Handy Tips for Working Parents to Lower Their Child Care Cost

You won't spend a fortune when you use these child care hacks

Updated 03/30/19
Credit: Nick David. Getty Images

The cost of good child care in some cases can reach over $30,000 a year. Even a Saturday night date starts to get pricey when you include the cost of babysitting. But don't let a dollar sign scare you! you can still have a full life around your children and save money in the process. 

Here are some ideas on how to lower your child care cost.

Create a Child Care Budget

The first step to saving money is to figure out how much you are spending currently. What is the rate of your daycare or babysitters? If you don't know the answer to this question any dollar amount may seem steep. Take a look at your overall spending to see where you could cut back. Once you have a figure in mind it's time to shop around for child care that will be within your budget. You'll also know how often you could schedule date night and feel confident about indulging yourself. 

Compare Daycare Costs

When you first look for child care it's easy to dismiss the cost. You are more focused on finding a place you feel comfortable leaving your precious baby. To help keep tuition a top priority, have a list of daycare facilities you're researching and list the price first, then all of the other factors like the amount of children one provider watches, the location, etc. Once you invest in suitable child care pay attention to prices and how they change.

When you are looking for a weekend sitter, not only should you pay attention to the sitter's rates but also if you need to pick them up and drop them off as this does add to the overall cost—if not monetary, it is opportunity cost, or the cost in terms of your time and energy. 

Join or Start a Babysitting Cooperative

Did you join a group with other new moms when your baby was first born? Are there a few new moms in your neighborhood with whom you've bonded with over newborn woes? If so, you've grown to trust these moms because of the stories they've shared and also how they treat you and your baby. They'd be great friends to start a babysitting co-operative or a co-op. 

The co-op can be a wonderful way for you to stay in touch, keep up with each other's children, and save on child care costs. Every time you babysit for another family, you get that number of hours credited to your co-op account. When someone else sits for your kids, the hours are deducted. You could even bring your children along or ask to sit in your own home which makes this a playdate that saves you money. 

If there's no babysitting co-op in your neighborhood, start one! Invite other parents in your child's daycare center or preschool. You might begin with a get-to-know-you potluck or trip to the playground. It's important that each member is comfortable with the other adults' parenting styles and trusts that they'll keep her children safe.

To help keep track of time use an app like Baby Sitting Co-op, TimesFree, or Sit4Sit.

Barter Your Services for Babysitting

Maybe you've found the ideal daycare center for your needs, but the cost is too steep. Ask the director if they need any part-time assistance in the office that might win you a tuition discount.

If you have a special skill like accounting, fundraising, or social media administration, even better. There's always more filing to be done, and parents to call about the wait list. You'll never know unless you ask.

You may find your skills come in handy around the neighborhood too. Among other parents, you can simply swap babysitting. For example, you could watch their kids this Saturday night, and then in return, they would watch your children the following weekend. 

If you have an only child, a babysitting swap can be even easier than just caring for your own kid, because they play together. With multiple siblings, the chaos may increase exponentially. Your house may look like a tornado hit, but everyone will have fun. And you save some cash.

Recruit Family Members to Watch the Kids

If you're lucky enough to live near your child's grandparents, aunts, or uncles, ask them if they'd be able to watch your offspring one or two days a week. You could ask them to do it for free, or offer to pay them, even if it's just gas and expenses. Many grandmothers would accept below market rates to help you out and because they'd relish the bonding opportunity. 

For far-off relatives, consider whether they might visit for a month in the summer to care for your little ones. Or if your children are old enough, send them to your relatives for a week or two. You might enjoy the novelty of a quiet house at the end of the work day.

Even your older children can participate by helping to watch their younger siblings after school, while you get work done. It's up to you whether this counts as a family chore, or deserves a token monetary reward. Either way, it's much cheaper than a regular babysitter.

Use Neighborhood Children as Mother's Helpers

Some young teenagers adore babies and preschoolers and consider it an honor to spend a couple of hours playing with them while we have a meeting in our home or get some work done.

Plus, they charge less per hour. Compare what they would appreciate as an allowance to the rate you may give high school students to what you may offer high school graduates and college attendees, or even your daycare center's teachers for babysitting typical rate. 

You should never leave a mother's helper alone with your children. Her job would be to keep your kids occupied enough for you to attend to things that require undivided focus. Tweens certainly have more energy for active play than a lot of adult babysitters! Perhaps their moms may volunteer to come over and supervise if you need to leave the house.

When you use a mother's helper you create a bond between your children and the local tweens. Hopefully, as these helpers grow up they become more responsible, and will continue to babysit. You'll feel confident leaving your children with a babysitter they've known for years. 

Consider Hosting an Au Pair

If you have a guest room in your basement that has its own bathroom and is private you could consider hosting an au pair. You may find women in their early or mid-20s, who are more mature and independent than some of the teenage au pairs. Your children may love learning about another culture and language. Take into consideration though that you'd be living with an unknown young woman, whose English skills might be poor and would have to adapt to America.  

Au pairs are much cheaper than nannies, although you do have to pay room and board. An au pair cannot legally work more than 45 hours a week, so think carefully about the time you'll need. If it's less than 40 hours a week, you also have a built-in weekend sitter!

Take the Tax Credit for Child Care and Open a Flexible Spending Account

All working parents should look at taking the federal tax credit for child care expenses. Up to 35 percent of your costs may qualify, with a cap of $3,000 per child. Check with your tax preparer or the Internal Revenue Service for the specifics on qualifying for and claiming the credit.

Even better, ask whether your employer offers a flexible spending account for dependent care. You decide how much pre-tax money to deduct from your paycheck for child care costs, up to a cap. The tax benefits may be better than independently filing for the credit if your employer sets a high limit.

Explore Public and Charitable Options

Some local governments offer publicly funded pre-kindergarten programs for 4-year olds. They may also provide enrichment programs for older preschoolers that can reduce the amount of time you need to pay for private child care.

You also should investigate care provided by your local YMCA, JCC, or churches. While each program varies, child care given by a nonprofit may be less expensive because there's no need to return profits to corporate shareholders or company owners.

Adjust Your Work Schedule

You and your spouse could try splitting shifts to reduce the time your children are in care. If your spouse works the day shift and you're able to work the night shift, you can eliminate paid child care altogether. Or you work Monday through Friday and he works Wednesday through Sunday, cutting your child care expenses to three days.

This can be tough on your relationship, though, so think through how you will keep solid marital and family bonds. Can you have an early dinner together, after he gets off but before you start? How about a breakfast "date" just the two of you, once a week?

A less exhausting alternative is to move your schedule slightly. If you work 7 am to 3 pm and your partner works 10 am to 6 pm, you'll need less child care and save a boatload. Again, plan out family time so that your marriage and family unit remain strong.

Don't assume that your employer won't let you negotiate a different schedule. You won't know unless you ask!

Look Into Working From Home

Similarly, working from home or telecommuting can cut your child care costs. Even if it's one day a week, it can save you money.

If your children are young, you'll probably still need full-time child care in order to get your work done. But you'll save the time of dressing for work, and commuting, which probably will result in a shorter day of child care. And less child care means more money in your pocket.

As your kids grow older, they'll be able to amuse themselves or start on their homework, while you wrap up your workday. You might even teach them to set the table and begin dinner preparations.

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