Raising a child is an expensive business and seems to get more so by the minute.

The cost of school uniforms, holiday activities and the latest mobile phones and designer gear not to mention growing appetites will take its toll on a parent's wallet.

According to a recent poll, middle-class children will have cost their parents £318,000 in London slightly less elsewhere by the time they've completed their education.

That figure includes private education, nannies and out-of-school tuition and is enough to pay for a highclass dinner for two, three times a week for 20 years.

But, of course, not every child is educated privately or chaperoned by nannies. Yet, even without these luxuries, the cost of bringing up children will make a noticeable dent in any bank balance.

Parents know, too well, that they begin paying for their son or daughter before he or she is born.

A cot, pram, baby clothes, car seat and room kitted out for the new arrival could set you back £3,000.

Dr Nina Oldfield, a consultant with King's College London's family budget unit, says we never anticipate the cost of having a child.

"I don't think you're aware of the costs before you have a child. If you were, you wouldn't start in the first place," she jokes.

"Children are now dependent on the family for longer and they're living at home for longer. The financial burden is massive."

A parent who hasn't anticipated the costs of bringing up a child will find nursery education a rude awakening.

A full-time place for a twoyear- old costs an average £110 a week, according to a report last year.

If you do return to work and hire a childminder, a full-time live-out nanny costs between £512 and £595 per week in London but considerably less elsewhere.

Even summer holidays are an expensive prospect, according to a study last year, with two-thirds of parents expecting to pay £300 to keep their child safe and amused.

Then there's Christmas and birthdays. Five years ago, researchers discovered children received an average £250 worth of goods, of which 63 per cent was from parents.

Today, the figure is thought to be nearer £400.

Your son or daughter may get a Saturday job but that's unlikely to make any difference.

"Youngsters are not going out and working to contribute to the household.

The money is usually spent on sweets or cosmetics, little luxuries their parents wouldn't buy," says Dr Oldfield.

All children need feeding but you'll spend more on boys than girls according to Dr Oldfield who says their food intake is, on average, higher.

Believe it or not, a boy's clothing also costs more because they go through shoes more quickly.

Children are increasingly hankering after designer goods and items which many parents couldn't buy for themselves.

"This has become more of a problem over recent years," says Dr Oldfield.

"Children pester families relentlessly to get what their peers have. Even in quite low-income households, you'll often find children have these items."

And the cash flow doesn't necessarily stop when a child turns 16 or even 18. Two years ago, an average of £72 a week was spent on 16 year olds.

Dr Oldfield says: "You could argue childhood ends at 16 or 18 but university costs mean children are more dependent on the family than ever.

"Kids are staying at home until their mid-20s and their contributions to the family aren't what you'd expect.

University is no longer a stepping stone to a good job."

So, if your children go to university and turn to you for financial help, be warned: living expenses and fees now total around £25,000.

And finally, even when they do leave home, they're still likely to ask for financial help if they marry. But then they may learn about the financial burden of starting a family themselves.