Whether you’re a single parent or one of two that work to make ends meet, child care can take a big bite out of your paycheck. Study results vary widely, but in the US, it’s not unusual for wage earners to spend 10% to 25% of their income on childcare. Many working moms reported spending 50% or more! For many couples, these costs can mean facing agonizing decisions about career or job choices. Many, however, may be unknowingly spending more than they should. This article will offer several ideas for lowering the cost of caring for your children while you work.
Count on the Relatives
This may seem too obvious to include, much less list it as my number one choice. Actually, though, many parents are hesitant to ask the grandparents, aunts or uncles to watch the kids, especially on a regular basis. To the parents’ credit, the most common reason is a desire not to impose. Of course, there may be other reasons this isn’t an alternative for some people, but it’s always worth considering. You can always offer some sort of payment, to make it easier on both of you. Most relatives will be happy to help out, and I can tell you that at least one grandpa wouldn’t trade the opportunity for all the money in the world.
Balance Your Work Schedules
It isn’t always easy, sometimes it’s impossible and it may not be a complete solution. Careful work schedule management though, can allow Mom or Dad to be the caregiver more often, so there’s less need to hire someone. If you’re both working full-time, you may see each other less often than you like, and it’s important to be sure you find enough time for rest, so this option isn’t for everyone, even if your job allows it. You might want to consider combining this idea with the one above.
Look into Daycare in the Workplace
Savvy corporations in all parts of the world offer free or low-cost child daycare programs for their employees. Find out what options your employer has available. If nothing exists, make a polite suggestion.
Start or Join a Co-op or Club
Babysitting cooperatives are becoming popular in many neighborhoods, because they make sense. Parents simply trade time watching each other’s kids. The children get a chance to interact with others, just as they would in a daycare facility and the parents save money. Clubs can even agree to pay small “dues” that can go toward entertainment for the kids, gas for vehicles or other costs associated with the babysitting.
Trade Living Space for Daycare
An option that works well for many families is an au pair. If you have a spare room, you may find responsible young adults willing to care for your children in return for a place to live, sometimes combined with a stipend. Obviously, you need to be careful in choosing the right person. Use a screening process that includes a background check.
Let the IRS Help Pay for It
Are you taking advantage of the federal tax credit for day care? Let Uncle Sam foot part of the bill. Qualifying taxpayers in the US may be able to claim up to $3,000 for each dependent for whom they have childcare expenses. Here’s how to find out if you qualify and learn how to claim it.
Check into other government programs, too. State governments offer subsidy programs to help cover daycare costs for families that qualify. Requirements vary, so I won’t go into the specifics here, but this is something you should check into, even if you don’t consider yourself in a low-income bracket. Programs exist for many different situations. You may even be able to use government funds to pay your relatives for babysitting.
Check with Local Charitable Organizations
A surprising number of communities have charities that offer free or very low-cost child care. Don’t be too proud to look into this option. If you’re hesitant to accept free help, make regular donations to the sponsoring charities. Churches are a good place to start checking.
Consider Working at Home
This is one of my favorite options, since I’ve been doing it for more than 15 years. If you have useful skills like accounting, copywriting, computer programming, or anything that can be offered as a service, there’s a good chance you can do it from the convenience of home. Thanks to the internet, you don’t even have to leave the house to solicit work. Of course, you may have to learn to work with one hand while you diaper the baby with the other, but hey, you’re a parent, right?
Trade Your Skills or Talents for Childcare
Don’t be afraid to ask daycare centers or professional babysitting services about performing services for them in exchange for part or all of their fees. In addition to simple typing and filing, these businesses may need advertising space, ad copy, website developing, accounting help, tax preparation services, or even custodial work. Barter can open a lot of doors in today’s economy.
Juggling jobs and family is hard. Rising childcare costs make it more difficult to ensure the safety of our children while we try to eke out a living. I hope the suggestions above will help readers find ways to reduce daycare costs while providing the best possible care for their children.
(Photo courtesy of Senator Kate Lundy)