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A mama's guide to saving on the cost of childcare

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While parenthood isn't cheap to begin with, childcare is one of the biggest expenses families face. A look at the numbers proves what a huge burden paying for childcare has become—especially for families with average or low incomes.

In the state of Massachusetts, for example, full-time care for an infant cost an astronomical $20,125 in 2016. Single parents in Massachusetts earned a median income of $28,389, meaning they would have to pay 70.9% of their income for daycare. Even married couples who earned an average of $117,2017 that year would have to fork over more than 20 percent of their gross pay for care for one child.

Other states present similar quandaries for parents, and that's true even in states where daycare costs are lower. A good example is the state of Utah. Here, the annual cost of infant care in a center ($12,249) is 45.5% of the $26,942 median income for single parents.

It gets worse. According to the 2017 Parents and the High Cost of Child Care Report from ChildCare Aware, the price for child care for two children exceeds housing costs for homeowners with a mortgage in 35 states and the District of Columbia. Now, that's a problem.

Childcare options to consider

Fortunately, you do have some say in how much you pay for childcare, since there are multiple options available. Childcare options to consider include:

Daycare

Daycare centers are a popular option for parents since they provide standard and predictable care they can count on. Many parents choose a center so they will always have a place to take their child while they work, and many daycare centers offer educational programs, playgrounds, and hands-on activities for kids. Daycare centers can be less personalized, however, which is why many parents prefer one-on-one care.

Costs

Infant care in a daycare center cost $10,926 annually on the national level in 2016, while in-home daycare centers cost $7,961. Annual prices for toddlers were $9,562 and $7,398 respectively that year. If you want to pay less for daycare but still want to use a center, you're almost always better off choosing a small in-home daycare.

Nanny

Many families who don't want to deal with a daycare center choose to hire an in-home nanny instead. This choice comes with the benefit of having childcare come to you versus driving to a center. Your children will also receive personalized care and the undivided attention of their nanny.

Costs

According to Care.com, nannies earned an average of $13.63 per hour or $28,354 per year in 2016. Nannies with college degrees earned more. Also keep in mind that there are tax implications that come with hiring an in-home nanny. For example, you may need to withhold federal and state taxes for them, and you will likely need to pay for unemployment plus social security and Medicare taxes on top of their salary.

Au Pair

Au pairs are similar to nannies in the fact that they care for your children in your home. However, they are typically brought overseas for the program, and they live under your roof. Au pairs can be a good fit if you don't mind providing room and board and want live-in help, but not everyone wants or needs 24/7 assistance. Also, au pairs can be a lot more expensive than traditional daycare centers.

Costs

Costs for au pairs vary depending on the agency you work with and other details. However, you may need to pay a match fee ($400+) and an annual agency fee ($7,800 – $10,000) on top of a weekly stipend of $200 – $250. In total, these costs can add up to $20,000+ per year on top of room and board.

Babysitter

A babysitter is another option to consider if you only need sporadic care. The benefit of a babysitter is the fact that they may come to your home and they can be less costly. On the downside, babysitter care may be less reliable since your provider may not watch children full-time and may need to pursue other types of work.

Costs

Babysitters earn an average of $13.97 per hour, although their pay varies depending on where you live, how many kids you have, and the caretaker's level of experience.

Can you afford to be a stay at home parent?

With childcare costs eating up a large percentage of many parent's salaries, some ultimately decide to stay home full-time or work only part-time. While this option can make financial sense, there are long-term considerations to make as well.

Spending time out of the workforce can make it more difficult to find work once your children reach school age, for example.

Parents who stay home several years may also lose career momentum and miss out on promotions based on their decision. For these reasons and others, parents must evaluate the costs of missing out on work while their kids are young—even if daycare costs are eating up a large percentage of one parent's salary.

New tax credits, flexible spending accounts, and state subsidies

While it's unlikely that childcare costs will go down any time soon, there is some good news on the horizon. For starters, the recently passed tax reform bill doubles the Child Tax Credit from $1,000 to $2,000. This tax credit is also available for married couples with adjusted gross incomes of up to $400,000. The previous rules phased this credit out for couples with incomes of $110,000 or more.Second, you may be eligible to contribute to a Flexible Spending Account (FSA)—a pre-tax account you can use to pay for eligible childcare expenses. These accounts can save you 30 percent or more on childcare, and they may be offered through your employer.

