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Think Outside the Box to Reduce Child Care Costs: Here Are 3 Options

Affordable child care
From left, Aksana Miles, 3, Mason Mohareb,5, and Luke Playford, 3, play a game with preschool teacher Elona Tafaj at Countryside High School in Clearwater, Florida. The children are in a program in which high school students studying early childhood education get experience working with the children. The program costs parents $100 a week. Tina Russell/The Penny Hoarder


It’s no secret that having children is expensive. But what shocks many parents is just how costly it is right at the start.

Families with young kids often find child care to be the highest recurring expense they encounter in those first several years. We surveyed The Penny Hoarder readers in July, and 82% of the 1,224 parents who responded said they spent at least $500 a month on child care. Over a third (35.5%) of survey respondents spent $1,000 or more on monthly child care expenses.

Fortunately, there are more affordable alternatives to traditional child care options. It just requires looking at things a little differently.

Bring Your Baby to Work

Return to work or stay at home with the baby. These are the choices many parents weigh when they welcome  a new child into their family.

But what if you could have it both ways? Parents can save thousands of dollars by taking their babies to work with them — even if just on a temporary basis. This is especially helpful in a baby’s first months of life because infant care is often more expensive than care for a toddler or preschooler.

Anna Boonstra, experience manager at a tech company in Ann Arbor, Michigan, brought her 7-week-old daughter, Flynn, to work until she was just about 6 months old.

The company Boonstra works for, Menlo Innovations, has had 22 babies come to work with their parents over the past 11 years. She said there’s a room for nursing moms and a diaper-changing table at the office, plus space for baby equipment like a playpen or an infant swing.

“I thought it would be more difficult than it actually ended up being,” Boonstra said. “If I have to be in a phone call… [and] the baby starts crying, someone picks her up.”

By bringing her daughter to work, Boonstra was able to bypass about four months of day care for her daughter. The average monthly child care cost for an infant in Michigan ranges from $613 to $884, according to Child Care Aware, a child care resource organization.

Like many other prospective parents, Boonstra said she didn’t realize how expensive child care would be until she was pregnant.

“This is our first child, so my husband and I had to figure out how we were going to afford the day care costs,” she said. “Being able to bring her with me… [gave] us the ability to put money aside and figure out our budget and get ahead on things.

Boonstra also said she was able to return to work earlier and get back to earning her full-time salary knowing she could bring her baby with her. Plus, she didn’t have to miss out on crucial bonding time or seeing her daughter reach milestones in those first six months.

Being allowed to bring a baby to work may not be a common workplace benefit, but Menlo Innovations isn’t the only company that offers it. The Parenting in the Workplace Institute has recorded more than 200 workplaces that offer such a benefit. They range from small businesses to state government agencies.

The institute provides assistance and resources to help companies develop babies-at-work programs or to support individual workers who want to introduce the concept at their jobs.

Enroll in a High School-Based Child Care Center

Children play a board game as they attend preschool.
From left, L.J. Glover, 4, Westley Lieb,4, Destiny Miller, 16, and Sofia Gomez, 4, play a board game together at Countryside High School. Tina Russell/The Penny Hoarder

Penny Hoarders know one way to cut costs on services is to do business with students who are in training for their intended profession. Similar to how cosmetology schools may offer cheaper haircuts than your regular salon, parents can find better deals on child care from those training to become child care providers.

Several high schools — and colleges — across the country provide on-site child care staffed by students. For example, 24 preschoolers spend their days at Countryside High School in Clearwater, Florida. High school students who study early childhood education there get firsthand experience planning lessons and working with the 3- and 4-year-olds. The parents — most of whom are employed by the school district — see the benefit in the price.

“It’s only $100 a week, so that’s very low compared to most places,” said Stacy Glover, an English teacher whose 4-year-old son is in his second year in the preschool program.

The weekly tuition covers a full day of care from 6:45 a.m. to 5:45 p.m. Monday through Friday. By comparison, Care.com estimates other nearby centers charge up to $200 a week.

Glover said she looked into other preschools for her son but chose the one at the high school for its cost and convenience.

Jody Amiot-Priso, a librarian at Countryside High School, also has a 4-year-old son who attends the on-site preschool. Her older son, now a first-grader, went through the program two years ago. Amiot-Priso said she chose to enroll her kids after hearing great recommendations from fellow coworkers.

“It was a great program, and then of course it was less expensive, so how can you turn that down?” she asked. “Kids come out of the program 110% ready for kindergarten.”

Amiot-Priso said she never had any concerns about high schoolers providing supervised instruction for her little ones. She even participated in a similar early childhood education program when she was a high school student.

Check your local school district or nearby colleges to inquire about similar programs, availability and cost of enrollment.

A child laughs as he chows down on his sandwich during preschool class.
Westley, 4, is one of the 3- and 4-year-olds in the moderately priced child care program at a high school in Clearwater, Florida. Tina Russell/The Penny Hoarder

Share the Cost of a Nanny

Hiring a nanny can be one of the most expensive child care solutions for parents. According to Care.com, the national average rate for nanny care is a whopping $580 a week.

But having a nanny watch over your child does comes with advantages.

Your child gets more one-on-one attention compared to environments with many children. Your child can remain in the familiar environment of home. You have more say over how your child is cared for and how your child’s day is structured.

To make having a nanny more affordable, some families come together to share the nanny and split the cost. The nanny will likely charge more money for caring for two or more children than just one, but the cost will be less expensive than each family hiring separate nannies.

Jessica Mast, owner of Golden Gate Nanny Shares in San Francisco, said nanny sharing can save parents about $5 to $15 per hour, per family.

Nanny Lane, another nanny sharing agency, breaks it down another way. One example: A family paying $3,000 a month for a nanny could wind up paying $2,000 a month by sharing with another family.

Agencies like Nanny Lane and Golden Gate Nanny Shares can help parents find other families to pair up with. Mast said parents also connect via word of mouth, parenting groups and even Facebook.

Each nanny share is different, she said. Parents will collectively decide where the nanny share will be hosted, how many hours of care are needed and how much they’ll pay. Mast said parents usually have a contract so everyone stays on the same page regarding the arrangement.

Nicole Dow is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder. She is a single mother of a daughter who’s in preschool.

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