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


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The cost of daycare can be downright discouraging. You might even find that child care costs take up the bulk of your paycheck. Plus, even as we emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic, many families are still struggling to find enough work and/or have had to take pay cuts or reductions in their hours.

And of course, you don’t want to just send your kids anywhere for daycare. 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. 

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 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 older 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 may have the time and flexibility in their schedules to provide child care. Additionally, 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.

Costs will be slightly lower than what you would pay for an adult nanny or for a daycare center or home. Let friends and family members know you’re looking, because they may have some responsible students they can refer to you.

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 has the added perk of providing your child with playmates as well.

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. 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 family dynamics. 

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

Talk to Your Employer

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 workplace 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 existed or 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 resources to learn about options in your state. 

Most states provide information on financial assistance programs as well as state regulations regarding daycare. Look through the resources to find any programs that you might qualify for. For example, 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 daycare, you may need to look for short-term or creative solutions to get you through until you can find a more permanent arrangement or your child spends more hours in school. 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.

By Amy Morin, LCSW
Amy Morin, LCSW, is the Editor-in-Chief of Verywell Mind. She's also a psychotherapist, an international bestselling author of books on mental strength and host of The Verywell Mind Podcast. She delivered one of the most popular TEDx talks of all time.