The Child Care and Development Block Grant Act (CCDBG) was signed into law in 2014, provides ongoing subsidies for low-income families who need help covering childcare expenses. Under this law, almost all states were forced to increased income limits for families eligible for subsidies to 85 percent of their state's median income.

Since state childcare subsidies are governed the states themselves, however, you'll need to research health and social services, financial assistance, and resources on a local level. This map from ChildCare Aware can connect you with the appropriate services based on where you live.

Using your credit card to leverage childcare for rewards

If you can afford childcare but want a return on your investment, you can also consider leveraging this sizable expense to earn credit card rewards with a credit card. For this strategy to work, you only need to confirm that your daycare provider accepts credit cards as payment.

Many of the top cash-back credit cards offer 2% back or more for ongoing expenses—essentially free money, provided you pay your credit card bill in full every month. If you spend $20,000 per year for care at a corporate daycare center, a card that offered 2% flat cash-back would net you an easy $400 in cash back, for example. You may also be able to earn a signup bonus for getting a new card and meeting a minimum spending requirement within a few months.

Travel rewards cards can also help you turn your childcare expenses into free airfare, hotel stays, and other perks. If you're going to pay for daycare every month, you might as well get something back.


Originally posted on Bankrate.

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As a mid-Spring holiday, we never knew exactly what to expect from the weather on Easter when I was growing up in Michigan: Would we get to wear our new Sunday dresses without coats? Or would we be hunting for eggs while wearing snowsuits?

Although what the temperature had in store was really anyone's guess, there were a few special traditions my sister and I could always depend on—and it won't come as a surprise to anyone who knows me that my favorite memories revolved around food. After all, experts say memories are strongest when they tie senses together, which certainly seems to be true when it comes to holiday meals that involve the sounds of laughter and the taste of amazing food.

Now that I'm a parent, I'm experiencing Easter anew as my children discover the small delights of chocolate, pre-church brunch and a multi-generational dinner. While I still look forward to the treats and feasting, I'm realizing now that the sweetest thing of all is how these traditions bring our family together around one table.

For us, the build-up to Easter eats is an extended event. Last year's prep work began weeks in advance when my 3-year-old and I sat down to plan the brunch menu, which involved the interesting suggestion of "green eggs and ham." When the big morning rolled around, his eyes grew to the size of Easter eggs out of pure joy when the dish was placed on the table.

This year, rather than letting the day come and go in a flash, we are creating traditions that span weeks and allow even the littlest members of the family to feel involved.

Still, as much as I love enlisting my children's help, I also relish the opportunity to create some magic of my own with their Easter baskets—even if the Easter Bunny gets the credit. This year, I'm excited to really personalize the baskets by getting an "adoptable" plush unicorn for my daughter and the Kinder Chocolate Mini Eggs that my son hasn't stopped talking about since seeing at the store. (You can bet this mama is stocking up on some for herself, too.)

At the same time, Easter as a parent has opened my eyes to how much effort can be required...

There is the selection of the right Easter outfits for picture-perfect moments.

There is the styling of custom Easter baskets.

There is the filling of plastic eggs and strategic placement of them throughout the yard.

But when the cameras are put away and we all join together around the table for the family dinner at the end of the day, I can finally take a deep breath and really enjoy—especially with the knowledge that doing the dishes is my husband's job.

This article was sponsored by Kinder. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.


Our Partners

Just weeks ago, I was busy with gym classes, music classes, make-ups for gym and music classes, storytime, tummy time, outdoor time, quiet time, playtime, Play-Doh time, exercise time. It seems I had time to do everything except stay-inside-time. Chill-time. Relax-time. Unplanned-time.

Two weeks ago I had a 23-month-old daughter and a 5-month-old daughter who didn't spend more than 20 minutes at home without being shifted to the next activity, birthday, meet up, play date or playground. They would melt down, fall apart, sometimes hit and were constantly on the move. I was always the one saying, "Stay-at-home mom? More like never-staying-at-home mom! We are always on the go."

