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Mother's Day Card reading  I Owe You Mom
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Before you were even born, you started a hefty tab with your mom. And by the time you leave the nest to live on your own, that tab is astronomical.

You may try to point out that you did not ask to be born, but that's no excuse, really. You didn't "ask" for a lot of stuff: the roads you drive on or the parks you played in as a kid, for example. Most kids do not pay back their mothers for all they were given, because mothers tell you to pay it forward like they did and continue the cycle.

But what if you actually wanted to pay your mom back now, before taking her to bingo or the matinee in her later years? What if you wanted to settle that debt right here, right now? Let's take a look at what you owe.

Note: For these numbers, we're assuming you're a millennial. If you're not, your bill will be less, thanks to inflation. But if you add up interest on these unpaid bills, the number might apply to you, too, GenX and Baby Boomers.


You lived with your parents for the first 18 or 19 years of your life. Let's assume she paid your rent or share of the mortgage on your room. According to the U.S. Census, the average median rent for the U.S. since 1988 is $593, and 19 years of that is $135,204. This figure is about as rough as a figure can get. On the one hand, you have single-occupancy dwellings pulling this number down, and we have to factor in at least two people—you and your mom—splitting the home.

Since it would be extremely difficult to calculate accurately a one-size fits all scenario—you'd have to do it on a case-by-case basis—we can just establish an IRS standard-deduction type of thing. So let's divide that fat family rent of $135,204 by 3.14, which is the average family size in the U.S. Either do your own math on this one or call it $45,000.


The USDA has estimates for a child's food costs by age, so you can add up each year for a grand total. Using the year 2000—a standard mid-way point through childhood for millennials—and selecting from the low-cost food estimate, totaling the grocery bill for each age shows that an average American child would rack up an impressive $30,000 food bill over 19 years. If your parents went for the moderate-cost plan, the USDA puts the cost at $57,000. If you're not sure which one you were on, let's call the play-it-safe standard restitution for mom an even $43,000.

Sub total: $85,000


Insure.com released a report last week that tried to tally up a mother's labor costs for a year to determine a fair salary. Using BLS occupations and their median wages, Insure broke it down into childcare, driving, cooking, teaching, planning activities, cleaning, shopping, party planning, fixing the house, monitoring the kids, doing finances, yard work, hair styling, and nursing. By noting what hiring someone at the respective median wages would cost, they came to a total of $65,522.

This is probably a bit steep, because you'd expect a bulk discount for all these services, and some of the math seems a little bit generous because a lot of it is multitasked: parents are technically doing daycare while they're driving. Likewise, over one hour of homework help per day seems high. Of course, all of this depends on parenting style, so let's call a standard restitution to a nice round payment at $50,000 per year (in 2016 dollars). Adjusting that back for a 27 year-old millennial who cut the cord at 19, that's a $699,725 bill.

Sub total: $784,725

Lost Wages

We've been conservative and we're almost to $800,000 right now, and there's a big elephant in the room we haven't gone over: opportunity cost. After all, it's not uncommon for mothers to sacrifice careers...for you. If so, feel free to add up all her missed income and throw it in the pot. If your mom was a heavy hitter, you may bristle a little at your total, but if that's the case, you can always reflect on the pool, the minivan with leather seats, and the TV in your room.

If you don't want to speculate, or if your mom gave up a career entirely to raise you, you can take the median for the years between 1998 and 2000, which is about $42,000. Let's round this to $46,000 due to the wage gap affecting all the women who were making 76.5% of the men's salary, skewing these numbers. (Yes, yes motherhood means there are fewer women skewing the U.S. median down, so we didn't adjust the $42k by the full 76.5% difference. But stop quibbling, this is your mother.) Assuming you're off the hook for her pregnancy—noting the lack of wage growth in your childhood—then 19 years of $46,000 is $874,000.

Sub total: $784,725 + $874,000 (national median; feel free to substitute your own calculation or, better yet, ask her to do her own.)


Did you get an allowance? Was it for chores or simply a budget for you to buy clothes? Treat the chore money like income, but throw the non-gift expenses onto the heap. Don't forget the summer and after school programs—if that applies—and any college education dollars she may have given you.

Sub total: take some deep breaths

Final Bill

No matter what your situation is, you probably owe your mom a spectacular amount of money—the national median is probably $1.68 million. Which assumes you will pay no interest on the goods, money, and services she's fronted you. If you want to leave labor out of it, and say she did it for free, you could call the total bill $120,000—which is the USDA's child cost numbers adjusted for 1988 inflation (it costs $245,340 for those born in 2013).

Of course, you don't have to pay this now; you could work out an arrangement that you'll take care of her in her old age—and you can calculate those costs accordingly to see how it squares. You can talk about this when you call her on Sunday.