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Being a parent is tough. What makes it even more challenging is figuring out how to pay for everything.
From diapers and bath necessities to toys and entertainment, there seems to be a never-ending need to spend money on kid-related stuff. As they get older, things like sports and extracurriculars can also eat into the budget.
One of the biggest costs that parents face is child care. I was fortunate enough to work at a preschool that also had an awesome after-school program for older kids.
My preschool and school-aged kids could both be at the center where I worked for free, which was such a huge help for me financially.
But, I know tons of other parents don’t have that opportunity. About one-third of families spend at least 20 percent of their income on child care every year. Yet, they have to work because one income doesn’t always pay the bills.
This article is all about helping working parents who want to cut back on their child care costs so that they can have more money to spend on, and save for, their families.
1. Ask Your Family
Have you asked your family or friends if they’re available to help you for a few hours each day? Some family members, like grandparents, will often be happy to watch kids for free or in exchange for your help with something else.
Other family members, like aunts or cousins, might agree to watch your kids for a much lower rate than you’d pay a child care center.
Friends are also an option, so don’t be afraid to ask them for some help. If your friends are also parents, there’s a good chance that they understand your situation and will help if they can.
The other benefit of having family or friends watch your children is that you already know and trust them. You won’t have to spend time checking backgrounds and touring a child care center because you already know you can rely on them to take excellent care of your children.
2. Research Neighborhood Resources
When I first moved to my current town with my newborn baby in tow and needing a job, I had no idea how much was available for child care help. It wasn’t until I started applying for jobs that people started telling me about some of our neighborhood resources that could help.
There’s a good chance your neighborhood has some assistance lurking within, too, when it comes to affordable child care.
Do you have a YMCA or some other recreational facility nearby? The YMCA – and many other rec centers – have low-cost child care for at least a few hours per week that could help lower some of your costs.
Mine, for example, has a free preschool program for half-days during the week for preschool-age kids. Its toddler program is also much cheaper than other daycare centers.
You can also check with your church or other local churches, many of which offer free child care on specific days, or low-cost programs through the week.
3. See What Your State (or Federal Government) Has Available for Your Situation
Some small towns don’t have as much available for assistance as larger towns or cities. In that case, you might still be able to find help from your state, or even the federal government, especially if you’re in a unique situation that affects your income or family life.
If you’re not sure about what’s available for your family, you can check with your local welfare office or check out the benefit finder on Benefits.gov to see what you might be eligible for.
The following situations can almost guarantee that you can get some form of assistance in paying for your children’s daycare:
The federal government awards each state with a budget to help low-income families find affordable child care. Head Start programs, for example, are free to qualifying families.
There are also other forms of free preschool for a specific number of hours per week and sliding-scale daycare fees that adjust according to your monthly income.
Check out Child Care Aware for more information about finding the programs in your state or give your local welfare office a call.
Military families can often qualify for free or reduced child care costs. Military.com outlines some of the programs available to families within different military branches.
There are three different types of care available for military children as part of the Military Child Care Act, including child development centers, school-age programs, and in-home child care providers.
You can find out more about the Act and what’s available for your children here.
Some college students struggle with finding affordable daycare for their children while paying for college tuition and supplies. Although some colleges have on-site daycare available for reduced costs for students, many don’t, leaving parents to shell out the cash themselves so they can make it to class.
In these cases, there are some child care assistance grants that could help students. The grants are typically awarded to schools and cities to help low-income students afford child care.
Scholarships for single parents can also help alleviate some of the costs of child care for students.
4. Hire a Teen After School
I first started babysitting a single mom’s two children when I was 13. She was a woman in my neighborhood that I met a few times. She knew my family and felt comfortable entrusting me with her kids’ care after school. I made about $8 per hour for both kids – not a high wage for most people, but plenty for a teenager!
In other words, teens can be an inexpensive way to get some after-school care for your kids. While you might pay $200 a week or more for after-school care at a center, you can probably cut that cost in half by getting the help of a trustworthy teenager.
From my own experiences with my kids, I’ve found that a lot of teenagers adore children – even more than some adult “caregivers” do!
Sit down with the teen’s parents and go over all your expectations. Make sure you have contact information for the teenager and his or her parents in case of an emergency.
5. Exchange Services for Babysitting
Financially-savvy parents aren’t afraid to negotiate with people to get what they need for their family. If that means negotiating with a potential babysitter, then so be it! If you have some special skills that could come in handy to babysitters or other neighborhood parents who watch your kids, then don’t be afraid to utilize them.
Does your babysitter also have kids? Maybe you can swap babysitting services for a day or two per week. She watches yours on Mondays and Wednesdays, so you can take hers on the weekends. This swap is mutually beneficial because it saves you both money and time spent looking for other babysitters.
Do you have a teenaged babysitter for after-school hours? See if you can cut off a few of those hours each week by offering to her parents that you’ll drive her to her weekend dance practices or job.
For other situations, use what you have to your advantage: computer repair skills, accounting knowledge, landscaping talents, etc. There’s no harm in lowering your child care bill by offering something in return.
6. Ask Your Employer for a Flexible Spending Account
Your employer might offer something known as a Flexible Spending Account, or FSA. A Flexible Spending Account is something most people associate with medical costs. However, there are various types of FSAs. The one you’ll need for child care costs is a Dependent Care FSA.
This type of FSA lets you contribute pre-taxed money into the account to pay for things like after-school or preschool programs, babysitting expenses, and even your child’s summer camp. Since the money you contribute won’t have any taxes taken out, you’ll have less money taken from your paycheck.
