How to Pay for Child Care When You're on a Tight Budget

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The cost of day care can be downright discouraging. You might even find that child care costs take up the bulk of your paycheck. 

And of course, you don’t want to just send your kids anywhere for day care. You want to send them to a place where you’ll know they’ll be well-cared for. 

What happens though, when you can’t afford child care? Here are some options for finding child care on a tight budget. 

COVID and Child Care 

The COVID-19 pandemic is putting many parents in a child care bind. Some schools are closed indefinitely. Others are doing a hybrid model that allows them to take classes from home several days per week. 

Consequently, many children will need child care. And unfortunately, during a time when kids likely need day care now more than ever, fewer day care options may be available.

So it’s not surprising that parents are very concerned about day care costs right now. A survey, which was fielded by Care.com in May of 2020, found 47% of parents who pay for child care say they are more concerned now than they were before the pandemic started.

Many parents have also been hit with hour reductions and pay cuts, making day care even more difficult to afford.  

Look for a Home Helper

If you’re working from home and you need someone to supervise younger children just to ensure they are safe, you might look for an older child who can be a helper. A 10-year-old neighbor, for example, might be responsible enough to keep an eye on your 6-year-old while you’re in the other room making video calls.

When you’re going to be home but just need someone to entertain the kids, you’ll be there to handle emergencies and address problems. But, you won’t need to provide eyes-on supervision or hands-on help all day long. 

The helper and your child might be able to do their school work together during the day if they’re both out of school. Or, they may be able to do their homework together in the afternoons if you’re just looking for after school child care. 

You might also leave out snacks, games, toys, and projects for each day to make things easier. 

You’d need to negotiate a fair rate with the child and their parents. But, you might find a child who is happy to take on a little extra responsibility.

Look for a Student Babysitter

Many high school and college students are going to be taking classes online this year—they may have the time and flexibility in their schedules to provide child care.

If it’s too many hours for one student to do alone, you might find a few students who could split the days and hours.

Many of them may be struggling to find traditional jobs this year, so they may be open to providing child care work. 

You might let friends and family members know you’re looking because they may have some responsible students they can refer you to. 

Share Child Care

You may be able to make child care more affordable by sharing a child care provider. One person may be able to watch your children and a friend’s children, for example, for not much more than the price of just watching your kids. 

This option works well as it provides your child with some company during the day as many people, including children, are feeling lonely due to the pandemic as it's more difficult to see loved ones and friends.

Arrange for a Child Care Trade 

If you know of another parent who works different shifts than you, you might simply do a child care swap. You take the mornings and they take the afternoons. Or you’ll cover Tuesdays if they can cover Thursdays.

In these cases, no one pays anything. Instead, you just swap your time. 

This can be a good option if you can afford some child care. For example, you might find that you can cover expenses for half days or a couple of days a week. And trading child care with another parent might help you fill in some of the gaps. 

Ask Family Members for Help

It can be tough to ask family members to pitch in and help. You might even be concerned about how that might affect family relationships. 

For example, if your mother-in-law becomes your nanny, will she try to offer you parenting advice? How can you point out to her when she’s doing something you don’t agree with without offending her? 

And what about the relationship she has with the children? Will it change things when Grandma becomes the sitter? 

These are all good questions to ask yourself. Whether you’re offering to pay a family member a little money or you’re asking them to help you for free, having them help with the children might affect the family dynamics. 

It could also make everyone grow closer. And it might help you develop a new found respect for one another. It could be a great opportunity for everyone as well. 

Talk to Your Company 

You might be able to brainstorm some ideas with your boss or your HR department might have some ideas for you. Either way, talk to some people at your company about the struggles you’re experiencing. 

You might also talk to other parents to learn what they’re doing. It could help you discover a low-cost program you didn’t know exists or you might discover another resource that could assist you. 

Check Local Resources

Most areas offer some low-cost or state-assisted resources for child care. If you’re in the U.S., you can check out the Care.gov resources to learn about options in your state. 

Most states provide information on financial assistance programs as well as state regulations regarding day care. Look through the resources to find any programs that you might qualify for.   

Your local Boys & Girls Club or YMCA may offer daycare or after-school programs for an affordable price. 

Allow Older Children to Stay Home Alone

It’d be great if decisions about child care didn’t have to be made based on money. But, the reality is, sometimes you may need to leave older children home alone (or in charge of younger children) due to finances.

Clearly, you don’t want to leave your kids home alone unless it’s safe to do so. Some states have laws that outline the age at which kids can be legally left alone, so you’ll want to make sure to check your local regulations. 

But an 11-year-old might be fine without any after-school care. Or, a 13-year-old might be able to stay home alone all day. 

Your decision about when to leave them home alone should be based on their maturity level, not just their chronological age. It is important that any child who is left home is able to manage safety issues if they arise, such as knowing to get out of the house if they smell smoke or calling 911 if they encounter a medical emergency. 

A Word From Verywell

If you’re struggling to pay for day care, you may need to look for short-term or creative solutions to get you through until you can find a more permanent arrangement. Don’t feel embarrassed to ask for help. Most parents will understand the financial struggle you might be experiencing. And many people will be happy to help when they can.

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  1. Care.com. Child care costs more in 2020, and the pandemic has parents scrambling for solutions. 2020.