Can We Really Afford Child Care?


Daycare babiesBack in the day when I used to work on staff at magazines in New York, I'd see other women in the office get pregnant, have babies, and disappear.

I thought it was because they were doing what they thought was best for their little ones, or because they were so smitten with their newborns that they couldn't bear to leave them.

Yeah, I love Kavi and would love to spend all day with her. (Well, maybe be not all day. But you know what I mean.) But now I know the truth. These women simply couldn't afford to go back to work.

If you've been following my grad school saga, you know that at first I thought it would be simply impossible for me to go, considering the cost -- in cold hard cash, but also time-wise.

Well, we crunched those numbers and figured out how to make it affordable, because after discussing it with my super-supportive husband, we decided it was an opportunity I shouldn't pass up.

Then we realized that to make it work, both my husband and I would have to at least keep working at our current pace -- or perhaps increase our workloads. I work from home, which we thought (okay, naively) would keep us from requiring outside child care. But to actually continue to work and get things done during my ever-shrinking "work" day, someone will have to watch the baby. So we'll need some form of child care for Kavya at least some of the time.

While we were still reconciling ourselves with the fact that we might have to leave our little one under a stranger's care, the number-crunching began anew. And the result was startling, to say the least. At minimum, with in-home care or even just hiring a babysitter locally for a few hours at a time, we're looking at about a grand a month. If we go the formal daycare route, we're matching our mortgage payment pretty easily. Ouch.

Call me crazy, but does this really mean I have to work more to have more free time? That doesn't make any sense.

These are the days when I wish we could revert to that old extended family structure, where grandparents or aunts and uncles could pick up the slack when mama had to work. But alas, grandma, grandpa, and Meena Masi are at least an hour away. Still, we might have to hustle and sort out some kind of family care solution, because I don't know if we can really afford taking that big of a bite out of our budget.

How did you budget for daycare?


Image via loyaldefender2004/Flickr 

baby first year, back to school, back-to-work, child care, newborns, time for mom


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nonmember avatar SKL

That seems like a lot for part-time care.  But, I was paying $750/week for my two kids' full-time nanny.  Luckily I had paid off all my bills before I became a parent, and I am a pretty frugal person.

My kids are now in group daycare, which costs half as much as the nanny (total for both kids).  Since this is my only semi-fixed expense and only arises because I work, I have no trouble paying it.

It does cross my mind that if I should quit "working" for any reason, it would be difficult to pull my kids out of daycare.  They have so many activities there - five coached extracurriculars in addition to healthy socialization, academics, and a break from "Mom's way or the highway."  I could pick up some of the slack at home, but I think I'd regret taking them out.  So I plan to keep working to keep them in daycare - strange as that may sound to the SAHM crowd.

RanaA... RanaAurora

I think that's an unfair assumption.  I'm sure some of them DID choose to stay home with their babies.

Anyway, when my son was about 4, I was considering getting a part-time job, pretty much to get my son out and about for a bit during the say and also so I could pretty much work to buy my own car.  Even with government AID for daycare, I still would barely break EVEN - if at all.  It was pretty ridiculous.

It pisses me off when people say things to SAHMs who are struggling financially "Why don't you get a JOB?!"  Yeah, because adding in tons of OTHER bills is OBVIOUSLY the way to SAVE money...


We just don't believe in day-care.. which helps with the decision since we wouldn't be able to afford it anyway.  We've known this for years though, so thankfully we were prepared to live on one income. 

I don't know how people with multiple kids do it.  Considering the state of most American's finances, I'm betting a lot of people just haven't done the math. and

nonmember avatar cassandra

How is it that my daycare seems A LOT cheaper than that? About $150 a week, which makes... $600 a month? And this is a daycare center, not someone in home. I work full time, but certainly not at a high powered job that's bringing in a big salary and  yet after daycare expenses, there's still money left. Am I just in a super cheap part of the country?

APeve... APeveteaux

Yep, cassandra, depending on where you are child care costs differ wildly. We just moved from New York to California and our child care cost for our baby dropped by at least 60%. However, pre-school is still just as pricey out here.

So if you are unlucky to be in a really expensive area for child care, you can only be working to pay the sitter/child care center. Our income is exactly the same as it was when we lived in the pricey child care region, so it's not like salaries are adjusted for cost of living.

There's a term to describe these early years when you have a baby -- poverty spell. It's when middle class and lower middle class families have a period of time where they're spending more than they're bringing in. Some people can bounce back once their kid is in public school, but many families go into debt and struggle to get out.

It's yet another way our country pays lip service to family values, yet we have no government subsidized child care for working families. The tax break we got for child care doesn't even come close to helping us break even. It's a middle class problem.

Of course if you are poor enough to be admitted to government supported child care centers, well, you're still poor so your "poverty" is most likely not just a spell.

RanaA... RanaAurora

I wanted to mention that we qualifed for childcare assistance at E-5 (more than halfway up the enlisted chain) with only one child.  Doesn't take much to qualify.

I was talking to a friend who lives in NYC about costs of things and I was just appalled.  What is lower-class out there is UPPER class in almost every area I've ever lived in - even the supposedly expensive places! 

CafeSona CafeSona

Thanks for exploring this issue with me, ladies. You all bring up interesting points.

Rana, you're absolutely right, some of the women I worked with probably did make the decision to stay home based on other factors and worked out their finances so that they could manage to do so. But others did have the financial dilemma to deal with it.

For us, certainly, if I wasn't working nearly fulltime hours from home, we couldn't afford our expenses -- my husband and I are both on a freelance income, so we're sort of cobbling together a living, really. But we do live in an expensive area, and given the expense of grad school, the cost of child care is hard to swallow, especially considering that I have the privilege of working from home. Obviously, we choose to live here, but it's a location that's viable for both of us workwise, and relatively close to where I grew up and to family, so there are factors involved in that decision besides just wanting an urban lifestyle.

Alas, I think we're just going to have to cut out other frills to make sure we have a fund for child care, or work it out so that we can have my parents' or sister watch Kavi when needed (which is hard, because we don't have a car). I know people manage, so we'll manage. But I do appreciate the feedback and ideas! Thanks!

Cafe... Cafe MicheleZ

Child care is so expensive in NYC. I work, my husband works, we have twins. And a nanny who comes 3 days a week. The cost of those three days a week comes out to about what I pay in rent, which is A LOT. Still, I feel lucky to have 2 days working at home and the three days in office. I'm not sure how I would make ends meet or even have a bit to save for the babies' future if I had to do full-time child care.

Good lucky, Sona. I'm with you on how hard it all is. But I know you and your family will figure out what's best for you. We got rid of cable, stopping eating out as much, and I curbed my shopping habit. :) Every little bit helps.

Bits08 Bits08

Childcare in our town almost seems like a steal.  We'll be signing our baby up for daycare today actually, and for his age class its only $95 a week.  Its amazing that childcare in some parts of the country is so expensive.

ethan... ethans_momma06

We could barely afford it when I went back to work with #1 and therew is just no way we could ever afford it now with two on any salary I could make. Luckily (after a horrible chilcare expirience with #1) we decided that while it is still hard financially, I will be staying home until they are both in school.

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