Whether you are expecting your baby soon or heading back to work after a multi-year break as a stay-at-home mom, finding childcare can be a struggle. Affordable childcare can be especially difficult to find. Start your search as early as you can! This enables you to tour facilities, fill out paperwork, get on wait lists, check tax issues and start an FSA if possible. And while childcare numbers often sound huge, put together a budget so you know what you really can afford—and what you really cannot afford.
How do you actually find child care that is both affordable for you and works with your work schedule? There are many different options out there, and your work schedule and budget will determine your final choice. If you have a standard 9–5 work schedule, an in-home daycare or after school programs may be the most affordable options. If you have a nontraditional schedule (shift work or 12-hour shifts), you may want to check into other options first—beware of late-pickup fees at schools and daycares. If you work from home and don’t need full-time coverage, a mix of drop-in care and sitters may work for you.
Before the Search
• Create a child care budget. Know what you can and cannot afford. Figure out the hours you will need covered, and determine if you will need overnight, extended, or drop-in coverage as well.
• Check in with HR at your job, and find out if your company offers any childcare benefits. Do they offer a flexible spending account for childcare? Do they have an onsite daycare, or work with one locally for drop-ins? Also find out if you will be eligible to claim any child care tax credits.
• If your child is heading to school, check in with the school to find out if there is before- or after-care, what the cost is, the hours available, and see if it fits your work schedule.
• Check your state and/or local income limits and see if you qualify for Head Start or any childcare subsidies.
• Talk! Ask friends, acquaintances, neighbors, and coworkers what they do for childcare. Join local Facebook moms group,s local parent yahoo groups, and your neighborhood next door group. You may be surprised to find local in-home operators you were not aware of, or get great leads from families who are adjusting their own childcare arrangements.
• Look at local college, university, and community college job boards. Students are often available in early morning or late evening hours, as well as for possible overnights. Also, if your child has any health problems, you might even luck out and find a nursing or child development student, or a student dealing with similar issues. If you are working at a college or attending one, there are often on-site daycares that may offer discounts to staff or registered students.
• Talk to relatives. Grandma might not want to provide full-time care, but she might be happy to do a weekly overnight or 2 days or shifts each week. Or maybe she will be your backup when your child is sick. She might also be very affordable, freeing up your budget for daycare or sitters on other days. College- or high-school age relatives might be happy to be your full-time nanny for a summer.
• Check public and nonprofit options. Many school districts now offer free pre-K for 4 year olds. YMCAs and churches often offer some form of childcare, as do city Parks and Rec departments. See what is available in your area. The Boys and Girls Club is a great choice for school-aged kids, and may be available on an as-needed basis.
• If a nanny is out of your price range but your work hours don’t fit with schools and daycare, consider a nanny-share, babysitting co-op, or even a babysitting exchange (which is typically with one other family only). An au pair will also cost less than a nanny—but their working hours will be more limited, and they may be looking for only a year or two of employment.
• If you work from home, look into a mother’s helper. A mother’s helper is a child too young to babysit alone, but who can easily play with and watch your young child so you can hold a conference call or make a deadline. Mother’s helpers cost less than babysitters, since you need to be available in case of emergency.
• Barter your services for childcare—can you cut hair, do accounting, decorate cakes, or design a webpage? Consider bartering with those you trust.
• If possible, telecommute one or more days a week.
• Work shifts that are the opposite of your partner’s. This can be hard, but this can nearly eliminate child care expenses.
Finding great childcare can be a challenge, but the great thing is that there are so many options out there that with a little research you should be able to find the right fit for your family.