With more parents working outside the home, the need for quality childcare continues to grow. Yet affordable options are hard to find. Sixty-one percent of children birth to age 6 spend time in nonparental care, and a family’s annual childcare expenses are typically second only to mortgage payments or rent, according to the Nation’s Network of Child Care Resource and Referral.
But that doesn’t mean childcare has to break your bank. Here are some cost-saving strategies:
1 Explore share care. Kerry Boetel, Midwest advertising manager for Jane magazine, wanted to shift to part time when her daughter, Keira, was 9 months old. Her biggest financial concern? Affording her babysitter, who had cared for Keira full time for six months. At $10 an hour, in-home childcare would strain their reduced family income, but Boetel hated to disrupt the relationship between babysitter and child.
Her solution? Share care.
The Boetels found neighbors who needed part-time care for their 7-month-old daughter, so the families split the sitter’s $12-an-hour fee for both girls.
2 Take advantage of tax credits. Many families are eligible for thousands of dollars in tax credits, but you have to claim them on your tax return. Federal tax breaks include: the child and dependent care credit, worth up to $3,000 per dependent child and up to $6,000 for two; the child tax credit, worth up to $1,000 per child; and the earned-income tax credit, worth up to $4,400 for couples earning less than $37,263. Illinois also has a state earned-income tax credit, worth up to $220. Families who don’t earn enough to pay income tax may qualify for a government support payment. Call the Illinois Department of Revenue, (800) 732-8866.
3 Check on company discounts. Contact your human resources department to see if your employer either negotiates discounts with local childcare providers or offers direct subsidies.
4 Set up a flexible spending account. These accounts, created by the Internal Revenue Service and offered by many employers, allow workers to set aside pretax dollars for childcare expenses.
5 Explore additional state funding. You may qualify for the Illinois Child Care Assistance Program, offered through the Department of Human Services, which subsidizes childcare expenses for lower-income families. Contact Child Care Resource and Referral, (800) 649-1884.
6 Maximize parental coverage. Some parents coordinate work schedules so one parent is usually home with the baby. Perhaps dad works days and mom works nights, or one parent works weekends.
7 Enlist help from loved ones. Forty-seven percent of grandparents living close to their grandchildren help with childcare, according to Child Trends, a nonprofit research center based in Washington, D.C. Siblings or friends can also provide loving, cost-effective childcare.
8 Don’t be late for pickups. Many daycare centers charge fees for late pickups, and these fines can quickly inflate your monthly childcare expenses. n
Paige Hobey is a writer and mother of two living in Chicago.