Child care is one of the most expensive hurdles new parents face. A 2018 Care.com study of working moms and dads found that 26 percent of parents go into debt to pay for child care, and in the same study a year later, 63 percent of respondents said they’d made career or workplace changes in order to cover the cost, including changing jobs for higher pay, asking for more flexible schedules, or switching from a full-time to part-time schedule to save money.
One partner usually bears the brunt of that burden, and in hereosexual relationships, it’s often women. More than half of moms in the Care.com study said they scaled back their hours to save on child care and 25 percent said they left the workforce altogether.
Let’s get one thing straight: There’s nothing wrong with leaving your job for your kids. You might want to! But for many women, that’s not an option. Single moms or couples who can’t afford to lose their dual-income status, or moms who simply don’t want to leave their jobs need other options to make child care affordable.
These are a few ways parents can save on child care costs and keep their careers on track.
1. Negotiate flexible work hours
Flexible work hours allow employees to change their schedules to accommodate their changing lifestyles. You can come in late, leave early, or work from home once or twice a week in order to spend more time with your family. You can ask for flexible work hours at any time, not just when you receive a job offer. Our guide to negotiating your schedule will walk you through how to navigate that conversation with your boss.
The hallmarks of this discussion are communication and compromise. You need to have a plan in mind for how to address the way your new schedule might affect your team, and you must be willing to sacrifice a few of your asks to get what you want.
2. Negotiate child care assistance
Child care assistance from employers comes in a few forms: on-site child care, subsidized child care costs, group corporate discounts, or a pre-tax flexible spending account for dependents. An ideal way to ensure your employer offers child care assistance is to check that it’s included in your benefits when you receive a job offer, but you might not have been thinking about that when you joined the company right out of college. (Okay, you were 30 and still not ready yet, but whatever.)
Good news: You can still ask! Schedule a meeting with a human resources representative to see if your employer would be willing to negotiate any of the above options. You’re likely not the only parent who’d be interested in the company providing a group discount to a local child care center—or at least subsidizing the cost. It saves employees money and makes the company more attractive to new hires. When making your case, be sure to lead with that second part.
3. Join a nanny share
You might not be able to afford your own nanny, but often, using a nanny share can help you and another family save cash. Here’s how it works: You and, say, your best neighborhood gal pal hire a nanny to watch both of your kids, paying said nanny a higher salary than you would if they just watched your child. The cost is still less than if you both hired your own nannies, and it’s usually on par with daycare.
Other pros of nanny shares include socialization with other kids, one-on-one attention, and flexibility, and you can choose to split the cost with as many families as you like, which helps you manage cost. Just make sure you hire carefully, follow nanny tax laws, and set firm schedule and budget terms in writing.
4. Start a babysitting co-op
A babysitting co-op helps you split the child care costs among other parents. Every time you babysit for another family, you’re “credited” with hours that you can use at another time. So if you know another mom who needs help juggling work and child care, you can babysit for her kids, then have her babysit for yours another time.
You can join or start a babysitting co-op any time. Your daycare, neighborhood, church, or other community group might already have one. If not, start one yourself. It’s an awesome supplementary option for traditional child care.
5. Find a trustworthy teen
Okay, you might not want to leave your newborn with a teen, but there might be a 16 year old on your block who has the summer off and is good with kids, even young babies. Ask your neighbors if their kids are interested, and give it a test run.
Still nervous? Reach out to a college or graduate student. Their schedules are often even more flexible than teenagers’, and the additional years under their belt will give you peace of mind.
6. Host an au pair
If you have enough private space to house an additional person, consider hiring an au pair. Usually young women in their early or mid 20s, au pairs bring with them their language and culture, which can be both exciting and challenging to navigate. (Like any foreigner in a new country, they’ll need time to adjust!) Au pairs can’t legally work more than 45 hours a week, but for many working parents, that covers the standard work week. Again, do your research.
7. Ask friends or family for help
Maybe you swore you’d never live with your mom again after you turned 18. That was an admirable goal to have, but child care rates are astronomically high. It’s time to find some middle ground. Ask your mom, another family member, or a close friend with a more flexible schedule to help you out during the week. How you pay them back is up to you—cash, weekly dinners, etc. And they don’t necessarily have to live with you, though many a new parent has had mom or dad move in to help out post-birth. You wouldn’t be the first.
8. Work from home
Whether you ask your current employer to let you work remotely or you start looking for companies that offer telecommuting, working from home is an excellent way to eliminate child care costs without leaving your job entirely. The caveat here is that working with a baby, toddler, or even teenager around can be distracting. You’ll need to set boundaries, including where and when you work. Your hours might shift to accommodate naptime, and you’ll need to communicate that with your employer. Our guide to asking your boss to let you work from home can help you approach that conversation.