If your employer doesn’t offer this benefit, then there’s no harm in asking for it. The only issue is that you can only enroll during your employer’s open enrollment period, so be sure to stay on top of it once you get the ball rolling.
7. Make Changes to Your Work Schedule
Quitting a job is out of the question for most parents. Either the job cut would make their household income too low to pay the bills, or they enjoy their careers and working outside of the home. If getting rid of a job isn’t an option for you, then perhaps changing your work schedule a bit could be.
Have you thought about working a part-time schedule or adjusting your shifts? For single parents who have a tough time finding people they know to watch their kids, working a different shift may help you find family or friends who can help during your shift.
For example, switching to a night shift may not be ideal, but it could open a lot of child care opportunities for your family.
If you have a partner or spouse to help out, then you might be able to collaborate with schedule adjustments for both workplaces. Talk to each other and your bosses about adjusting your schedules in a way that lets you work around each other’s jobs.
You may not even need child care at all after doing this, or you could cut down the hours you need help significantly to save money.
8. Suggest an On-Site Day Care Service
It’s unfortunate to think that only about 3 percent of organizations offer on-site child care services for employees, but that’s an important statistic parents face nowadays.
Unfortunately, many parents find themselves in a position of having to work but not having adequate or affordable child care available. Their employers often don’t do anything to help the situation by failing to provide child care at the workplace.
Most on-site child care centers require employees to pay weekly or monthly dues that are far less than what they’d pay an off-site child care center. The idea is that, by having reliable child care available, employee retention will be higher.
It might be time to round up other parents at your job and consider having a discussion with the HR department about starting an on-site daycare. It may not be an easy discussion to have, but the more passionate working parents you can get involved, the more united you can present your case.
Last but not least, if your employer is on the fence about the benefits it can provide to the workplace, you can present this article about Patagonia, an outdoor clothing and gear store, that 100% believed in its on-site daycare program and other family-friendly benefits leading to a more productive and happy workplace with more women leadership and employee retention.
9. Ask for a Remote Work Opportunity (Or, Start Your Own Home-Based Business)
About 32 percent of polled workers in 2017 said that they’ve quit a job because of its lack of flexibility. I was in the same boat the previous year, leaving my 7am to 5pm job because it wasn’t conducive to my family’s needs.
What did I do instead? I started a home-based business and have been happily working from home ever since. I know leaving a job isn’t an option for everyone, but there may be another solution.
If you think your job is something that you can do remotely (mine, as a preschool teacher, obviously wasn’t that way!), then there’s no harm in asking for a remote role, or at least the possibility of working from home one or two days per week.
That’s one or two days less that you’ll have to pay a babysitter or daycare center. One big issue that you still might face, though, is that it can be tough to work from home with young children if you have to make a lot of phone calls or meet with clients.
Therefore, starting a business from home can be the best of both worlds. You can keep your kids at home and have control over what your business entails, making it something that can work for your family.
Here’s a list of businesses you can start for $200 or less to give you some inspiration.
10. Share Child Care Costs
Round up your closest group of friends or some neighbors and start a babysitting cooperative, or a “babysitting co-op.” Babysitting co-ops have become more popular in recent years as families reinvent their options to save on the rising costs of daycare.
These co-ops consist of a group of parents who essentially share child care and its costs. When you babysit for another member of your co-op, you’ll gain a credit of that many hours toward babysitting for your children.
For example, let’s say you babysat two children on a Saturday for 8 hours each. You’ll have 16 hours credit toward your co-op hours for someone else in your group to watch your children. If you have two children, that could work out to an 8-hour workday of free babysitting.
Honestly, it’s an ingenious way to save a lot of money on child care. And, it could really come in handy for ensuring that you always have someone you can rely on to watch your children, especially if you’re a part of a large co-op.
11. Start “Shopping” Around Early
You’ve tried hunting down a babysitter. Your boss won’t budge on offering a FSA or on-site daycare service. It’s not an ideal situation, but you’ll need to search for another day care option that meets the financial needs of your family.
It might not seem like it, but timing is incredibly important when searching for daycare options. If you have time before you go back to work, take full advantage of it. The earlier you start shopping around, the more options you’ll find, rather than waiting until the last minute and having to choose a center before time runs out.
Many child care centers have long waiting lists. The last think you want it to have your top choice filled up, leaving you to settle on a less affordable option because of time constraints.
I used to teach year-round at a preschool center. Even though the programs ran all year, many parents would take their kids out for the summer and bring them back during the regular school year, leaving several spots open during the summer.
Your best bet is to swoop in and grab your spot at the beginning of the summer when there’s plenty of availability and you’re likelier to get your top choice.
12. Don’t Forget Your Tax Credit
Once you find, and start paying for, child care, you absolutely don’t want to forget about maximizing the amount you can save on your costs. That means taking advantage of the child care tax credit, which can give you a credit for up to 35 percent of your child care costs, which is capped at $6,000 per year for families.
This credit coves child care expenses for children under 13 years of age, or for any age child or dependent with a disability. The credit is especially helpful for those whose employers don’t offer a Dependent Care FSA, since whatever you contribute to that FSA will be deducted from your total expenses first.
To apply the credit to your tax return, you’ll need the Employer Identification Number (EIN) or the Social Security Number (SSN) of your child care provider. You’ll also need to have good records of your expenses.
Keep track of receipts and bank statements (if using a FSA), because you’ll need to itemize your costs to find out how much you can qualify for.
These options should give you a lot to think about before settling on a daycare option that may not benefit your family financially. Truthfully, your best bet is to utilize as many of these options as you can to maximize your savings.
We want to hear from you! Do you have other suggestions for families that can help them save on child care? What do you personally do to minimize this huge cost every month? Let us know in a comment below.