Finding new child care solutions

The High Cost of Child Care

by Dara Hofman

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It's a killer. I was reading an article about child care costs, and I almost peed myself. According to the National Association of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies, child care is in the five figures in some states. It's a sword of Damacles over the head of most parents in this society, particularly single parents or parents who have to work. This is something you just can't scrimp on, but how do we come up with $10k/year? A lot of times, you can't. And so you have to find another way.

Growing up, my parents did what's now called "split shift" parenting. Mom left for work at 7 AM and got home by 3 PM; Dad left at 11 PM and got home by 7 AM. We had aunts, family friends, and neighbors to keep us if something called away one of our parents during "their" shift.

Now that Hofpapa and I have the Hofbaby, we take care of our munchkin through a variety of means. We're both self-employed, which means that with discipline, one of us can usually work while taking care of the baby (although I don't recommend it long-term for mental health). We live close to family, which means I have a bevy of cousins, aunts, uncles and, of course, grandparents to call on if I have to attend to an emergency in one of my cases. Soon, little guy will be big enough to put in our synagogue's excellent pre-school (which is a steal compared to daycare).

However, we know our situation is not the norm; most families don't have the relative flexibility of having two self-employed parents. For those families, an affordable, reliable form of child care becomes even more important. For an increasing number of families, extended family is now filling this niche. It's probably the most ancient system of child care known to man; mom has baby and mom's sister (or mother-in-law, or whomever) watches baby while mom prepares mammoth-chops. And as long as your family is dependable, it can be a wonderful solution.

If circumstances have put your family in debt, find out how to conquer your debt by creating a plan personalized to your family's budget and lifestyle.

But what do you do if you don't have family around? Or a wonderful church-family to call on? You improvise. You create family that you can count on. We've spent more days than you can imagine with friends' children, and they've done the same for us. One of my most beloved and admired friends is a single mom to four; she's teamed up with another mom, and they split-shift parent each other's kids. It's grueling, but it frees up about $35,000 per year between the two moms. In the summer, community organizations, schools, and religious organizations offer a number of day-camps for low- to no-cost. If you have someone you can trust, a nanny is not a bad idea, particularly if you can get a college student (or even a single mom) who will watch the kiddos in exchange for room, board, and reasonable pay.

People are fleeing the costs of daycare, but the kids still have to be cared for. While it's a challenge that faces any family with children, it's particularly acute for families with two working parents. As there's less disposable money available, we have to find new solutions; for most of us, the only way out is with creativity, love, and sacrifice. It's going to mean less "me" time, less dishwashing/checkbook balancing/TV watching time, more tired time, more trading what we can do for what others can do. But then, isn't that what being a parent has always meant?

Dara Hofman blogs under the title of Workin' It, the blog for working parents who are committed to the frugal lifestyle. This blog addresses some of the issues working families face in keeping their lifestyle frugal, including child care, work expenses, and the constant trade off between time and cost. The author and her husband, both law school graduates, work full-time; the author has a law firm, and dear husband has a property management business.

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