The (hidden) cost of parenting a (destructive) child

We recently added a puppy to our family menagerie. Taking our pet tally up to 1 turtle, 4 chickens, and said puppy. It turns out puppies chew up lots of stuff they’re not meant to. They’re expensive. So too, are children. They break stuff.


There are all sorts of studies out there about how much it costs to raise a child – few, if any, consider the damages bill. So this study, which uses Calvin, from Calvin and Hobbes, as a test case, is ground breaking research.

“According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, raising a child from start to age 17 costs, for those in the middle-income groups, anywhere from $226,800 to $264,600 total[1]. These costs include housing, food, transportation, clothing, health care, education, and other miscellaneous items (such as entertainment, personal care, and reading materials[2].) Missing from this estimate is an explicit approximation of the amount of damage that children can cause (here, damage refers to that of the break-a-window physical kind, not that of the mommy-and-daddy-need-a-therapist emotional kind). Such an estimate would increase the accuracy of the USDA’s estimate and the budgets of new parents, depending on how destructive they project their child to be. “…

To estimate the cost from damaged goods, I searched for comparable items, with some exceptions (e.g., Calvin’s Mom seems somewhat fashionable, so when Calvin placed an incontinent toad on her sweater, I looked for a replacement on To estimate cost for property damage, I used and (using the zip code for Chagrin Falls, OH). In the few instances in which a monetary value was given in the comic, I used that value.

Results and Discussion

In total, Calvin caused an estimated $15,955.50 worth of damage over the duration of the comic strip (Figure 1). Damage ranged from a broken glass jar[6] ($2 from to a flooded house[7] ($4,798.83 from Taking into account Watterson’s sabbaticals (see Figure 1) and the November start to the comics, Calvin caused $1,850.55 of damage per year. For context, the USDA estimates that middle-income families spend an estimated $1,750 per year on child care and education for 6 year-olds. In fact, the amount of damage caused by Calvin would rank 4th out of the USDA’s categories in annual expenditures, behind Housing, Food, and Transportation, and ahead of Education, Miscellaneous, Health Care, and Clothing.