If you’ve had a kid recently, you’re probably torn between delight in your babykins and astonishment at the astronomical costs of childcare. Yeah, me too. Here are some tips for keeping at least part of your salary in your own pocket.
1) Neighborhood co-operative: If you have neighbors who are in the same boat, get everyone together to discuss ways you might be able to share the childcare burden. Taking one day off a week in exchange for two or three days of childcare can be a good deal. If you have even one neighbor who stays home with his/her kids, talk about whether they might be willing to accept a pittance in exchange for a morning/day/days of watching your own little one.
2) Go back to school: If you’ve thought of pursuing a Master’s degree or PhD, now might be a good time to get the ball rolling. My husband is completing his PhD and as a working student, he has been supported by the Graduate Employee Organization union. One of the perks of this has been subsidized on-campus childcare. From the time they were 18-months old, both of our boys have attended nursery school/preschool, three days a week, at no cost to us. If your local university offers such a program, you might consider returning to school — plus, as my father always says, “Time spent pursuing education is never wasted.” Especially when free childcare is involved!
3) Bring someone into your home: If you work at home, or even if you don’t, consider hiring someone to come in to watch your children. I have done this with both children to augment option #2 and it worked out very well. If you’re looking for help in the late-afternoon, consider calling your local high school’s/college’s career center and hiring a responsible local student. I also found a three-day-a-week infant sitter through my church; we paid her $10/hour ($11/hour after she earned a certification in infant CPR) and it was well worth the cost.
4) Nana’s nannying service: It goes without saying that if you have family nearby who are of retirement age and home a lot, tap them in to help you out.
5) Pre-tax savings: Check to see whether your employer offers a Dependent Care Account, which is a type of Flexible Spending Account that allows you to save up to $5,000 of pre-tax dollars specifically for childcare or elder care. Additionally, Uncle Sam might give you a break if you spend after-tax dollars on childcare, in the form of the Dependent Care Tax Credit.
6) Swap your schedule: If you and your partner have any flexibility at work, see if you can change your schedules so that one of you is home with the kid(s) as much as you can afford. Do not confuse this with working at home, though — chances are, if you’re watching a child, you’re not going to get a whole lot of work done, unless it’s naptime.