EVERYDAY HOME  |  8.8.18  |  by Julie Rhodins

Care.com recently came out with what we would say is depressing data about the cost of child care in the U.S.  It stated that child care is unaffordable by more than 7 in 10 American families.  We at SMG know that child care is super expensive and that it is an ever-present issue for families who are navigating life, work, and kids.  So we thought we’d put together some helps for child care as you make it through this part of your parenting life.

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Budgeting with costs in mind

When you have a sense of what child care can cost, you can look at your budget and make more informed decisions.  Even if there is initial sticker shock (sorry about that!), it’s still better to take a look at it and plan ahead.  If you don’t budget for child care, then you’ll be worse off when it comes time to figure it out.

These are the averages for the most common types of child care.  Because they are averages, your area could be higher or lower.  But at least you can get an idea on common options and their costs as you plan your budget.

Graphic: Care.com, National Average Weekly Rates of U.S. Child Care

Also, this is a link to a babysitter/nanny calculator by zip code, just make sure you also know the laws regarding any domestic employee taxes you also need to pay for nannies.

And here are some additional budgeting tips —

Child care remains the cost that surprises parents the most when they start having children, followed by formula and diapers. With three in four families (75%) reporting that child care costs were more than they expected, the impact of these increasing costs is causing new parents to feel a bit of sticker shock. The good news is 68% of families are now budgeting for child care, up from 58% in 2014. And they’re doing the research on care prices: 72% look online for more information on costs, 68% turn to friends and family, and 51% ask about rates during the interview process for hiring nannies, sitters or day care centers.  (Care.com)

Making career decisions that help the childcare situation

When couples take a look at child care costs (from babysitting, to diapers, to formula, food, clothes, medical care, and everything else), it can sometimes impact your career choices.  This isn’t all bad.  Consider it a realigning of your priorities and the choices to support those priorities.

For example, perhaps one parent will move to part-time, telecommute, or remote work so that there is work flexibility to take care of the child (children) yet still remain partly or virtually within the workforce.

Or maybe there will be a reconsideration of career goals or getting more education to boost career opportunities.  Providing for your family can be a powerful motivator and driving force that maybe you didn’t have when you were single or before children came into your life.

Other times, one parent might choose to take a leave of absence from work entirely, dedicating time to the family and community/school service.  If you’re able to do this, it can actually be a beautiful team approach to supporting the family as parents.  And by still serving in the community or your child’s school, you can utilize your volunteer work as part of your resume, should you like to return to the full-time workforce in the future.  Many times your career skills can be put to use in a volunteer situation, which can also give you focus, fulfillment, creativity, and adult connections without taking away from home life responsibilities.

Look into tax breaks

There are two possible tax breaks available to you to help with child care: 1) the Dependent Care Account, also known as a Flexible Spending Account (FSA), and 2) a Child or Dependent Care Tax Credit.  Talk to your tax accountant about your options and how to set them up.   But for some beginning info — according to Investopedia FSAs are set up through your workplace:

The IRS limits the total amount of money you can contribute to a dependent care to $5,000 each year for married couples filing jointly, unmarried couples, and single individuals, and $2,500 if you are married and filing separately.

Another great thing about FSAs is that you can also use them for summer camps and before-and-after school care.  So, let’s say that you’ve got child care figured out during the school year because your kids are in school while you work.  But when there is any school break, you have to set up child care.  This is the perfect time to take advantage of an FSA.

Shaving costs elsewhere to afford child care

A lot of families are cutting down on extras to make their budgets work with child care.  Areas you can look at include reducing eating out, cutting down entertainment subscriptions, changing how you travel (more staycations or regional getaways instead of expensive trips), learning how to do home repairs by yourself, using coupons more often, meal planning to not waste food, making more homemade meals that cost less, taking advantage of free city recreation like local parks, and dropping the gym membership and doing at-home exercising.  Basically, this is all what your grandma or great-grandparents did in order to afford having a family — what’s old is new again!

Also, in an Ask MetaFilter forum on affording child care, this was one of the responses about how one family was able to make it work:

Your household income will decrease if you switch to one income, but your household expenses will also decrease. Now that I am a full time stay at home mom, I have the time to tightly control our budget, shop for everything used, use cloth diapers, bake, buy in bulk, and all sorts of other things I never had time to while working. Even with fixed costs (rent, utilities, etc.) remaining the same, we’ve managed to get to a point where we are putting as much money into savings as we were when I was working.