Many prospective families we meet express concern over whether they can afford the cost of childcare. This often leads to the question, “does it make more sense for me to pay for childcare or just stay home with the kids.” As with many life decisions, the answer to this question is not always as simple as a simple mathematical formula and we recommend that families consider several factors before making a choice.
Before you read further, remember, there’s no right or wrong answer to most of these questions. The most important thing is that you are honest with yourself, your spouse, and any other people involved in this decision (grandparents, step parents, etc.).
The most direct financial approach to determining whether you can afford child care is to add the money you make at your job and subtract the amount you will pay in childcare. If you have a spouse, partner, or other guardian who will be paying for childcare add their income as well. Is the amount greater than zero? If so, going back to work may result in extra income for your family.
Your family’s finances are a very personal thing and different people approach money in a variety of ways. Some of it has to do with your individual financial situation, but it also is influenced by your upbringing, beliefs, and even geography. For this reason, we tend to shy away from generalizations and simple rules of thumb, but sometimes these can be helpful for gaining perspective or highlighting things to consider.
One such “rule of thumb” is comparing what you spend on childcare to your total household income (again add your own income, plus anyone else who will be sharing in these expenses such as a spouse, an ex, or other child guardian). Based on childcare costs in Florida, some experts recommend that childcare not exceed 12% of your household income. That’s not to say that as a family you can’t choose to spend more, but if you are exceeding this amount it may be a sign to dive deeper into your childcare decisions.
As part of the above exercise you may want to consider comparing the costs of different types of childcare. For instance, typically care costs at a center like Childcare of Brandon will be different than the cost of having a nanny at home. You should also consider federal or state programs designed to make affording childcare easier, such as the Federal Childcare Tax Credit or the Florida Free VPK program.
Yes, these are difficult questions to answer, but they’re important for considering whether paid childcare is right for your family. From our point of view, most of the lifestyle questions come down to the limited number of hours in a day and how you divide them up. One additional piece of advice we’d add is to remember that when dividing up your time in a day there are virtually infinite combinations. For instance, your choice may not be limited to just "will I work or won’t I work?" You might ask yourself, "will I work 20 hours a week or 40 hours a week?" "Can I work a different shift, keep my income, send my kids to school and spend more time with family?"
Since time is often equal to money, especially for a family in which one or two parents are working, the lifestyle decisions usually tie back to financial ones. Going back to work could enable you to afford more than childcare. It might also mean you can afford a family vacation or an upgrade to your backyard. Or, on the flip side, staying home may give you more time for other projects around the house and lead to a different type of lifestyle that you crave.
Decades ago it might seem unimaginable for both parents to be working or for a mother to return to work shortly after having a child, but times have changed and the reality for many families is that both parents need to work and in many cases, parents want to work.
In some careers, leaving work to care for your child for a few years could mean that when you return, promotions have passed you by and you may even need to take a job at a lower level than when you left. It may seem unfair, but this is a reality that you may need to face and it’s good to be prepared.
We’re pleased to have heard of an increasing number of companies offering extend maternity or paternity benefits beyond the standards required by law. With technology, it’s become possible for many jobs to be performed remotely or with flexible schedules. Talk to your employer about what options might be available at your company and you may find that there are more options than you think! And if you do decide to leave your job with the intentions of going back, you may be able to better prepare yourself to return by staying in touch with your employer or using your time off to improve your skills or keep your skills relevant.
Some moms and dads are taken off guard by an instinctual desire to stay home and care for their child and we’ve heard many parents say they didn’t feel it until they were dropping their child off for the first time. By contrast, other parents are excited to get back to work, gain personal time, or just see their kids get the social experience of being with other children and professional care from trained caregivers.
The tough thing about personal beliefs is that they are often the hardest to measure and quantify. How many dollars is staying home with your child every day worth - it’s impossible to answer.
If it’s unimaginable for you to leave your child in the care of someone else, we suggest trying to make it work. It is possible to do on a single income, but it will likely mean making sacrifices in other areas of your budget.
And also remember, the answer to whether to stay home because you feel you should is not always yes you should or no you shouldn’t. The answer may be something in the middle, like going back to work part time, or dropping your child off once or twice per week for social time and new experiences, but caring for them at home on the other days.
Before you’ve made a decision on whether or not you can afford childcare, it’s important to consider all the options at your disposal. At Childcare of Brandon we offer many types of programs for infants, toddlers, and school age children. Some families are with us for a few hours a week, others utilize our services every day.
If your budget and schedule allows, you might be able to afford at home childcare. This isn’t something we offer here at Childcare of Brandon, but it is an option and can make financial sense if you have multiple children who need care. It’s becoming increasing popular for families to “nanny share”, in which two ore more families split the cost and time of a single nanny. This works especially well for families where one or both spouses jobs offer a degree of flexibility.
And another thing to consider: are any other family members or friends able or willing to share in childcare responsibilities? It’s possible that a grandparent, for instance, would love to spend some extra time each week with his or her grandchild and that could make the difference in whether or not it makes financial sense to go back to work.
We’ve presented with you a lot to consider and by this point you may be feeling like determine whether you can afford childcare is even more complicated than you think. If we can leave you with one summarizing thought it’s that the answer is almost always yes you can, but you cannot always measure it in dollars. Be honest with yourself. Be prepared to make sacrifices. No matter what choice you make, just keep doing what you feel is best for you and your family and don’t assume everyone will arrive at the same conclusion.