5 Free or Low-Cost Child Care Options (This Mom Saves $200 a Month!)

affordable daycare
affordable daycare

As a single parent for nearly six years, one of my biggest challenges in balancing home and finances was daycare.

Paying for bills, groceries, gas and gymnastic leotards is bad enough — but topping it off with a massive daycare tuition of hundreds (or even thousands) of dollars a month is a serious drag.

Yearly daycare costs average around $18,000 in the U.S. That’s almost a second income for some families!

Often times, parents (especially single parents) are so desperate for daycare they’ll settle for any schmuck who calls themselves a “licensed” sitter. Even with a thorough background check, finding the right sitter for your most precious cargo is a daunting task.

Here are five ways get quality care for your kids and save a penny or two in the process!

1. Check Out Your Local Boys and Girls Club

My children have been going to the Boys and Girls Club of America for a few years now, and they’ve truly enjoyed the experience. Backed by Congressional support and partial funding, the Boys and Girls Club has been around for well over a century, with several thousands chapters across North America.

The tuition at the Boys and Girls Club is a steal: At one point, I only paid $50for the entire school year. The facilities could be upgraded a bit, but my children are safe, have a great time and the staff is friendly.

The Boys and Girls Club in my area also operates from 2 – 8 p.m during the school year. It gives me ample time to commute from work and pick up my kids without dealing with late charges.

2. Try Your Local YMCA

I’ve never taken my kids to the YMCA, but before and after school care in my area is less than $90 weekly. In fact, it’s even cheaper if you’re a YMCA member.

For example, you’re looking at $58 per week in the Hampton Roads, Virginia region. If you’re interested in knowing more, visit the official YMCA website, type in your zip code and check out available daycare programs and costs.

3. Research Licensed and Non-Licensed Daycare Providers in Your State

Parents are uneasy about releasing their kids to just any John or Jane Doe. If your state has regulations for sitters (and it should) you can check them out yourself.

I’ve found a ton of so-called “licensed” sitters on Craigslist who weren’t in the daycare registry. Check out the social services website for your state —  You can type in your city, whether you want only licensed in-home daycare providers or facilities or both, and a list will populate.

For licensed in-home providers, you should be able to view any complaints they’ve accumulated over the years as well as if those complaints have been addressed. I’ve personally found that in-house daycare providers are more willing to work with you on prices and flexibility, saving you money in the long run.

I had one in-home sitter who would occasionally run specials, such as watching one child at full price and the other for free. Until she relocated, she was my kids’ sitter for several years, as you can imagine!

For more populous states like California, Texas and New York, check out the respective child care registry sites below:

California Department of Social Services: Daycare Search

Texas Department of Family and Protective Services

New York State Office of Children and Family Services

4. Get to Know Other Parents at Your Child’s School

My oldest child was accepted into a gifted program in a new school, throwing off my schedule and daycare costs. While I was delighted she was accepted, I wasn’t excited by the extra daycare costs that came with it.

However, during a playdate with one of her friends, I got to know her friend’s mother. Come to find out, this stay-at-home mom does relatively cheap in-home daycare and will occasionally keep kids for several days overnight for parents who travel for work.

Considering my job loves to fly me to California a couple times a year, I made sure to save her number in my phone.

5. Research Prices Through Your City

The city government offers the cheapest prices for before and after school and full-day daycare in my area. For one week, your toddler can get full-day care for only $89. I remember paying well over $100 in daycare for just one kid when my children were younger.

One of my kids is in a before-school program and the other is in an after-school program; I pay just $93 a week. I pay a total of $372 a month in daycare and, considering the average monthly daycare cost in Virginia is over $500, I feel good saving nearly $200 a month.

Another thing I like about city programs is the additional services, like occasional field trips, holiday celebrations and parents’ nights out that come with little-to-no fees.

Unfortunately, you’ll likely pay daycare costs for several years. However, with these tips, you should be able to slash your child care costs a good deal.

Your Turn: Do you have any tips for saving on daycare costs in your area?

Monica Leftwich is a single mom of two little girls on a mission to help other single moms (and dads) save money and get rid of debt. Follow her blog, debtfreemommy.me, for more money tips for solo parents.