The cost of child care shocks most new working moms. In many cities, parents can spend over $30,000 a year for a full-time nanny or two kids in a high-quality daycare center -- rivaling annual college tuition. Even the Saturday night date starts to get pricey when you add 4 or 5 hours of babysitting to dinner and a movie. Here are 10 ideas for lowering your child care cost.
Comparison Shop to Trim Your Child Care Cost
Just as you compare the price of apples in the supermarket with Costco bargains, you should take into account the cost of child care. I'm not suggesting that price is the only factor, but it must be weighed.
I admit, when I was first choosing child care, I barely glanced at the rate schedules of the daycare centers I was considering. I was focused on finding a place where I was comfortable leaving my precious baby -- and that should be your top priority as well.
But now that I'm a more savvy mom, I make sure to pay attention to our daycare and preschool prices and how they change. And when we are looking for a Saturday night sitter, you better believe I call the one with the cheapest rates first.
Join -- or Start -- a Babysitting Cooperative
When my first baby was born, I joined a new mother's group at the local birthing center. Every Wednesday morning we sat with our babies at our feet, comparing sleep techniques, sharing breastfeeding woes, and gradually helping each other become comfortable in our new role. I stayed close with several of the moms after returning to work, and we decided to start a babysitting cooperative.
The coop has been a wonderful way for us to stay in touch, keep up with each other's children, and save on child care costs. Every time I babysit for another family, I get that number of hours credited to my coop account. When someone else sits for my kids, the hours are deducted. Often, I bring my children along or ask to sit in my own home -- it's basically a playdate that saves me money.
If there's no babysitting coop 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.
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 or fundraising, even better. But 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. Or with other parents, you can simply swap babysitting. You watch their kids this Saturday night; they watch your children the following one.
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, I have to confess that the chaos increases exponentially. Your house may look like a tornado hit, but I bet everyone will have fun. And you save some cash.
Enlist Family Members
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 relative's 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
My husband and I love the 11-year old girls in our neighborhood. They 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 $5 an hour, compared to the $7-8 we give high school students, $10 an hour for high school graduates, or $13 an hour we pay our daycare center teachers for babysitting. (If our rates sound high, it's because we live in a big city. My high school sophomore stepdaughter charges $5 an hour for sitting in her mom's suburban hometown.)
We would never leave a mother's helper alone with our children. But she keeps the kids occupied enough for us to attend to things that require undivided focus. Tweens certainly have more energy for active play than a lot of adult babysitters! Once in a while, their moms have even volunteered to come over and supervise while we go on a date or run an errand.
Another plus is that we're developing strong relationships and bonds between our children and the local mother's helpers. We hope that as these helpers grow up and become more responsible, they'll continue to babysit. It's such a relief to leave the girls with a babysitter they've known for years.