t want to get married.”
Angela Suleman also said she warned her daughter that she was “going to be gone” by the time she returned home after delivering the octuplets.
In a separate interview with the celebrity news Web site RadarOnline.com, Angela Suleman expressed frustration over the lack of financial help she’s received from her daughter.
“Nadya promised to help me with the bills, but she never has,” Angela Suleman said. “I lost a house because of it and now I’m struggling to look after her six. We had to put in bunk beds, feed them in shifts and there’s children’s clothing piled all over the house.”
RadarOnline.com posted photographs from inside the family’s disheveled home. Clothes are indeed piled up in the bedrooms and spilling out of a closet. A bedsheet serves as a curtain in one of the bedroom’s windows.
Nadya Suleman has said she plans to return to college as soon as she can and eventually work in counseling. She also has indicated that she may rely on student loans to help support her children while they’re small.
These plans raised red flags for Chatzky.
“The idea that she says, ‘I’m getting a degree, I’m going to go back to work, I’ll do it,’ ” Chatzky said. “The degree that she’s getting is going to provide her at most $60,000 a year. She can’t afford to pay for child care alone with her salary.”
—This story contains information from The Associated Press.