How much is it going to cost to send my baby to daycare?

 While my son's "scary" face might not scare you, childcare costs certainly can. Here are four tips to help reduce them and an idea of what others are paying. | instafather.com

While my son's "scary" face might not scare you, childcare costs certainly can. Here are four tips to help reduce them and an idea of what others are paying. | instafather.com

I engaged with an online troll about childcare costs recently, and it led to me polling friends to get a sense how much we're all spending on childcare. If you haven't waded into the childcare waters yet, or want some reassurance that it's normal to spend the equivalent of two BMW payments a month on a 9-pound human, keep reading.

In this case, a woman posted on LinkedIn that she was sad to see an unemployed mom lose out on a job offer because she needed flexible hours to help take care of her baby. That sucks. Not all jobs can do this and employers aren't obligated to do so, but you kinda hope in a modern society, bosses realize that making life easier for working parents pays back in spades.

Anyway, a troll posing as a working professional bluntly commented that people shouldn't have a baby if they can't afford it. (You'd almost assume a 20-year-old dudebro made that comment, but it was a woman who, according to LinkedIn, is a professional interior decorator. I would have guessed plumber considering how much shit she was spewing.)

I don't even know where to begin with that mindset. I didn't realize we started living in a society that believes you have to be wealthy to have kids; don't even get me started on the argument against paying for children's health insurance coverage.

But Ms. Troll does have one legitimate point: When you have a baby for whatever reason (IT'S NOT OUR BUSINESS TO KNOW!), the baby is going to be expensive.

They don't make cheap babies. You know how sometimes you've got an Old Navy budget, sometimes it's a Gap budget, and sometimes its a Banana Republic-and-not-even-the-clearance-rack budget? 

Babies only come in Gucci budgets.

Culprit Number One: Daycare

I got our annual daycare invoice for tax return purposes.*

* God, if I ever for one second forget I am a full-fledged adult, it's sentences like that. Also, moments like telling my son I just turned 35 and he said he "can't even count that high."

It cost $9,000 to send our three toddlers to daycare just three mornings a week.

It's a wonderful daycare with wonderful teachers and our kids love it, and we recommend friends use the same place. Money well spent! But, still, um... money.

It made me wonder what others are spending. A few polls of other parents with young kids (as it's much more expensive having a baby/toddler in daycare) and dozens of dad bloggers gave me the answer, and the 50 responses I got back up what national surveys reveal.

How much is it going to cost to send my baby to daycare?

You can expect to pay about:

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  • $10,000 per baby
  • $14,000 total for all kids you send.

Many daycares provide a discount for the additional kids, although, no, despite the 15 million jokes I've heard, twins are not Buy One, Get One. So, in black-and-white, I can see that I have dozens of friends spending five figures a year for childcare alone.

"This thread makes me want to get sterilized. Oh god." - Recently married non-parent looking at my daycare cost thread

The National Association of Child Care Resource & Referral Agencies has similar info. The average center-based daycare cost in the United States is $11,666 per year ($972 a month), but prices range from $3,582 to $18,773 a year ($300 to $1,564 monthly... living in a city will get you). Think about that. As Care.com put it, nearly one in three families report spending 20 percent or more of their annual household income on daycare.

It's not like you can go cheap on daycare.

They do Dateline specials about daycares like that. Do. Not. Skimp. On. Daycare. 

"Great, Andy. We're about to have a baby and now you need us to come up with $800 a month?" 

I know that's daunting. And I know we're not even talking about diapers, clothes, formula, check-ups if your insurance sucks .... are you hyperventilating? It's OK! WAIT! OK, better? Deep breath.

Four Tips for Reducing Your Daycare Costs and Maximizing Your Childcare Dollars:

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An NPR poll showed that nearly one-third of parents who pay for child care say the cost has caused a financial problem for their household. I can't believe it's only one-third! But still, if you know two other sets of parents, at least one of you is freaking the f#&@ out. The other two are looking for more wine, please.

Let's take that deep breath now, as we all laugh at our former selves stressing about being broke when we didn't have a baby around. Silly us. OK. Let's think this through. You can make this work. Here are ready-to-use strategies to cut costs on daycare and babysitting:

