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The real cost of child care: Two parents in a Minneapolis suburb, with 2 kids

Ashley Williams
July 15, 2019

Child care is necessary for every family. All parents must find a solution that fits their unique situation, and cost is often the biggest factor driving decision-making. In fact, more than 40% of families spend over 15% of household income on care. To see how different American families are juggling the cost of care, we're asking parents how they spend their money each month — and how, specifically, they budget and save for those all important child care expenses. All answers are anonymous. Our financial expert also weighs in on each family’s big-picture strategy. 

A move from the Northeast to the Midwest two years ago didn’t mean an escape from high child care costs for one couple. Now based in a Minneapolis suburb, the parents of two young boys have devised a child care plan that works for them.

The kids usually attend day care, but the couple has an aunt and grandparents nearby to step in, and Mom has some flexible work options, if needed. As we talked about her child care situation, Mom said, “I feel like I won the lottery.”

“What’s unique about us is that we tithe to our church," says Mom. "It’s what we believe, and it's the first thing that comes out [of our accounts] whenever we get paid."

Family makeup: Two parents, 6-year-old child and 3-year-old child

Location: Minneapolis suburb

Parent #1:

  • Age: 37
  • Occupation: Sr. Project Manager
  • Monthly gross income: $6,220

Parent #2:

  • Age: 39 
  • Occupation: Material Supply Strategist
  • Monthly gross income: $5,230

Child #1 child care type: Day care

  • Full time or part time: Part time, after-school care
  • Hours per week: Up to 20 hours

Child #2 child care type: Day care

  • Full time or part time: Full time
  • Hours per week: 40

Percentage of income spent on child care: 14% 

When it comes to raising kids and paying for care, this family swears by these strategies. 

Strategy #1: Talk to your employer.

Share the complicated details of your care situation, in case your employer may be open to alternative solutions. When Mom explained to her supervisor that she would have to pay more to pick up her children from day care after 4:30, she learned she could work flexible hours and even from home on occasion. “My boss doesn’t watch the clock,” she says. 

Even better? Her supervisor, who’s also a mom, asked if she wanted to share a babysitter for their older kids while school is out for the summer.  

Strategy #2: Choose the best care for your family’s situation

The couple’s first child had gone to a reasonably priced in-home day care. After their second son was born, they decided to look for a more structured, educational environment for the kids. One option was a pricey new tech-enabled facility. “It was amazing,” she says. “But we didn’t need a flashy place that cost $30,000.” The family settled on a day care in a converted school that provides meals, diapers and language classes. They have had “a great experience” for half the price.  

Strategy #3: Put your child care cost in perspective

When the family discovered that moving halfway across the country wouldn’t cut their care costs, Mom came to a realization: “It’s still so much money, but these people are raising my child when I’m at work,” she says. “That’s a lot of expectation to put on someone else and a worthy expense in my book.”

Tips from a financial expert:

“This family is feeling the pinch of child care costs,” says Jen Mulder, financial planner and owner of Pathway Financial Services in Los Angeles. “Their overall expenses are slightly more than their take-home pay causing a deficit each month.” 

Given that deficit, the contributions to college and personal savings may be too much of a stretch at this time. “If they have sufficient savings to draw on for the next few years to cover this deficit, then no adjustments are needed,” Mulder says. “However, if this deficit is causing them to accumulate debt, they will do well to revise their budget and find some places to cut back.”  

Mulder also notes that once the family’s car loan and short-term medical bills are paid off, the family will have a bit more breathing room. 

Monthly budget

 

Monthly gross income

Monthly take-home

INCOME:

   

Parent #1

$6,220

$3,873

Parent #2

$5,230

$3,478

 

$11,450 

$7,351

INVESTMENTS/SAVINGS CONTRIBUTIONS:

   

Investments

 

$0

College savings

 

$100

Retirement (pre-tax)

Taken from paycheck

Taken from paycheck

Company match (pre-tax)

Taken from paycheck

Taken from paycheck

Roth IRA

   

Personal savings

 

$400

 

Total investments/ savings

$500

EXPENSES:

   

Child care

 

$1,094

Rent/mortgage

 

$1,409

Total utilities

 

$200

Health, dental & vision insurance ($650 - b4 take home)

 

$0

Cell Phones

 

$175

Groceries

 

$480

Credit cards

 

$500

Car loans

 

$680

Car insurance

 

$145

Gas

 

$320

Commuter fees/parking

 

$130

Kids activities

 

$100

Cable or equivalent TV services

 

$145

Student loans

 

$175

Entertainment/Travel

 

$300

Clothing

 

$75

Vacation

 

$50

Tithes

 

$1,120

Medical bills (temporary)

 

$450

 

Total expenses

$7,548

     
 

Monthly take-home

$7,351

 

Total investments/ savings

-$500

 

Total expenses

-$7,548

 

Remaining cash flow

-$697

More 2019 real cost of care interviews with families:

Read next: This is how much child care costs in 2019

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