13 Ways to Clip the Cost of Child Care

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Ever dreamed of owning your very own Lamborghini? Turns out that by the time you finish raising a child, you will have expended about the same amount of money necessary to afford such a car.

A couple of years ago, the U.S. Department of Agriculture calculated the cost of raising a child for 18 years at $241,080 — and that’s not including college.

Unless you’re a stay-at-home parent, child care will more than likely be a part of the equation — in some cases a very significant one.

Fortunately, there are ways to save on child care. Here are 13.

1. Plan ahead

If you have a solid idea of when you’ll need care, don’t wait until the last minute to commence your search. The high-quality, cost-efficient providers usually fill their spaces first, so secure your spot before the rush.

2. Check online databases

For a small membership fee, you can join websites such as Sittercity and Care.com that will enable you to query a database of local child care providers that are most suitable for you. All providers are screened, so you can retrieve a copy of their background check before moving forward.

3. Use in-home day care

Are day care centers in your area too expensive for your budget? Try soliciting referrals from trusted friends and relatives about people who run in-home facilities. They are usually much more affordable and offer a smaller child-to-caregiver ratio. Says U.S. News & World Report:

In contrast to traditional day care facilities, family-run day cares are usually operated out of the provider’s home, where she often cares for her own children at the same time. It’s usually far less expensive than the traditional route.

4. Take advantage of employer-sponsored child care

On-site facilities at your place of employment may be another option. Employees are typically offered an incentive to enroll their kids. They also save money on gasoline and feel comfortable knowing that their children are just a few minutes away.

5. Review employee benefits

Inquire at your employer’s human resources department to find out if any dependent care programs or discounts are offered.

For example, some employers have an arrangement with Bright Horizons through the Back-up Care Advantage program. Each year, qualified employees are offered a set number of days of backup care at a discounted rate, and a small percentage in savings with select providers.

6. Split the duties

Establish or join a baby-sitting co-op in your neighborhood. But remember that you must give your time in order to receive, so you’ll have to carefully consider if this type of arrangement is right for you.

Lisa McLellan, a professional child care provider and founder of BabySittingWorld.com, told U.S. News:

It works well for people who work part-time hours, and it’s a wonderful alternative to paying hourly for an occasional baby sitter. On a more informal basis, two parents can simply trade caregiving hours with each other for a few hours a week. If one parent has more children than the other, they can work it out with points like a baby-sitting co-op so that neither parent feels cheated.

7. Hire a student

Do you need someone to watch your children for a few hours until you arrive home from work? Try out a high school or college student to get the job done. This is the perfect way to keep your children occupied without spending a ton of money.

8. Explore income-based programs

Check out the Child Care Aware or Head Start Program in your local area. Also, visit the website of the Office of Child Care, which is a division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

9. Share a nanny

It may be cheaper for several families to share in the cost of a nanny. In such situations, the kids gather with the nanny every day. Just be sure to get everything in writing and agree to the terms and conditions beforehand. Care.com offers a helpful list of things you should consider to determine whether a nanny share is right for you.

10. Ask relatives

Part-time care is an option if you have a reliable relative who can pick up the slack a few days a week. Grandparents and other retired family members may be the perfect candidates for the role.

11. Ditch the workforce

In some cases, the costs of child care may outweigh the benefits of working. “The cost of taking care of one’s children outside the home is now so high that many women cannot be assured of both working and making a decent income after taxes and child care costs,” says The New York Times.

To help make a decision, Parents.com offers a Stay at Home Calculator.

12. Fund a flexible spending account

You can contribute up to $2,500 ($5,000 for couples) per year in pretax income to a dependent care FSA offered by your workplace, which will lower your tax liability at the end of the year. The funds can be used for day care, preschool and summer day camp.

13. Use federal and state tax credits

Savings on child care may also be available to you through both the state and federal government. Acccording to NerdWallet:

The federal Child and Dependent Care Credit will reimburse 25 to 35 percent of your child care expenses incurred in order for you to work or look for work. The credit pays out up to $3,000 a year for a single child, or $6,000 a year for two or more. Child care expenses, in this case, include day camps as well as baby sitting. Further, 24 states offer additional dependent care credits.

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