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Why city dwellers pay more to raise kids

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Many things are more expensive in the big city—especially parenthood.

Raising a child born in 2013 will cost a middle-income family an average $245,340 according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's latest Expenditures on Children and Families report. That's up nearly 2 percent from 2012 babies, who were estimated to cost $241,080.

Parents living in many big cities can expect to spend even more, and probably a lot more than even the USDA report estimates, experts said. Middle-income families in the urban Northeast, for example, will spend $282,480 on average to raise a child, while in the urban West, the estimated cost is $261,330. (See chart below for how costs stack up by region and income level.)

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That premium often means smaller families for city folks. "I see people [in urban areas] questioning how many children they can have," said Sam McPherson, a certified financial planner in Brooklyn's stroller-heavy Park Slope neighborhood.

There's a lot that's more expensive in the city, but school options in particular play a bigger role than parents might anticipate, said Lazetta Rainey Braxton, a certified financial planner in Baltimore. "The whole question of private-versus-public school really comes into play when you're in an urban area, and that makes a big difference in cost," she said.

Expect to pay a premium even if you can cross private school tuition off the USDA's education and child care cost list. Housing estimates are based on the premium for extra bedrooms, but according to the report, do "not account fully for the fact that some families pay more for housing to live in a community with good schools or other amenities for children."

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That can add substantially to expenses. "The hard truth is that both private school tuition or living in a good public school district can cost an arm and a leg," said Daisy Kong, a spokeswoman for real estate site Trulia.com.

Housing in neighborhoods with top-rated public schools is 32 percent pricier, compared with the national metro average of $136 per square foot, according to a recent Trulia.com study. In areas with the worst-rated schools, property prices were 41 percent below that national average.

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High overall costs of city living can also mean it's harder than in suburban or rural areas for a family to get by on one parent's income, increasing the need for a nanny or other child care, McPherson said. Getting into a good day care or preschool can be just as competitive—and expensive—as private school tuition. "In some cases, it's close to what you might pay for a public, in-state college," he said.

According to the College Board, a college membership association, that's an average of $8,890 a year (not counting room and board) for a four-year public college. Although some New York City preschools have tuition more in line with an Ivy League university, at more than $30,000 a year.

City parents also face higher costs for extracurricular activities, from music lessons to summer camp, especially as their teen works to build up a resume before applying to college, said Rainey Braxton. "It comes back to that idea that in urban areas, it just costs more," she said.

—By CNBC's Kelli B. Grant

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