Consider Hosting an Au Pair
We have a guest room in our basement that has its own bathroom and is private enough to house an au pair. But when we thought about living with an unknown young woman, whose English skills might be poor and would have to adapt to America, we decided the trouble and risk outweighed the money we'd save.
Still, I know several families that have had good luck with au pairs. They found women in their early or mid-20s, who are more mature and independent than some of the teenage au pairs. Their children bonded with the au pairs and loved learning about another culture and language.
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
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 you want deducted 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
I consider it a mark of true dedication and grit when a couple decides to split shifts in order to reduce the time children are in care. If your husband 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 work? What 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'll never know unless you ask!
Look Into Working From Home
Similarly, working from home, a.k.a. 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 your commute, which probably will result in a shorter day of child care. And less child care time means 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.