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And we were.

It was more to do with me than with my children. I didn't want to slow down. I didn't want to take a breath. I didn't want to stop. Because if I did, how would I get through the morning? The next activity? The weekend? Dinner? The whole day?

I once read that being extremely busy (by choice) is actually a sign of anxiety. Well, hello. That was me. If I moved fast enough, I wouldn't have to sit with myself and my feelings.

Then came the quarantine forcing us all to shut down for weeks on end due to the spread of the extremely contagious and dangerous coronavirus. I was devastated and exasperated, thinking words I probably can't write down in an article.

I went through the five stages of grief.

Denial: This isn't happening. People will fight back. Tomorrow we will be back to our normal schedule.

Anger: Why is this happening? Am I being punished for something? Is this because I didn't let that person in front of me at the red light?

Bargaining: Okay, okay, I'll do this for two weeks, but that's it. This is going to really suck. I get why we are doing it. But still.

Depression: This is heavy.

As the hours turned into days then into weeks, we started to fall into a quarantine routine. We moved a bit slower at first, filling our usual gym or music classes with outdoor play or walks outside. Then the rain came and we were forced to spend time inside our house. My. Worst. Fear. I had to sit still and I had to be the one to interact with my children. It's not that I didn't want to before, it's just that I didn't think I was good enough or exciting enough. I mean, I don't want to sit at home all day, why would my toddler or infant?

But I learned something about myself and my children through this stage. I am more than they need.

Because when they roll over my stomach or bounce on my knees, I am their gym class.

When we sing every song from Frozen, Frozen 2 and Moana, I am their music class.

When we make spaghetti with Play-Doh and lick ice cubes, I am their cooking class.

When we stop to go outside in the rain and purposefully get wet, I am their science class.

I have learned more about my kids in these past few weeks than in most of their lifetime. I learned that my daughter has a wide gap in between her two front teeth, just like I had as a kid and my grandma had as a kid. I learned my infant daughter is going to have green eyes like her dad and his mom. I learned that my older daughter thrives when she is home with me and her sister. I learned that the less she interacts with technology, the more calm she is.

I learned that maybe all the "problems" she was having before was her way of telling me that it was all too much. Too loud. Too many rules. Too many people.

She just needed to slow down.

These lessons brought me to my final stage: Acceptance.

I have to say, I'm enjoying this forced time with my kids. Not every minute of it. Not even every hour—but most days, I am really finding time to enjoy it. And if it weren't forced upon me, I don't know when or if I would have ever slowed down.

The quarantine will end eventually, but I can't say when exactly. What I can say with certainty that once the ban is lifted, many of these lessons we've learned during this time will stay with us forever. We will stay home more. We will be present. We will quit some or all of our activities.

Because you know what? I have stopped moving long enough to learn that the present moment is often just what my child needs.

Life

DIY beauty products have been used as an alternative to big name beauty brands for years. Their effectiveness is powerful and you can get the same results—if not better—from household items. As we continue to quarantine for the foreseeable future, mamas are looking to homemade alternatives to keep their hair healthy. The good news is that you don't have to be a DIY enthusiast to create hair care products. They are easy to create and inexpensive.

Here are a few DIY hair mask and oil recipes we love—no stove or mixer required:

1. Moisturizing hair mask

Benefits: Adds moisture, antioxidants, reduces breakage and is rich in vitamins.

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup of whole milk
  • 1 banana
  • 2 tbsp of honey
  • 3 tsp of avocado oil
  • 5 drops of Gotu Kola extract

Directions:

  1. Blend all ingredients into a bowl and apply on gently shampooed hair. Work from the ends up the hair shaft and scalp.
  2. Leave on for 30 minutes with a plastic cap. Shampoo for a second time and style as usual.

Mask from Ona Diaz-Santin, celebrity hairstylist + salon owner of 5 Salon + Spa

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2. No-frizz hair oil treatment

Benefits: Instantly adds shine and prevents frizz and flyaways.

