Rising parenting costs are causing difficulties for families, whether it’s childcare or higher education fees. What will 2021 bring, and how can parents manage their finances?
The total cost of raising a child to 18 is calculated at £71,611 for a couple
The cost of raising a child is steadily increasing, but has actually been dropping for the past two years according to the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG). This slight decrease has been attributed to a period of almost zero inflation and the reduced cost of petrol when compared to public transport prices.
According to the CPAG, the cost of raising a child (excluding housing, childcare and council tax) from birth to 18 is now:
You can read up about the costs in more detail in our article about how to save in the first 12 months of parenthood.
Children in the UK receive free pre-school education from the age of three. Up to that point, parents who want to send their children to nursery have to pay for it themselves. The spiralling cost of nursery places doubles the rate of inflation and average cost for a part-time nursery place in 2021 is £131.61 per week. This means that families sending one child to nursery for 25 hours per week can expect to fork out more than £6,800 annually. 
A recent report revealed that the cost of childcare rose four times faster than wages between 2008 and 2016, and in London seven times faster. The 2021 Childcare Survey from Coram Family and Childcare, which is recognised as one of the most comprehensive industry surveys, found that parents were paying on average 4% more for childcare in 2021 than they were a year previously for children up to 24 months, and 5% more for children aged two.
Based on this growth, childcare costs are expected to increase in 2021 as well. Parents have already experienced rising childcare costs over the past three years with the government ending the childcare voucher scheme in October 2018. The vouchers are being replaced by Tax-Free Childcare, which is already available.
‘We missed out on the first few months of Tax-Free Childcare after our daughter went to nursery as it's so badly promoted', says journalist and mum Shannon Kyle (@ShannonDotKyle). ‘It was only through a friend we heard about it and immediately signed up. The system is hard to navigate and sometimes goes wrong, but it does save us 20% per month on fees, which adds up to about £150 – a great saving.’
Make sure you take advantage of the options available to parents, which can be read in more detail in our article on financing childcare.
Mintel data also suggests that mothers often have to return to work after giving birth due to high childcare costs. In 2017, 4.9 million mothers with dependent children were in work, up from 3.7 million in 1996. Statistics from 2019 show over three-quarters of UK mothers with dependent children are now in employment.
Of course, money is only one factor. Women are now less likely to choose being a stay-at-home mother over their career ambitions. In fact, 24% of new mothers were more interested in their career after having a child.
According to the latest Office of National Statistics (ONS) release, the average UK weekly household spend was £587.90 in 2020. However, there was a significant disparity in the highest and lowest spending regions of around £200 a week . This has now risen slightly to £588 at the start of 2021 .
The average UK weekly household spend was estimated at £588 per week at the start of 2021
‘Without a doubt household bills continue to climb,’ says Shannon. ‘We order things in bulk where we can, such as pet food, and we change our electricity and gas suppliers and insurers every year to get the best deal. It takes time to shop around but is often worth doing when we can.'
Ofgem announced a lifting of the price cap on standard tariffs for household energy bills in early 2021 to start from April. This will see some 15 million households across the UK with increased energy bills.
Continuing cuts to the education budget could see schools relying more and more on parents’ voluntary payments.
Parents in the UK don’t actually spend much on education when compared to their other costs, due to the state school system. In fact, only 1% of the average household spend goes towards education, according to the ONS.
Parents aren’t obliged to help fund their schools, though, and children can’t be exempted from activities that need parental funding because their parents can’t pay. Of course, there will be parents spending more on education.
There are establishments that are finding novel ways to provide affordable private education despite the cuts, including The Independent Grammar School: Durham – a private school that opened its doors at the start of the 2018 school year, which is charging parents £52 per week.
It is when children reach 18 and begin considering higher education that the real costs begin to kick in. University fees for home students in the UK have risen to £9,250 per year, with a total average cost of £22,000 per student to achieve an undergraduate degree.
‘If your child is still young, then start saving for their higher education now,’ recommends Kalpana Fitzpatrick, financial journalist and founder of MummyMoneyMatters.com (@MumMoneyMatters). ‘One if the best ways to kick start their university fund is a stocks and shares Junior ISA. This is a long-term investment option for five years, or ideally ten years, but the return potential is much higher than that of a cash ISA.
‘But beware: once the money is in, it belongs to the child to do as they please with when they’re 18,’ she adds.
 Trades Union Congress (TUC), 2017