Think you can't afford child care? Think again.
You may believe child care is too expensive for your family, but once you explore your options, you might be surprised.
With a little creativity and investigating, you can uncover some great ways to save money and find reliable people to care for your kids. Here are 14 ways to cut your child care costs.
- Figure Out Your Budget
How much money can you spare for child care? When you actually start crunching numbers, you might be able to afford more than you thought. Knowing your budget will give you a great starting point for evaluating your options.
And when you're calculating what you can pay a nanny, don't forget to factor in things like end-of-year bonuses and annual raises.
Check out Care.com's Nanny Calculator to figure out the going rate for sitters in your area.
- Begin Early
At Care.com, most families look for care during the summer. The more affordable and experienced caregivers get grabbed early and day care slots fill up quickly. Start your search soon and don't wait until the last minute.
- Sign up for a Flexible Spending Account
If your employer offers this option, use your Flexible Spending Account (FSA) to set aside money for child care. You can include up to $5,000 before taxes, says Stephanie Breedlove, head of Care.com HomePay, managed by Breedlove.
The FSA covers expenses for day care, preschool and even some of summer day camp (although not overnight camp) -- anything that's needed so you can go to work.
Set aside the amount you truly need because funds in the account at the end of the year will be forfeited. And keep good records, as you must submit reimbursement requests to get the money back. Each spouse can contribute to an FSA account, but total family contributions cannot exceed $5,000.
If you're enrolling for the first time because a baby is on the way, you don't have to wait until open enrollment, says Breedlove. For a "life changing event" you only have the 30 days after the baby's birth to enroll, which can potentially save you a big chunk of money.
- Apply Your Child Care Tax Credit
If your employer doesn't offer a flexible spending account, you can take full advantage of the child care tax credit, says Breedlove. This credit allows you to itemize up to $3,000 in expenses per child per year, up to a $6,000 annual cap per family. Once you've itemized the expenses, you can take a percentage of that and apply the tax credit.
You can use an FSA and a tax credit, but if you do, any FSA money is applied to the tax credit cap first. So if you use $5,000 from an FSA, you can then itemize only $1,000 for the child care tax credit.
The Nanny Calculator will also tell you how much money you can save from these tax breaks.
- Talk to HR
Companies are starting to recognize the burden that working parents face when it comes to child care. And they're creating benefits to help.
What benefits does your company offer? Some businesses offer child care reimbursements for working parents. Check in with your human resources department so you don't miss out on these money-saving benefits.
- Enroll in Day Care
Day care is often a more cost-effective child care option than hiring a nanny, and can still be a nurturing environment for your child. Shop around to find one that fits your needs, schedule and budget.
But if your schedule is more erratic and you frequently work late, you might find that a nanny is cheaper than relying on the more structured hours of a day care.
- Find Family Child Care
A family child care center may be even less expensive than a day care center. It takes place in a caregiver's home and while the amenities may not be as fancy, the money you save can be significant. Just make sure whatever facility you choose is licensed by the state, so you know you're getting the best care possible.
- Use On-Site Child Care
If your company has an on-site day care, it can save your family money, while offering you peace of mind. Generally, on-site day care is more affordable than a day care in your community. And, best of all, your kids are nearby.
- Host an Au Pair
Au pair are foreign nationals -- young people from a different country who are looking to come to the country for one year as a part of an au pair program. They work in child care, take classes and experience American life. It's like they're one-part nanny and one-part exchange student.
An au pair lives with a host family, cares for their children and, in return, the hosts provide room, board and a stipend. They're usually less expensive than a nanny, but also have less training. They're typically better for older children than younger.
- Shift Your Schedule
If you can't afford to stay at home full time, what about part time? You can find lots of jobs that offer a more flexible schedule, and then you only have to cover child care costs for part of the week.
If part-time isn't an option, what about talking to your employer about a flexible schedule? Can you work only a few days a week, but put in longer hours? Can you telecommute all or part of the time?
Talk to your partner about coordinating flexible work schedules so that someone is always available to watch your kids. If each parent can take a different shift, you can reduce the overall need for child care.
- Share Child Care
If you have friends who are also looking for child care, get together and form a nanny share. You hire one nanny to watch both sets of kids and share the cost.
- Arrange a Parent Share
If schedules and parenting styles allow, parents can also share child care by swapping days, says Lindsay Heller, also known as The Nanny Doctor. Money doesn't change hands at all -- the big investment here is time. If you take all the kids for three days and your neighbor or friend takes two (and then reverse it the next week), you can have reliable, cost-free child care.
- Hire a Teen for After-School Care
Your kids get out of school at 3, but you don't get home from work until 6. What do you do? When you need is someone to watch your kids for a few short hours, a great cost-effective option can be hiring a teenage babysitter to help out. Teens are great for keeping younger kids occupied or prodding slightly older kids to get homework done.
- Combine Jobs
Sometimes nannies are willing to take on additional duties that can make this a more affordable option. See if your nanny is willing to and has the skills necessary to also handle some housekeeping, pet care or tutoring duties. Of course you'll need to pay her more for the extra work, but it will be less than hiring a completely new person. Just make sure her priority is always your kids.