When my baby was born, my partner was going back to school, spending just three days a week on campus. When I returned to work after my maternity leave, my in-laws had a wonderful time taking care of our child while my partner was on campus. While raising a baby on a student stipend and a single income was challenging, we were lucky enough to not consider affordable childcare a major concern for us.
However, within the span of a few weeks, my partner went back to work full-time and my in-laws moved away. Suddenly, we were scrambling to figure out the best way to find quality care for our baby, and were overwhelmed by the price tags we were seeing.
In my region of Seattle, the average cost for childcare is $1,680 a month, more than many people pay for rent, but it’s not the only place that the price can be staggering. In New York City, the average cost of childcare is over $1,300 per month for children under two, while in Washington, D.C., the cost skyrockets to nearly $2,000 a month. This problem can be exacerbated by centers without part-time options for parents who need more flexibility, leading to parents paying for more services than they need.
Despite working in the childcare industry and receiving a nice discount on tuition from my employer, the cost was still far too much for our little family to shoulder. We were quickly trying to find alternative ways around having to enroll our baby full-time in center-based care, and found so many conflicting opinions and numbers that it made our heads spin. Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to find affordable childcare — without sacrificing what your family needs.
1. Home Care Facilities
While full childcare facilities can come with higher prices, often a more informal approach can come with a significantly lower price tag. Home Daycare Facilities are run out of a private residence, typically in a less structured setting. The cost difference varies by region, but often you can expect a home care daycare to be at least 20% less expensive than a center-based facility.
- Flexibility: Home care facilities, in addition to being less expensive, can often offer a lot more flexibility in scheduling and payment because of the lack of corporate structure. Whereas a center-based facility may insist on enrollment being five days a week or payment being due by a certain day each month, home care facilities have the freedom to work with families individually to find the best fit for them.
- Size: Many families find the size of home care facilities appealing, as they often have far fewer students than one would find in a larger center-based operation. This can mean being more familiar and comfortable with your child’s caretakers and with the other families and children enrolled. It can also mean your child is spending their days in a less crowded environment and a more comfortable atmosphere.
- Academics: While home care facilities can offer more comfort, they can also include less of the academic rigor and structure that one would find in a center-based curriculum. Families who wish to focus on kindergarten readiness and academic instruction may have difficulty finding a home care system that meets their needs.
- Accountability: Since most home daycares are operated by one or two people, there are few systems in place to hold the facility accountable to their practices. While most states have licensing agencies that work with home care facilities on maintaining mandated requirements, the level of support offered to these businesses varies widely by region.
2. Co-op Preschools
Co-op preschools are center-based childcare facilities that operate with the cooperation of all the families enrolled. This often means that each family is required to contribute to the classroom by volunteering or participating in classroom instruction and management for a certain number of hours each week or month. Co-op preschools vary widely in price, but can cost a fraction of standard center-based care.
- Community: Co-op preschools seek to create a classroom community where all parents and families have a voice in making decisions and get to know each other well. This has significant appeal for families who seeks to receive support from other parents, or who want to be more involved in their child’s care than they would find at a traditional childcare center.
- Supervision: Because of the heavy involvement of all the adults in the students’ lives, there’s often a heavy adult presence in the classroom. This leads to a higher adult to child ratio than one would find in most other childcare environments, which is a great attractor for parents who are most concerned about safety and careful supervision of their child during the day.
- Scheduling: Most co-op preschools only operate for a few hours of the day or for a few days of the week, and usually those are predetermined and parents are not given an option for which days they’d like their child to attend. For a family with two full-time working parents, this can be a struggle to manage.
- Commitment: Co-op preschools have high expectations placed on the parents for their involvement in the classroom. Specific hour quotas, as well as parent meetings and fundraising projects, can be a heavy burden on parents who have a lot on their plate.
3. Nannying and Nanny Shares
While most families assume that finding a nanny would be far more expensive than center-based affordable childcare, that’s increasingly becoming less and less the case, especially for families who require part-time or flexible care. Depending on your region, hiring a nanny can cost anywhere from $14-18 per hour, which can come out to be far less expensive than paying steep monthly tuition. Nanny shares, where a single nanny cares for two or three children from different families, can be a great way to further cut down the cost without having to sacrifice paying the appropriate price for an experience caregiver.
- Location: Since most nannies will care for their charges in the family’s home, parents don’t have to worry about school drop-off and pickup adding time and energy onto their daily routines. Parents also don’t have to worry about their children having to adjust to a new environment or adding additional stress to their child’s routine.
- Control: While a center or even home-based care may have its own way of doing things, hiring a nanny allows parents to have a greater degree of control of their child’s care. Things like their diet, level of activity, and sleep schedule are far easier to manage when your child is in individual care or a small group.
- Legwork: While finding any kind of care for your child may require a significant amount of research, phone calls, and paperwork, finding a nanny or arranging a nanny share will likely have the most logistical organizing involved. Recruiting, interviewing, and hiring a nanny, as well as organizing the legal work of hiring an employee, can be time-consuming and complicated. For those looking for a nanny share, finding other interested families and ensuring they’re a good fit adds additional time to your coordinating efforts.
- Space: While many families find having care within their own home to be a valuable convenience, some may find it a challenge. Parents who work from home or who have little space to spare might find the lack of designated care space a drawback from nannying or nanny sharing.
4. Workplace Subsidized Childcare
Recently, many companies have started new programs and benefits to help their employees who are searching for good care. Many companies have childcare subsidies or designated in-office childcare centers for the children of their employees, and many parents have found themselves switching workplaces to have access to the most beneficial childcare packages offered.
- Convenience: Having your childcare provided by an employer takes a significant amount of the legwork and effort out of finding suitable care for your child, and enrollment is often much simpler than enrolling in another childcare center. In-office centers are extremely convenient for busy working parents, and cuts the time commitment down for school drop-offs and pickups.
- Accountability: In addition to having a larger structure to which caregivers are accountable for their classroom practices, childcare centers that are subsidized by employee programs are also accountable to the company to which they are contracted. Having multiple streams of accountability often results in having classrooms which are maintained at higher standards and teaching staff which is better supported by its management.
- Control: Since most workplace subsidized care is exclusively through one or a few centers, options become limited when trying to make a choice. Parents who wish to consider a broader spectrum of options or find a more niche style of care for their child may find themselves out of luck when turning to workplace subsidized care.
- Inaccessibility: While the practice of offering subsidized care is growing, it’s still not common practice to offer this benefit to employees. Even those who work in fields where finding a job with this benefit as an option may not be excited about possibly switching workplaces and disrupting their careers to access this particular benefit.
Making the right decision
After weeks of researching, calling around, and asking for advice, I ultimately decided that I would quit my job and try to find a nanny position that would allow me to bring my baby with me to work — my own special version of workplace subsidized care. But ultimately, every family is going to have different needs and wants in their childcare plan. The best thing you can do for yourself and your family is to prioritize what you need most and find the way that’s best for you.
Katrina Oliver is a writer, poet, nanny, teacher, mom, and avid Dungeons and Dragons player. She lives in Seattle, WA with her partner, cat, and 10-month-old son. She is on the board of directors for Rain City Poetry Slam and plays the ukulele.
Image via Unsplash