Let's face it: child care is not cheap. For low-income families and single-parent families, the financial burden of hiring a nanny or another childcare provider can be very steep.
But it's also not realistic to be with your children at every moment. And with your hectic schedule, watching your children around the clock just might not be an option. So how can working families find affordable child care providers?
Fortunately, plenty of parents are in the same boat as you, which means there are many options available for busy families. Read on for five ideas for affordable, quality child care.
1. Look online.
Many apps and websites, such as Care.com, Bubble, Urban Sitter, and Sittercity, help you locate quality babysitters at low costs. The apps have different screening methods, filtering options, reviews, and other quality assurance measures. Some may allow you to request or fund background checks on sitters.
Make sure to read about the methods the app you choose uses to determine if it's the right one for you and your children. There may be a range in costs for different child care providers on the various apps and websites as well, so you may want to do some comparison as well.
2. Host an au pair.
Much like a nanny, an au pair lives in your home and provides child care assistance. However, au pairs come from foreign countries and usually provide child care services in exchange for room and board. Some may charge a low rate for their services. Many are college students participating in foreign exchange programs.
While au pairs often provide affordable in-home care for your children, keep in mind that they may not have as much training as local nannies, and there are certain legal requirements as to how many hours they may work each day. There are many programs available, such as The International Au Pair Exchange, so research the options to decide whether this is a good idea for your family.
3. Explore nonprofits and government-funded programs.
Some local and state governments offer free or low-cost child care assistance programs. Look into free pre-school and pre-K options for young children in your area.
Many nonprofit centers, such as JCCs and YMCAs, offer free or affordable daycare for toddlers and young children as well. There are also nonprofit daycare and child care centers and child care programs, so look into local options that might work for you.
If you have older kids, many schools offer afterschool programs for students, so look into options at your kids' schools, and factor them into your initial decision about where to send your children to school.
4. Recruit neighborhood teenagers to babysit.
This is a better option for old children than for infant care, although if you have a teenage neighbor whom you trust and has experience working for infants, you may ask them to look after a baby or toddler occasionally. You may also ask that they take a babysitting or child care class before employing them if they don't have much experience watching looking after children.
A local babysitter is a good option if you work late or want a night out on occasion, but, since teenagers are in school during the day, probably isn't someone who can provide long-term care for working families. On the plus side, given their age and lack of experience, they're probably more affordable than older, more experienced childcare providers. Before employing younger neighbors, though, be sure to have them meet with your children under your supervision to make sure everything goes smoothly, and ask for references from other neighbors if they are available.
5. Exchange playdates with other parents.
Chances are, you know plenty of other working parents with children your kids' ages. Taking turns carpooling and having each others' kids over for playdates and sleepovers is a great way to get some time for yourself and your partner. It's a win-win situation, since both you and the other parents will be able to have some free time, and your kids will able to spend time with their friends.
Of course, this means you'll have to take on shifts watching your friends' kids as well, so make sure you have time to do so occasionally before you set up the arrangement.
There are plenty of affordable child care options for busy parents. Research these ideas to find out if they make sense for you and your life. Check references and meet all potential child care providers—using any other screening methods that make you feel most comfortable—before entrusting them with your kids.
Be sure to explore these other ideas for saving money on child care as well:
• Ask local family members to occasionally watch your children. Family members might not want to be paid for their services, so it's a good idea to give small gifts or favors as tokens of your appreciation.
• When one child is old enough—and you can be the judge of how old "old enough" is—he or she can watch younger siblings when you and your partner go out or work late. Make sure you cover all the rules and provide emergency numbers before you leave your children alone.
• Look into taking the federal tax credit for child care, and see if your employer offers a flexible spending account (FSA) option for childcare.
• Many employers offer on-site daycare for free or at a low cost to employees. Discuss this option with your human resources department or manager.