Children are a joy to have but they constitute the single greatest expense for many families. In the UAE, the costs of raising two children run up to Dh60,000-Dh125,000 a year, eating away as much as 25 per cent of a couple's combined annual income.
Major expenses revolve around education and amusement or leisure for children which can easily add up to Dh95,000 a year for some households. The above figures are based on interviews with different families.
Separate figures released by financial adviser Candour Consultancy showed that bringing up a child to the age 18 can cost parents in Dubai a staggering Dh1.14 million.
Approximately, the biggest chunk (Dh400,000) will be spent on education. An almost equally significant amount (Dh300,000) will go to childcare and babysitting, and the third biggest expense will be children's toys, hobbies and leisure (Dh150,000).
The aggregate costs can seem daunting enough, but divided equally by 18 years, one child will set a family back to roughly Dh63,000 annually. Couples with two children can then expect to spend about Dh126,000.
"If you send your kids to a top school in Dubai, buy them designer clothes, eat out regularly, etc, these costs will be much higher," says Darren Ashley, managing director at Candour Consultancy.
Candour's estimates, however, did not take into account the cost of housing and college education. It is also important to remember that the actual costs in ten or 18 years' time will be more than they are at present as a result of inflation, so parents might need to set a bigger budget.
In the United States, the US Department of Agriculture calculated that the first 17 years of a child's life is estimated to cost around Dh816,000, as of 2009 prices. In the UK, raising a child from birth to 21 is pegged around Dh1.24 million, according to a report this year by The Guardian.
Nisreen Hussain from India has three children aged six, ten and 16. In a year, the family spends about Dh150,000 for their children. Around Dh60,000 to Dh75,000 is spent on tuition fees. Extra-curricular activities, such as karate, soccer, religion and private tutorial classes cost Dh24,000 a year, while transportation can run up to Dh18,000.
Like any other parent, the Hussains shower their kids with presents and take them on foreign trips every year. Once a week, they go out to dinner that can set the family back Dh350 to Dh800.
The Hussains recently spent Dh5,000 on one birthday bash, and last February the eldest got an iPhone 4 for her Islamic birthday. "We celebrate birthdays twice a year, according to the Islamic and Gregorian calendars. My eldest's Gregorian birthday is up soon and I don't know yet what she's going to make me spend," she says.
"The cost of raising children has increased. It actually increased tremendously," Hussain points out. For Cathleen Nicol from Scotland, UK, her two girls aged five and two rack up about Dh125,000 in a year. The biggest portion (Dh70,000) goes to school fees.
The girls are taking ballet, as well as arts and crafts classes, so a year's spending on out-of-school activities add up to Dh12,000. About the same amount is spent on clothing each year, Dh6,000 on birthday parties and Dh14,400 on leisure and entertainment. The girls also get big toys for birthdays and Christmas that cost around Dh1,000 per child, plus monthly small gifts that can cost Dh4,800 in a year.
"Life expenses in general are increasing each year with rises in food shopping and fuel costs, and, as the children get older, school fees, uniforms, activity clubs, etc. generally increase," Nicol says.
Pascal Eppink, a Dutch expatriate and father of two boys, aged five and six, says their annual outgoings are rising as well. "It is just gradually increasing each year as they get bit by bit more independent and undertake more activities."
So far, annual spending is approximately Dh96,000. School fees reach Dh35,000 per year, but about 80 per cent of the amount is covered by Eppink's company. The boys also take football lessons which cost Dh45 per lesson per child, and ski classes at Dh140 per person.
Clothing costs amount to Dh7,000 to Dh10,000 a year. "It's not too bad, but it adds up though. They are not at the age yet of being brand conscious, so they have little demands so far. They just enjoy occasionally some cartoon characters clothing which usually do not cost much," Eppink says.
Airfares for the two boys, however, can cost quite dearly, with the family travelling three times a year. Although they don't have a dedicated nanny, someone comes four times a week to help, all for about Dh1,500 a month. Latha Ganes from India says rising school fees are one of their biggest expenses. Tuition fees for her twin daughters, aged eight, have just increased from Dh14,520 last year to Dh16,200 this year. "Expenses are definitely increasing and this is the right time to (tackle the issue) because the school has increased the fees recently," Ganes points out.
Since the twins take Arabic and Kumon lessons, the family spends an additional Dh1,800 per month. Another potential budget buster is the almost weekly trip to the amusement centres and malls. A day out can easily reach Dh250 to Dh300, or Dh14,000 a year.
Lynessa Serrao from India has recently given birth to twins, so she has not incurred any major expense so far, except for the baby furniture, clothes and accessories that she earlier purchased for about Dh2,500.
"These were one-time purchases. Newborns don't need much, but I'm sure that as and when they grow up, the cost will definitely increase," Serrao says.
The arrival of the twins, however, has caused Serrao's housing budget to increase from Dh40,000 to Dh50,000 a year. "We used to stay in one bedroom, but we thought it's too small now that we have babies. Luckily, the rents are not that high," she says.