How to Lower Child Care Costs
One option for saving money is to enter into share-care arrangements with other families. If you work part-time or if your schedules mesh perfectly, you might be able to share a nanny or babysitter with another family. You would ideally seek someone like-minded with children close to yours in age, temperament, and activity level.
The convenience of sharing costs and having a backup could make this work financially and on every other level. Although some nannies might balk at watching an extra child, or two, you can sweeten the pie by offering broader benefits, such as health insurance, and still keep expenses lower than they would be if you hired your own nanny.
Having relatives or friends available to care for your children can save you substantial sums of money, but you may end up with steep emotional costs. If you go this route, you may avoid problems if you treat the arrangement professionally.
Make sure you have a formal agreement that states the hours needed, rate of pay, vacation time, and overtime. Even if they offer to watch your children for free, you can avoid misunderstandings by creating a list of expectations and offering a quantifiable reward program.
The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), a nonprofit center that offers educational programs for day care centers, has developed a stringent optional accreditation process. If a day care center boasts an NAEYC accreditation (only 10,000 out of 100,000 centers have gone through the laborious process), you can rest assured they have exceeded national standards.
If you're really strapped for money, you could call your local AARP office to see if they have a list of elderly citizens in your neighborhood that might like to “adopt” a grandchild. You can also post listings on bulletin boards or in your local paper. If you're new to a neighborhood, it's worth a neighborhood sweep to see if anyone is interested in a watching your school-age children for several hours after school. You'd want to research backgrounds and obtain references, but finding someone this way could save you a tidy sum.
The only other concrete options involve reducing your work hours, moving closer to where you work, telecommuting, or convincing your boss to contribute to child care costs. Keep in mind that paying for child care “on the books” may actually save you money. You can take advantage of child care tax breaks and dependent care spending accounts.