Ingredients:

  • 2 tbsp argan oil
  • 1 tbsp jojoba oil
  • 5 drops rosemary essential oil
  • 5 drops ylang ylang essential oil
  • 2 drops lavender essential oil
  • Optional: 1⁄8 teaspoon sea buckthorn oil

Directions:

  1. Combine all ingredients in a measuring cup and stir with a spoon.
  2. With funnel, pour into a glass bottle and close with an eyedropper.
  3. Use on wet or dry hair or as needed.

Oil treatment by Jana Blankenship, author of Wild Beauty.


3. Strengthening hair mask

Benefits: Relieves dry scalp, minimizes frizz and encourages hair growth.

Ingredients:

  • 1 banana
  • 1 avocado
  • 1 cup olive oil

Directions:

  1. Crush up a banana, avocado and some olive oil and smash it into an oily cream.
  2. Apply to the ends and the mid lengths sparingly to dry or damaged hair. A little goes a long way! The best way to apply is rub through with your fingertips.
  3. Wrap your hair in a damp tea towel to stop the goop from drying out.
  4. Leave the masque on as long as you can, it looks yucky but does the job.
  5. Shampoo out and condition as normal.
  6. This is a one every couple weeks mask because it is so concentrated and not as simple as a store-bought mask. Apply now, and your hair will be radiant and soft as you head into the long weeks ahead.

Mask from hair stylist Kevin Murphy, founder of Kevin Murphy.

4. 2 in 1 exfoliating hair mask

Benefits: Repairs dry, brittle hair, helps balance ph level and removes product build up.

Ingredients:

  • 2 large eggs
  • aloe vera stem
  • castor oil
  • 1 lemon juice
  • 2 tbsp brown sugar

Directions:

Hair repair mask:

  1. Crack the 2 large eggs into a blender, add the stem of aloe vera, add 2 tbsps of castor oil.
  2. Apply to hair from mid-shaft to ends. Let it sit for 30 minutes.
  3. Rinse off and use a fiber towel to limit the frizz and not damage the strands.

Exfoliating scalp mask:

  1. Use the same ingredients mentioned above and add the lemon juice and brown sugar.
  2. Gently massage into the scalp and let it sit for 15 minutes before rinsing it off.
  3. Shampoo and condition as normal.

Mask from Ada Rojas, founder of Botanika Beauty.

5. Rosemary + mint hair oil treatment

Benefits: Antibacterial and helps control dandruff.

Ingredients:

  • sterile glass jar
  • unrefined cold-pressed coconut oil
  • fresh or dried rosemary
  • fresh or dried mint

Directions:

  1. Sterilize your jar by pouring in boiling water, then letting it air dry completely.
  2. Gather your herbs, if they are fresh—make sure that they are fully dry.
  3. Fill your container with the herbs and top off to fully cover with the coconut oil.
  4. Seal and set in a warm spot for two weeks, shaking often to release the essential oils.
  5. Strain out the herbs and reserve your oil to use in hair treatments.

Oil treatment from Ada Rojas, founder of Botanika Beauty.

Now that you've created your masks + oil treatments, here are a few additional hair care tips from the pros:

1. Do as little as possible.

"The best way to take care of your hair at a time like this is to do as little as possible. No tension, not too much washing, no styling. We should all take this time to give our hair a breather. It will really help with overall health, in addition to doing deep conditioning treatments and even hot oil treatments for the curly girls with dry hair."—Celebrity hairstylist Sabrina Porsche.

2. Let hair masks sit.

"After applying a hair mask, allow it to sit for 20 minutes with a processing cap. The heat from your head will help to open your cuticle and maximize the penetration of the treatment. Rinse these with cool water to jump start the sealing of the hair cuticle. Treatments help fill porous portions of your hair shaft." — Emerald Fox, a stylist at Ian McCabe Studio.

3. Be kind to your body first.

"Whatever you put into your body reflects your outsides. Drinking plenty of water, and eating proper foods such as fish, nuts and eggs helps to keep hair shiny. Biotin is a natural supplement that many people don't get enough of and that could be a contributing factor to dry, brittle hair. I always tell my clients to take biotin year round to maintain a strong, healthy glow to their hair and it also helps with split ends." —Lucy Garcia Planck, a stylist at John Barrett Salon at Bergdorf Goodman.

