Schools are closing their doors for summer break, which is a relief for weary children anxious to shut their books, but a financial burden for busy parents who need to find affordable child care.
Between 2012 and 2013, the cost of child care rose eight times more than the increase in household income, according to Child Care Aware‘s Parents and the High Cost of Child Care: 2013 Report. The average child care cost for a 4-year-old at a child care center in 2012 ranged from $4,312 to $12,355 depending on location, which puts a huge strain on family savings.
With child care as one of the biggest expenses in the home, even for school-aged children, finding opportunities for low-cost care can be challenging — especially when both parents work full-time. For those who are willing to explore options beyond traditional babysitters, there are a handful of ways to reduce the financial burden of child care.
1. Sitting Co-Ops
A bit of coordination goes a long way when it comes to saving money on child care expenses. Those who are willing to join a child care cooperative can gain access to a group of sitters at little to no out-of-pocket cost.
Sitting co-ops are composed of a few families who agree to take turns babysitting for each other. Ages can range from infants to older, middle school kids. Generally, one person from the group is selected to keep track of the number of hours each family volunteers to sit each month. This responsibility is shared throughout the group on a scheduled cycle, and the person who takes on administrative duties for the month or quarter typically receives bonus sitting hours from the group for the added commitment.
Aside from the savings benefit, child care co-ops are appealing to parents for a number of other reasons, including:
- Sitters are people from your community or friends that you trust
- Sitter is also a parent who likely has experience caring for young children
- Kids have other playmates to interact with while in the care of a co-op sitter
- Better chances of finding an available sitter in a cooperative, versus relying on a single person
2. Public Neighborhood Programs
Short-term care can be found at a low price through city programs, like city recreational centers or public parks. This option offers parents low-cost scheduled care that occupies children for a few hours a day or once a week, which can be a huge help for on-the-go families.
Instead of paying $8 to $20 on child care per hour, you can allot that cash toward routine child care through a summer camp in your area. You’ll save money this season and the funds go toward supporting community development initiatives.
3. Government-Sponsored Child Care Programs
Eligible low-income households can seek the assistance of U.S. government programs to help subsidize the cost of child care. The State of Louisiana’s Department of Children & Family Services, for instance, offers government aid through the Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP). There are a number of requirements that parents must meet to qualify for this service, such as maximum gross household income caps.
These programs might not cover 100 percent of child care costs, but can help alleviate the expense of traditional child care bills.
4. Complimentary Child Care
Certain paid services, like membership-based gyms, provide child care services for free as an added perk. If the cost of a health center membership is something you’d rather not forgo, consider joining a club that provides child care as a two-for-one benefit.
In addition to having a responsible adult supervise your child’s play while you work out, you can also take advantage of this complimentary service by bringing a few errands with you to do in the lobby.
Keep in mind that you’ll have to remain in the building at all times, in the event of an emergency.
5. Family Child Care Resources
Would your parents love to spend more time with their grandchild? Do you have a sister who’s currently working from home? Falling back on these familial resources can strengthen relationships between your child and extended family members, while also easing the pressure on your wallet.
If you’re uneasy about being indebted to your family for their time, consider offering some payment for your gratitude, or perhaps you can return the favor by purchasing their groceries for the week. Negotiate a middle ground that helps you save money, yet still shows your appreciation for their help.
Photo credit: U.S. Army