The tough thing about childcare is that this is the most important decision you can make – to whom do you entrust your most precious treasures? And how can you possibly complain about the expense?
It’s important to remember is that the only thing that matters with childcare is quality. Many times a higher price is indicative of quality, but like many consumer goods and services, this is not universally true.
In fact, many high-quality, in-home childcare providers will charge only a nominal fee to supplement their household income. These are the ones you want to find; they’re providing childcare because they want to—it’s not a business for them.
It’s not about paying out a lot of money, particularly in the preschool years. You can pay more, but that doesn’t mean your child will receive lots of attention, affection, and real-live stimulation (as opposed to television or video games).
It takes an awful lot of time to find a good childcare provider. You may not think you have that kind of time, but remember that this is one of the most important decisions you will make regarding both your child and your money.
If you decide on in-home care – either your house or the babysitter’s – many providers are willing to see you at their convenience after work or on weekends. While this may suit you for a longer interview, also ask permission to pop by during the week to meet any other children for whom she may provide care. If you choose a daycare center, making time during the work week while they’re open may be your only option.
Several factors are important to making your childcare decision. One is knowing other families using the same provider. This is significant for many reasons. First, the best way to find a good childcare provider is through referrals, so ask everyone you know if they can refer someone, or if they know other families with children in daycare with whom you can speak.
Another good reason to use the same provider as someone you know is because in those occasional situations when you can’t make it on time to pick up your child, you need to arrange for back-up resources. The easiest back-up resource is someone who is already picking up a child at the same place, so both your child and the provider know this person.
Start by talking to everyone you know. You’d be surprised where some of the best leads come from.
One mom found a fulltime babysitter by asking the teenage babysitter of her neighbor’s children. It turns out that the girl had a baby brother—the product of her mom’s second marriage. Her mom had the option to be a stay-home mom this time around, and was happy to take on a second child at a nominal fee.
Another good resource is to talk to real estate agents familiar with people moving to and from your local area. They may be aware of who takes care of their clients’ children and when there are openings. One family learned of a sitter from their buyer’s agent who was also listing a house for clients moving out of town. That family was able to place their child in the moving family’s spot at their babysitter’s home.
Another option is to visit the religious institutions in your town; church preschools are often less expensive than daycare centers. Local YMCAs often have affordable child care as well. Many times, local Jewish Community Centers (JCC) enjoy a reputation for excellent childcare supervision and facilities. Typically, YMCA and JCC centers will also consider reduced rates for lower-income families.
Sometimes, grandparents and other family members are willing to baby-sit for a small monetary fee. If you have a sibling, cousin, or aunt who is a stay-at-home-mom, they may be willing watch your child in return for you watching theirs on weekends or overnight.
During the summer, you may be able to hire a college student or teacher who also has the summer off and is looking for income. This arrangement offers the flexibility of having someone who can drive and is not bound to a particular schedule. The babysitter can take your children to a neighborhood pool, extra-curricular activities, birthday parties, or even run errands for you or themselves. This is a good option for older elementary or middle school children who need little supervision but whom you don’t want to be at home alone all day. The ease and flexibility that this job offers should yield a lower cost than a regular daycare center.
Consider sharing a nanny with another family to help ease the financial burden. The cost of a nanny per week is frequently equal to that of a daycare center, but if you can split the cost with another family it may actually cost half as much. Plus, you have the added advantage of coming straight home instead of commuting to a daycare center. You may even negotiate an extra hour or two a week to get your grocery shopping or errands done—something that is not an option at a daycare center.
If you have the extra room, consider hiring a foreign au pair for discounted childcare in exchange for room and board. Perhaps you can arrange for a further reduced discount if you allow her to care for an additional child or children in your home (she gets the additional childcare income, you get a further reduced rate).
Check out local parenting magazines and journals, and not just for the articles and paid advertisements. Often there are classified ads in the back that announce county resources for onsite after-school programs or community service programs. This type of literature can often be found at your local library or is sent home from school in your child’s backpack.
Consider childcare options that offer extra-curricular classes that may interest your child, such as swimming lessons, dance, gymnastics, or martial arts. For example, some martial arts schools pick up children after school in a van and take them back to the center for classes and supervised homework sessions.
These are particularly good options for middle school students whom you don’t want coming home to an empty house every afternoon. A couple of after-school activities a week can help break up that routine, yet save you the cost of fulltime care for an ungrateful recipient (your preteen).
Sometimes the facility you choose for childcare will also require that you be a member. One financial advantage is that you will then receive the member rate for any additional classes. When you combine childcare with extra-curricular activities, you can save your weekends. In other words, while your child is in after-school care, the counselors ensure he gets safely to and from his extra-curricular class. Obviously, it’s fun for your child and allows you to spend your Saturday morning doing something other than sitting in the waiting room of a karate or ballet school.
Finally, contact local elementary schools for tutors and retired school teachers who might be interested in pre-school, summer, and/or after-school childcare to help supplement their income.
For more information about how to save money on childcare, check out these links: