Priceless but pricey: The high cost of raising kids in Utah Valley

If you have four kids, you truly have a million dollar family.

It costs a lot to raise a family in Utah Valley. A USDA study reported that it costs about $241,080 to raise a a child from birth to age 17. (Photo by

With $241,080, you can buy more than 68,000 J-Dawg hot dogs, sit in legacy seats at BYU football games with your best friend for 89 years or fly from Salt Lake City to Hawaii six times a year for the next 54 years. Or, you could raise a child in Utah Valley. Take your pick — the cost is the same.

According to a study released Wednesday by the USDA, today’s parents can expect to spend around $241,080 raising a child born in 2012 from birth to age 17. That estimate includes housing (30 percent of the cost), childcare and education (18 percent) and food (16 percent), along with transportation, health care, clothing and other miscellaneous costs. The number does not include any college costs and indirect costs such as time and foregone earnings and career opportunities.

The most expensive place to raise a child is the urban Northeast, followed by the urban West, which includes Utah. And while there aren’t any official statistics outlining the cost to raise a family in the Beehive State, it isn’t cheap — especially for Utah County’s large families. Here, every cost from diapers to daycare and music lessons to mp3 players is often multiplied by four or five, or even more. Although most parents are happy to pay the price for their priceless children — spread over 17 years, of course — that doesn’t make it easy to foot the bill.

School Fee Blues

Jann and Mike Theurer of Orem adopted their five children, so the sticker shock of parenthood started early. Jann Theurer said they spent an estimated $80,000 for adoption-related legal and medical fees, “so it was extremely expensive even to get them here.”

Jann and Mike have a 19 year-old daughter on an LDS mission in Virginia, a 15-year-old daughter in high school, a 14-year old son in junior high, and 10-year-old and 9-year-old sons in elementary school. When their kids were younger, the couple thought life would be less expensive once they had all of the kids out of diapers and preschool but costs have only gone up.

“I thought that it would be cheaper but it’s more expensive,” Jann Theurer said. “We just did the high school fees for my 15 year-old and it was almost $400. The fees for my junior high student were $188. It just adds up.”

Marsha Judkins, a Provo mother of seven children, remembers when she had several kids in middle school and high school that “we spent more getting them through school then we did at Christmastime.”

“It really does get more and more expensive,” Judkins said, a member of the Provo School District Board of Education. “Lucky for most people their incomes go up as they age, because they have more experience in their jobs, but you still feel like you can never catch up sometimes. You keep falling further behind.”

There are school fee waivers for families below a certain income level, Judkins said, but not everyone who needs help qualifies.

“If you have below a certain income it is free to you, which is great and as it should be,” Judkins said, “but if you’re in that bracket that’s just above it where it’s not free but you’re still struggling, it can be hard to pay those fees.”

From Baseball to Braces

Aside from basic school fees, parents of students that participate in activities like football, cheerleading and dance teams can expect ongoing costs for uniforms and gear, travel and banquets. And then there are private lessons and activities that come with a high pricetag too.

Throughout the years, the Theurers have allowed their kids to try different activities to discover where their talents and interests were. Some of kids are more interested in lessons than others, and Jann says they spend an average of $80 a month per child — that’s around $320 for all four kids at home. But there are definitely expensive exceptions.

“Our oldest daughter was really talented in music and it gets expensive when they want to take lessons from professors,” Jann Theurer said. “We just decided that we were going to see it through. When she was taking lessons from a BYU professor and we were paying for a new saxophone, it was probably $300 just for her. But she was a Sterling Scholar in music and valedictorian at Orem High, and she got a full scholarship to BYU. So the investment we made in her paid off.”

There are dozens of other costs to raising kids, too, including essential expenses like braces, which cost thousands of dollars even with dental insurance, to optional expenses such as cell phones or a car. Martta Mella of Orem, a mother of six, said her car insurance went up a $100 a month when they added their teenage daughter to the policy. “That’s $1,200 a year, that’s a huge amount of money,” Mella said. “When you add those expenses on top of the school fees and everything else it really adds up.”

Saying ‘No’ to Say ‘Yes’

During the summertime, regular costs like piano lessons and school lunch fees are on a temporary hiatus, but expenses such paying $470 for a week at Especially for Youth or dropping hundreds of dollars on sports camps come into play. For the Theurers saying “yes” to these activities means saying “no” to expensive family vacations to places such like Disneyland.

“We felt like it was better for our kids to have the experience of playing on a football team or doing something that was more expensive that would affect them for a longer period of time,” Jann Theurer said. “We’ve even gone into debt before for a certain lesson or instrument because we felt like our kids’ talents are worth investing in.”

Still, like many parents, they can’t afford to pay for everything their kids want to do and must simply say “no” sometimes.

“As a parent you see your kids’ potential and you want them to be able to participate in these things that grow their potential,” Jann Theurer said. “It’s hard to pick and choose — hard for them and hard for you.”

In order to keep their budget in check and their schedules from spiraling out of control, Mella allows her children to do only one activity at a time. Even though that may not sound like a lot, six kids doing one thing each quickly adds up, she said, and requires them to cut back in other ways.

“We are pretty conservative,” she said. “We don’t do expensive things for entertainment during the week and we don’t eat out a lot. Our vacations are pretty limited to every other year or we go smaller places in between.”

Worth Every Penny

In some neighborhoods, parents and their kids feel an enormous amount of pressure to do it all. Marsha Judkins said she and her husband made a conscious decision to stay in their Provo neighborhood in order to avoid a “keeping up with the Jones” mentality.

“We do not feel that competition where we live,” Judkins said. “Most people are in the same boat as us.”

Even parents who don’t feel that external pressure may still have a hard time telling their kids no or turning down opportunities they think would really benefit a child.

“I feel probably like most parents where you want to raise kids that are sort of like Renaissance kids, where they have exposure and opportunities to experience different things that will make them more well-rounded and help them find strengths in an area,” Judkins said.

And while the cost of raising a child is high, Judkins said she tries to focus on the end result. “We live in a community that is family oriented, and we invest in our children so their lives can be happy and productive.”


Natalie Hollingshead is a former magazine editor turned freelance writer and editor. She writes regularly about home, family, food and travel for a handful of publications, and is co-author of the book "Happy Homemaking” (Cedar Fort, 2012) with Elyssa Andrus. A native of Alberta, Canada, Natalie lives in Orem with her husband and their three children.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *