Child care is a struggle for many American families. The average cost of infant care ranges from $5,496 to $16,549 a year depending on the state, according to Child Care Aware of America. That amounts to as much as 16 percent of the median income for a two-parent family. For a single mother, as much as 60 percent of the median income is required to cover the cost. But there are ways to minimize the expense.
With a flexible spending account, pretax earnings can be set aside for child care. This tax benefit maxes out at $3,000 for one child and $6,000 for two or more. Hold onto receipts to get reimbursed from an FSA. Workers with no access to this type of account can still qualify for a tax credit that can shave up to 35 percent from day care fees.
YMCAs throughout the country offer affordable child care to member families. These programs provide before- and after-school care for as little as $35 a day, depending on the number of children enrolled and the hours care is needed. The centers are usually open from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily, including weekends, holidays, and the days when schools close because of weather or teacher training. YMCA programs also provide health assessments and value- and family-based education. Lots of parents award them 4- and 5-star ratings in online reviews.
Parents can save money with in-home providers, who typically charge less than day care centers. The average annual cost for an infant ranges from $4,560 to $10,727 with an in-home provider, compared with $5,496 to $16,549 at a center, according to Child Care Aware of America's 2014 report. Other advantages of this arrangement are a comfortable setting, a stable and small group of children, and one primary provider rather than several. The biggest drawback is that some home providers are not licensed. Check with a state licensing agency to see if a provider has the proper credentials. The National Resource Center for Health and Safety in Child Care and Early Education specifies each state's basic requirements.
State resources can help parents find cheap child care and financial assistance, if needed. Georgia residents, for example, can turn to Quality Care for Children, a nonprofit agency that provides temporary grants to parents who need help paying for day care. One Decatur parent with a $238-a-week day care bill says a partial subsidy reduced the stress of going back to work, because it meant her 18-month-old daughter could attend a trusted program. Other programs offer sliding-scale fees. Visit Child Care Aware of America, the National Association for the Education of Young Children, and the National Association for Family Child Care for child care resources and accreditation information.
If your company offers child care on-site, it may be more affordable than any other option. Not only do employers provide care centers at reasonable prices; they afford peace of mind by keeping children close. On-site care is often in high demand, though, and there may be a long waiting list. Find out how early you can put your name on the list, even if you aren't quite ready for kids.
Fortunate enough to have a grandparent (or other family member) nearby who is willing and able to watch the children? Jackpot. Because it's family, many grandparents are willing to take care of the kids for next to nothing. While it's nice to provide meals, gas money, or other gifts to show appreciation, the total is still far less than it might be in any other situation.
Many communities have neighborhood Facebook pages or other online forums that can connect parents with helpful neighbors they might not have had the chance to meet. Users typically can search listings for caregivers advertising services and put up "in search of" posts detailing what type of care they need.
If one spouse has a flexible work schedule, a couple can probably manage to cover all hours of the day. This may mean working from home, at non-traditional hours, or while children nap. The flexibility to get work done at any time of day could save money -- and allow extra hours with the kids, which is, of course, priceless.
If you're skilled at cooking, landscaping, or another useful service, friends and neighbors who stay home with their children might be willing to strike a deal for inexpensive help.
Most child care centers require payment even for time that's not used. If a family is enrolled full time but a parent is off work on Fridays, for example, the weekly rate is still the same. Parents who work unusual hours or have inconsistent schedules can save big with a center that charges only for the time children are there.