4. Use argan oils, too.

"Argan oil moisturizes the ends of your hair without leaving your hair oily. Use only a very tiny amount (pea-sized). If your hair is fine, use a static guard sprayed in your hairbrush and brush your hair to keep static away. For those with thicker hair, the argan oil will help keep your hair moisturized and reduce flyways."—Lucy Garcia Planck

Lifestyle

British mom Courtney Barker is sharing the story of how her son, 7-month-old Arthur contracted COVID-19 in the hopes of preventing other families from going through what hers is. Thankfully, little Arthur is now feeling better, but last week he was rushed to the hospital.

His mama recalled the experience in a now-viral Facebook post that is attracting worldwide attention.

On Sunday, Barker wrote the post, pleading with others to take self-isolating more seriously after hearing Arthur's story. In Barker's immediate family three people are classified as high risk, so her husband was the only one to leave the home in the last four weeks, making two essential grocery runs.

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"Yet it has still managed to make its way into our house," Barker wrote on Facebook.

When Arthur came down with a fever and became unconscious and floppy his parents took action to get him medical attention right away. "We never thought it would happen to us because we were so careful," Barker tells Motherly, adding that she chose to share her story on social media because she doesn't want other families "to take even just an ounce of risk" when it comes to spreading the novel coronavirus.

"So PLEASE STAY HOME!" she wrote in her widely-shared post. "If you do have to leave wear gloves and a medical mask. When you get home strip off and wash everything!"

(In North America the CDC and Health Canada have asked medical masks to be reserved for medical personnel and recommend citizens use DIY cloth masks instead.)

Arthur's dad may have come into contact with someone who was positive for COVID-19 but asymptomatic on his grocery runs. That's the point of masks, to prevent asymptomatic people who don't know they are sick from spreading respiratory droplets.

Barker tells Motherly she's encouraging everyone to be as careful as possible and is asking other moms to consider all the activities they can do with their kids at home or in their own backyard instead of in public places like parks and playgrounds.

"I just wish people would take it more seriously before it's too late for them and they end up in our situation or even worse than us," she says.

Thankfully, Arthur's story has a happy ending. In an update on Facebook Barker explains: "Arthur's temperature has gone down, and he is even smiling and sitting up playing! I can't believe In just five days he went from a poorly unconscious little baby to a happy smiling baby again!"

We're so glad Arthur is doing better. Most children who get COVID-19 do have less severe symptoms than adults, but as Barker says it is still so important for families to listen to the recommendations of health authorities in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

News

"I just want to cry," I told my wife on Friday morning.

I had just gotten off a work call and my brain was ticking through follow-up items, adding to a long list of untouched to-dos. My wife, meanwhile, was multitasking an onslaught of work questions while also trying to manage "homeschool" time with our son—but he refused to participate. Instead, he huddled in an increasingly secure couch fort, refusing to do anything—color, read, go outside, talk to his teacher—besides sit in silence in the dark or watch his iPad. (Today, he opted for sitting in silence in the dark).

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"Are we permanently ruining and psychologically damaging him?" my wife pleaded with me.

We both felt guilty for the work we were not doing—and aching for the way our son was struggling and needed us to be present and calm. But that's exactly what our current schedule prohibits, as we run back and forth between work calls, requests, and parenting. (Later, as I took over the homeschool shift and he stormed upstairs to cry, he told me it was because I had stopped smiling at him. Knife, meet heart.)

This is really hard.

What's amazing to me is how consistent this struggle is among every parent I talk to. The texts and social media posts bouncing around my circle all echo each other. We feel like we're failing at both parenting and working. Our kids don't just need us—they need more of us. Our kids are acting out, abandoning the routines they already had, dropping naps, sleeping less, doing less—except for jumping on top of their parents, which is happening much more. We're letting them watch far greater amounts of screen time than we ever thought we'd tolerate. Forget homeschooling success—most of us are struggling to get our kids to do the basics that would have accounted for a Saturday-morning routine before this pandemic.

