Everyone knows raising children is expensive. But how do these costs actually affect a parent's overall financial situation? Recent data from Experian suggests parents may be more likely to have high debt balances than their childless counterparts. 

But while parenthood can lead to more debt, children don't have to come at a cost of paying interest. If you're smart about how you budget and you help your children achieve financial independence, your offspring don't need to leave you in hock to creditors. 

Mom and dad holding and looking at baby.

Image source: Getty Images.

How much more debt do parents have?

According to Experian, consumers with children have between 14% to 51% more total debt compared with the national average. The specific amount depends how many children are in the family.

  • Consumers with one child had an average debt of $106,205, which is $12,759 more than the national average of $93,446.
  • Consumers with two kids had an average debt of $119,701, which is $26,255 above the national average.
  • Consumers with three kids had an average debt of $125,505, which is $32,059 above the national average.
  • Consumers with four or more children had average debt of $141,086, which is $47,640 above the national average.

Why do parents have so much more debt?

There are lots of reasons why parents may have higher debt loads than their peers who don't have kids.

Parents may need a larger home, or a house in a better school district, which can necessitate taking out a bigger mortgage. Spending on children's needs may also lead to higher credit card bills, medical debts, or personal loan balances. And if parents need a minivan or SUV to transport their brood, they may need a bigger car loan. 

Ironically, Experian found that the only area where parents didn't have more debt than childless peers was when it comes to student loans. This may be because people with very high personal student loan balances are more likely to put off getting married and starting families than those who owe less for their education. 

What can you do to reduce your debt as a parent?

Owing a ton of money isn't usually a good thing, as interest costs can interfere with other financial goals. It can be hard to avoid big debt balances once you become a mom or dad, but there are some things you can do to try to make sure your own outstanding balances don't exceed the national average:

  • Live on a budget: It's easy to let spending get out of control when you have kids, but if you make a detailed budget you can set reasonable limits on entertainment, dining out, kids activities, clothing, and other costs associated with raising children. 
  • Avoid unnecessary purchases: There's a lot of stuff marketed to parents, especially those having a baby for the first time. You don't really end up needing as much of it as you think, so try to stick to buying the necessities. 
  • Help kids keep their expectations reasonableTeaching your children early on about the value of a dollar can help you avoid raising children who place demands on you to purchase stuff you can't afford or to provide financial help that affects your ability to save for retirement. 
  • Skip the huge house and expensive SUV: Kids really can share a bedroom, as many did in past generations, and a used vehicle with a good safety record can transport your children just as well as a more expensive new car can.
  • Start saving early for the big stuff: The sooner you start a college fund for your children, the less likely it is that you'll need to borrow money to help them afford school. 

It's also important you avoid prioritizing your children's needs over your own ability to save for retirement -- it does parents no good to provide everything for their children only to end up broke and dependent on them in their old age.  

Don't let parenthood lead you into debt

By following these tips, hopefully you can avoid becoming one of the millions of parents with debt that's well above the national average. Your kids will thank you for your fiscal responsibility -- especially if they learn to follow your lead and end up financially independent adults who don't rely on you to make ends meet.