Budgeting for child care

If you’ve entered the world of parenting without looking into the price of childcare (and really, who looks into the cost of child care before taking the leap?), prepare for some serious sticker shock.

Child care is expensive.

Now that you’ve faced that harsh reality, here’s what you should do:

  1. Take stock of your finances: It pays to sit down – with your partner, if you have one, or if you don’t, with a trusted (and financially gifted) friend or relative – and take a cold, hard look at your financial picture. What are you making? How much are you spending? What’s left over? If necessary, what can you cut?
  2. Gather info: Make some calls; talk to friends, colleagues and neighbors; go on local parenting websites and forums; subscribe to local listservs; and try to get a sense of what the going rate is for daycare centers, in-home providers and family child care centers are in your area.
  3. Do the math: Figure out what you can spend. Can you afford to pay a nanny top dollar? Does it make more economic sense for you to trim back or stagger your hours at work so that you can spend more time at home with your child and save on child care? Can you ask a friend or neighbor with a child to go in on a nanny share or figure out a way to trade off looking after the children to hold down costs?
  4. Factor in incidentals: Do you expect to pay transportation for your sitter to and from your home? Are there other fees your daycare charges throughout the year such as lunches, trip fees, or extra instruction? Will you be paying taxes and health care costs for your nanny? Have you factored in bonuses for your sitter at the holidays and the cost of coverage when she’s sick or takes a vacation?
  5. Be brutally honest with yourself: You’re not doing anyone any favors by starting your child in a program you can’t afford, only to have to pull him or her out midway through, or by hiring a nanny you can’t really afford. You may be able to pay your nanny at the low or middle range of the going rate in your area and give her raises later, if you’re pretty sure your situation will improve for the better. There’s no harm or shame in telling her what you can afford and letting her know you’ll pay her more when and if you can. She can always say no. Then again, if you don’t make good on a raise at some point, don’t be surprised if she finds a gig that can pay more. No matter how much she loves you and your kid, child care is her job, and she has to make a living.
  6. Keep in mind your timeframe: The years that you need child care for your child will not last forever. Before you know it, your child will start school and become busy with playdates and after-school activities. So even if you have to give up some luxuries – eating out, going to a show – to make sure she’s well-cared for, don’t worry, it’s not permanent.


Besides, do you really have the energy to eat out or go to a show, anyway? Right, didn’t think so.

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