The particular struggle reflects the most privileged perspective—that of two fully employed adults, sharing the burden, without fear of losing our jobs. Put another way, I'm not worried about how I'm going to feed my family—I'm just worried about getting my son to eat something besides a donut for two days straight.

But it's precisely the privilege of this vantage point that in a way makes it so stark. This is the best-case scenario?

Viruses, or in this case, global pandemics, expose and exacerbate the existing dynamics of a society—good and bad. They are like a fun-house mirror, grossly reflecting ourselves back to us. One of those dynamics is the burden we put on individual parents and families. We ask individuals to solve problems that are systemically created.

There's a subtle expectation that parents must find creative ways to handle this on their own. My inbox, social media feeds, and countertops are filled with creative ideas for educating and caring for your kids. Workbooks, games, creative projects and experiments, virtual yoga, virtual doodling, virtual zoo visits, virtual everything.

I honestly am too tired and stretched thin to read the suggestions, let alone try them. The few I have tried have been met with astounding and fierce rejection by my son.

I see these "helpful suggestions" alongside reminders to be gentle on ourselves. "Embrace imperfection!" "Lower your standards!" To be clear—my family's standards at this point are simply to get through the day, ideally with my son doing something besides watching TV, and us not utterly sabotaging our work.

But what's missing in all these cloistered parent texts and Facebook groups, all these helpful tips, is acknowledgement that this situation is fundamentally farcical. And individual solutions don't—and won't—work.

I thought by the fourth week of social distancing we would have all settled into the new norm a bit. But for my family (and others I've spoken to) that is not the case—things are harder than they were at the beginning. Harder because we've all accrued anxiety, stress, and sadness over this period. My to-do list is longer and further untouched; my guilt and anxiety for the ways my son is not being engaged enough is greater; his apparent sadness for his whole world shifting is intensified as he regularly acts out; and our collective exhaustion grows deeper.

This cannot be solved by tweaks to the schedule, helpful routines, and virtual activities. We have to collectively recognize that parents—and any caregivers right now—have less to give at work. A lot less. The assumptions seem to be that parents have "settled into a routine" and "are doing okay now."

To be clear, parents are not doing okay.

Everyone is grieving and struggling right now. When I'm not pulling my hair out, I'm trying to be grateful that I am with my family, they are healthy and safe, and I am not enduring this period in total isolation. But this pandemic is highlighting all that is wrong with our systems set up to support families.

It exposes everything from the lack of paid sick leave and parental leave to the fact that the school day ends at 3 pm when the typical workday goes several hours longer—yet aftercare is not universally available. And that says nothing of our need for universal health care, irrespective of employment. Parents pour endless energy into solving for systems that don't make sense and don't work.

It's always been a farce to think about caretaking and family responsibilities as "personal life decisions" that get handled outside of work hours. From getting kids to pediatrician appointments to the onslaught of sick days when cold season hits to school closures and parent-teacher conferences. In my son's first year of day care, I didn't work a full week for months. Yet we just hide it better and make it work. And again, "making it work" is only true for those with the most privilege among us.

This current situation is almost prophetically designed to showcase the farce of our societal approach to separating work and family lives. We are expected to work from home full time. And care for our children full time. And we cannot have anyone outside our immediate household help. It can't work and we all are suffering at the illusion that it does.

Our kids are losing out—on peace of mind, education, engagement, the socialization for which they are built.

Our employers are losing out, too. Whether the office policy is to expect full-time work or whether, like in my experience, we are offered a lot of flexibility—work is less good, there is less of it, and returns will be diminishing the longer this juggle goes on.

To be honest, I'm not sure what the solution is. But unless we step back and redefine where the burden of responsibility lies in providing care for our most vulnerable and reprioritize what work matters, we are going to emerge from this pandemic with some of our most powerful forces—parents and young people—not up for the task of rebuilding a better future.

And in the meantime, remember this: Parents are not okay.

[This post was originally published on Medium and has been republished with permission from the author.]

Life
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