The average cost of daycare in the United States is $11,666 per year (or $972 a month), according to the National Association of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies. Prices range from $3,582 to $18,773 a year (or $300 to $1,564 monthly), which means that, regardless of how inexpensive your daycare center feels comparatively, it still costs you a pretty penny.
Of course, the cost of childcare is dependent upon where you live, your child’s age and how many hours a week your child or children spend in daycare. But it could also be dependent upon the type of childcare you choose — yes, you have a choice. While you may already be familiar with traditional daycares, it's worth looking into these affordable alternatives. These won't break the bank — at least not nearly as much.
They’re there to support you. Call up your mother, your mother-in-law, your sister, the neighbor across the street, your good friend. Chances are someone will have some time to take over kid duties for a few hours while you’re at work, and chances are someone will offer to do it just so they can spend time with those children they love, too. Just let them know you owe them one, or treat them to a meal instead.
Co-ops are an affordable alternative to daycare because families exchange care with other nearby families. Care.com is a great resource for finding co-ops in your area, or creating your own, and it allows you to track your exchanges with points, as well as share tips, advice, news and opinions. This is also an easy way to befriend other parents if you’re new to a neighborhood and introduce your children to others in the area. You still have to pay other parents in these co-ops, but it will cost you a quarter of the price of daycare.
Like babysitting co-ops, exchanges with other parents are also a cost-effective care option and are based upon the exchange of childcare services — except these exchanges are free. If you and another family are looking for quality care but don’t have the finances to fund daycare, consider chatting over the possibility of taking care of each other’s children. If your schedules allow, you may be able to watch their children while they’re at work, and they may be able to watch over yours while you’re at work. My Komae is an app where you can swap free sits; just post a need and wait for offers.
It’s simple math: Hiring a babysitter together will cost less than hiring two babysitters separately. If you’re on similar schedules with another family, you can coordinate to drop your kids off at their house, or visa versa, and hire just one babysitter to care for all of the children. Because sitters are typically charged by the hour, and less so by the kid, you can split the cost. Check out Care.com, Sittercity and UrbanSitter to start scouting.
In-home daycare is cheaper than traditional daycare services — available via sites like Care.com and Angie’s List — and some parents prefer it because there are usually less children at these, which means your child gets more attention. Ask about the staff to child ratio, as many states have laws governing the maximum number of children per caretaker, and you want to make sure that your in-home caretaker is abiding by those laws, too.
Non-profit centers such as YMCAs and churches usually offer cost-free and inexpensive after-school programs for kids. The Y, for example, boasts a gamut of programs from education and leadership options like language classes to sports for babies, toddlers and children of all ages. Likewise, churches often assist parents by offering teen centers where students can go hang out with friends, do homework and play recreation sports after school.
According to a 2011 report from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR), there are almost four million student parents currently enrolled as undergraduates in U.S. colleges and universities, which represents about a quarter of all undergraduates. And the Education Department reports that there are more than 1,500 colleges, universities and vocational schools that offer childcare for not only students, but also faculty members (and sometimes even community residents) with children. You mind find this list by Best Colleges that features the top 40 schools with childcare programs helpful.
Au pairs are people who live with and work for a family in a country outside their own. They help with housekeeping, senior caregiving, tutoring, caring for pets and, yes, nannying and babysitting. You can even hire a personal assistant off sites like GreatAuPair.com and AuPair.com, which help you narrow down candidates by country, availability, age range, gender, languages, diet, religion, years of experience and more. You can also filter by candidates with photos, non-smokers and those with drivers’ licenses. Then conduct video-interviews to go over the length of stay, contract terms, responsibilities and rates.
Similar to hiring an au pair, you can offer a student or recent graduate room and board in exchange for childcare services. While you may decide to pay them, you may be able to find students who are willing to look after your children for accommodation alone. Make sure you set guidelines so both you and your caretaker know what’s expected of one another.
If you’re already paying for a housekeeper, pet caretaker, tutor or anything else, consider consolidating. While a nanny can cost you anywhere from $500 to $700 a week ($2,167 to $3,033 a month) for full-time care, and between about $400 and $650 a week ($1,733 to $2,817 a month) for part-time hours, you can look for one on any one of the aforementioned sites — Care.com, Sittercity, UrbanSitter, Angie’s List, GreatAuPair.com or AuPair.com — who can handle two or more of those responsibilities. Do the math; it might be cheaper than hiring several helpers.
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AnnaMarie Houlis is a multimedia journalist and an adventure aficionado with a keen cultural curiosity and an affinity for solo travel. She's an editor by day and a travel blogger at HerReport.org by night.