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Day care for your child: How much does it cost?

Feb. 1, 2019

When it comes to choosing a great day care, price is one of the biggest factors for most parents. Over the past decade, the cost of child care has skyrocketed. It even exceeds the average price of college tuition in some states. Despite the hefty price tag, day care is still a non-negotiable essential for most parents. Luckily, there are still ways to find a great, affordable day care and make it work with your budget.

How much is day care going to cost?

The first thing to know about the price of day care is that it varies widely depending on where you live and what type of care you’re looking for. In major metropolitan areas like New York City or San Francisco, the price is obviously going to be higher than in smaller areas with lower costs of living.

The price of day care is also affected by other factors, including:

  • Age of the child; infant care is more expensive than care for older children

  • Whether you need full-time or part-time care

  • The availability of programs in your area

  • Class sizes and amenities offered by the day care facility

  • Whether the facility is public or private

  • The demand for the program

Care.com’s Cost of Child Care Calculator can help you figure out what day care in your area will cost, but first you need to be certain of a few details about the kind of care you need:

  • How many kids need care?

  • What are their ages?

  • What zip code do you need care in?

Another way to figure out specific prices in your area is to get referrals from people you trust. A neighborhood Facebook or NextDoor group can be a fantastic resource for asking local parents what day care centers they use and what you should expect to pay. Schools and churches may be able to offer information about recommended day care providers in the area.

How much can I afford?

Once you have a good idea of the price range for the kind of care you’re looking for, take a look at your monthly budget and figure out what you can actually afford to spend.

“There isn’t a set rule, but I suggest keeping it around 10 percent of your income,” says Beverly Harzog, a consumer finance analyst and credit card expert at U.S. News and World Report.

Of course, higher quality programs and those in more expensive parts of the country may cost more than 10 percent for some families, says Harzog.

What if it’s too expensive?

If fitting the cost of day care into your monthly budget sounds challenging, you’re not alone. About 75 percent of parents who participated in Care.com’s 2018 Cost of Child Care Survey said the cost of child care is higher than they expected. Here are a few tips and alternatives you can consider if paying for day care is feeling too tight for comfort.

Cut costs on ‘extras’

If you’re angling for a pricier program but are sweating the added expense, says Harzog, it’s worth it to look for ways to lower your other expenses.

“If you want to use a day care that’s a little on the high side, then go through your budget and find expenses that you can reduce or eliminate,” she says. “For instance, instead of working out at a gym and paying a monthly membership fee, buy some exercise DVDs and work out at home.”

Consider a day care co-op

Of course, if your budget is already tight, eliminating a few memberships likely isn’t going to cut it. A day care co-op, where care is shared between a group of parents, may be a practical solution for some.

Reduce the hours of care you need

Harzog also says to look for creative ways to lower the overall cost of care.

“If you’re part of a couple, then explore options such as staggering working hours so that each parent can cover part of the day,” she says.

Try a family member or neighbor

Another good option may be to see if you can work out a care agreement with a nearby relative or neighbor for some or all the hours you need child care.

Find local resources that can lower the cost of day care

If none of those options are open to you, you might also look into whether or not there are federally funded programs and subsidies available to you, such as preschool or after-school care provided by the local school district. Churches and recreation centers, like the YMCA, also sometimes offer cheaper day care programs.

Check your work benefits

Lastly, some employers offer benefits to aid in covering the cost of child care.

“Check with your employer to find out if Dependent Care FSAs are offered to employees,” Harzog says. A Dependent Care FSA allows you to deduct pre-tax income from your paycheck to pay for qualifying dependent care programs, like day care and after school care, which can reduce your overall tax burden to help you save some money.

Read next: Family child care vs. day care

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