  1. Use the benefits you have through work. My work offers a Dependent Care FSA. It's a pain in the butt, yes. You've got to download forms, keep track of your balance, submit for reimbursement, and so forth. What do you get for that? Pre-tax funding for daycare. It's like having a big 30% off coupon! Sure, 30% off coupons are usually more fun - Kohl's makes every coupon seem like a lottery ticket, and sometimes it's like Kohl's is paying me to shop - but it's real savings nonetheless.
    The trick is you need to know in advance how much you'll spend on daycare, because it'll be taken out of your paycheck and you're locked in for the year after you enroll. Honestly, since you never "see" the money, it's not as painful as you think. The first year, you can guess a little low, and then after that, you should have a good grip on it. I know people who squeeze out every dollar through this, and it saves them hundreds of dollars each year if not more. If you're not sure if your work provides this option, talk to HR. The money can be used for daycare, before and after school care, summer camp, and even babysitting. Once I submit my form for reimbursement, I get the money set aside in the FSA direct deposited in my account, like some magical money fairy.
    Some employers offer a daycare right at work, but I'm guessing you already know if yours does. One dad I talked to said he saves probably 50% on daycare costs by using his employer's center. If you had the option of switching to a company that has that available but can't pay you quite as much, you'd still come out ahead, right? 
    My wife got a part-time job teaching spin at a gym in part because it means we can use their child drop-off service for free when we're working out, saving us $45 a month. Also, she does it because my wife is a super human, but that's another topic.
  2. Think beyond the standard daycare option. Word-of-mouth matters a lot when it comes to choosing who will watch that little angel of yours. That's how we found our daycare, which ended up being reasonably priced and our kids love it; without a recommendation, we never would have known it existed, and then you're doing Google searches for "Daycare baby cheap educational please help very tired".
    But it's not everything. A nanny who comes to your house might be the best option — you're not paying for overhead like you would at a daycare center, and you know your home is secure. Or a private sitter for drop-off, which can be much most cost-effective and offer more personalized care.
    We've had good experiences with private sitters, but you'll want to go above and beyond in making sure their house is baby-proofed to your standards, not theirs, and that they appear to have a long-term commitment to this. You don't want to be scrambling to find a daycare overnight. Referrals matter greatly, too, as does a confirmation that they won't suddenly take on 10 more kids and your baby is effectively in a zoo.
    Finally, there is the friends & family option. All of my nephews get cared for this way from grandparents. So many people I polled said that without a mother or aunt or friend watching the baby, they wouldn't be able to pull it off. If this is remotely an option, even if it's temporary, do it. We basically had my in-laws living with us for a long stretch after the twins were born. Without that, we would have been screwed, although that also meant my in-laws got to watch me in a severe sleep-deprived state mumbling to myself. Just another Tuesday, Andy!
    If you haven't yet had a real talk with someone you know about this option, start broaching the conversation. No one is obligated or owes you childcare; that's a lot to ask of someone. But it would be foolish to not heavily investigate the option! Many people will say "I'd love to take care of that little baby!" Few people mean on an ongoing basis.
  3. Plan for all the expenses in childcare. Stuff that might come as a surprise: You still have to pay for childcare when the daycare is closed for holidays (otherwise, their workers wouldn't get vacation time). You can get charged if you are late to pick them up. You should also consider that there may be times when you need to pay for a babysitter when your regular daycare isn't available, so, yeah, you're paying freaking double on those days! Finally, are there any recurring fees for food? What if you forgot to send enough diapers? If you need to change your schedule?  Figure out the true cost, not the sticker price. Then figure out how much one of you would earn in a given month. If you'd save more by not working (insane, right?), then...
  4. Have the stay-at-home parent conversation. I had had more than a dozen parents say they became stay-at-home-dads or stay-at-home moms because financially, it made no sense to keep working. "I couldn't afford to go to work if I wanted to"; "Anything I earn would go to daycare - not a joke"; "It's hard having an hour to see each other some days, but it's absolutely worth it."
    I can sympathize with that last comment. My wife quit her full-time administrative job in higher ed when Elliott was born nearly five years ago, and switched to a part-time teaching career. We're very fortunate she had the degree in place and the background to make such a switch. Coupled with some flexibility in my marketing career, we've cobbled together a schedule with me dropping off the kids in the morning, her picking them up and watching them in the afternoon, and me watching them in the evening when she goes to teach. It saves us thousands of dollars and gives our kids more face time with their mom. Not everyone can make that work, I totally get that. And, as I pointed out, so many guys are electing to be the at-home parent. Don't assume it's gotta be the mom
    Likewise, assuming you can work from home and take care of the baby is... well, I don't want to say it's impossible; I know a great couple who are entrepreneurs and parents of a baby, and make it work with some creative scheduling. But I'm sure they'd say that it's misguided to think the baby will just sleep or nicely feed from a bottle while you quietly sit at your lapthahahahaha I can't even imagine that happening. Good God. I'm just saying, there are certainly some jobs you can do from home while taking care of a newborn or a toddler, but counting on it all to work is not wise. It's better to have a back-up plan. Maybe you get a nanny for a few hours a day while you work upstairs. Maybe you work in the evening when your spouse is at home. The key is you have to be flexible and patient. Some bosses will let you work from home a few days a week, and you can work around the inconvenience enough so that it's feasible to be a productive employee and still be an attentive parent. You won't know unless you ask. 
    Ever since I became a dad, I have needed bosses who understand that I need an adjustable schedule - dropping kids off at daycare, switching the car for the van at daycare pickup with my wife, running home when someone has thrown up because someone is always throwing up. In return, I make sure I am ultra-productive in the hours I'm in the office. But I had to change careers first. I was a newspaper reporter, and the news doesn't care too much if you have to run home to take care of the kids. So there needs to be realistic expectations: Can your job be more flexible? Do you need to have a conversation with your boss (any boss who isn't a complete jerk should understand the long-term benefit of you stressing less about daycare costs and in being flexible in your schedule, so long as it doesn't impact your work or slow down the team)? Is it possible for you to switch to part-time for six months and come back to a full-time job afterward? You won't know unless you ask.