Family Finances

Navigating Back-to-School Child Care Expenses: One Bay Area Family

For the past five years, our oldest daughter has been enrolled in daycare. So, my husband and I have eagerly awaited the day when she would start public school and we could once again enjoy an extra $1,500 in our pockets each month.

In fact, he’s had his eye on a new mountain bike, once our youngest daughter moves on the elementary school in two years. But given the expenses of afterschool care, I have a sneaky suspicion that bike may have a wait a bit – sorry mister!

The “kindergarten myth” is alive and well in our lives as public elementary school is not ushering in the end of childcare expenses that we had expected. The reality is that the past few months have required a painstaking combination of scheduling gymnastics, budget overhauls and lifestyle decisions to figure out what works best. So, what follows is a behind-the-scenes look into one Bay Area family’s thinking around these issues, in order to come up with the right plan for both our family and our wallets.

Here’s the challenge…

In our school district, kindergarten releases students at 1:30, 12:30 on Wednesdays – ugh! And, last I checked, my workday rarely wraps that early. So, we’ve been thinking through the afterschool options that make the most sense until we arrive home, typically around 6:30 p.m.

Full disclosure, my husband and I both work full-time and at this time, it doesn’t make financial sense for either of us to cut back on our work schedules to lower our childcare costs (not to mention, we really enjoy our jobs). We realize this isn’t the case for every family and that many families face different scenarios and make different decisions – from single-income households to childcare with a nearby family member, you name it. What works for one, may not work for the other (so, no judgement please!). This is simply a lens into our process and thinking around what can be an emotionally laden, let alone financially taxing decision.

As many of you may know, finding the right child care, starts with finding the right child caregiver and once you’ve found the right person, making sure schedules work is an added burden. This can be particularly troublesome for families looking for “part-time” care as most nannies prefer full-time or just a handful of hours on select days. And for the part-time caregivers who are college students, schedules may work one semester, and fall completely out of sync the next. So, finding the right continuous care option has its hurdles, which led our family to consider three afterschool care options.

Full-time After Care

Most school districts offer full-time after care programs. In our district, there are two: one full-time program for students to attend five days a week and a second drop-in program that offers flexible scheduling options from one to five days a week. These programs offer daily, weekly and monthly payment options that are generally the most affordable, starting around $25 a day or approximately $500-$650 a month.

The challenge with this option is that many programs end before it is logistically feasible for my husband and I to be home from work – thank you Bay Area traffic. While we can trade days to pick-up, it’s tough when one of us travels for work, which my husband does fairly often with international travel regularly keeping him away for up to a week.

Hybrid Care

Drop-in aftercare programs offer families a hybrid scheduling option that combines aftercare with an afterschool nanny on alternate days. This option gives parents flexibility to have someone available to stay later than 6 p.m., and also helps students take advantage of programs such as swimming or karate during the week that may not be available through the school district. The added flexibility adds to the costs as nannies can range from $15 to $25 an hour, depending on the market. So, adding a nanny twice a week with aftercare the other three days would run between $1,500 to $2,000 a month.

Nanny Care

Rather than relying on any care from the school district, working parents may opt to have their child picked up by a nanny every day of the week. At this point, parents are paying for the ultimate in flexibility, as well as extended care after hours or when the school district is closed for holidays, etc. A full-time afterschool nanny 30 hours a week would run from $1,800 to $3,000 a month, not including additional nanny taxes that include social security and Medicare, as well as state unemployment.

Where We Landed…

Of course, all of these options come before any added costs for those weekly swimming lessons, which run approximately $75-$95 a month per child in the Bay Area. And if parents are eager to get out for date night from time to time that’s another child care expense, we’ve decided to track separately.

So, as my husband and I looked at the big picture, considering the type of social engagement and environment that would work best for our daughter, as well as the flexibility we needed for travel and other work commitments, we decided the hybrid option makes the most sense for us. The net change to our budget is zero compared to the daycare expenses we previously paid each month. So, that savings account for the new mountain bike will remain anemic for a few more years, but we’re eager for all the experiences our daughter will have both at home and at school throughout the coming year. Welcome to kindergarten!

 

Kimmie Greene is a consumer finance expert and spokesperson for Mint, the personal finance app that combines budget planning and expense tracking with bill reminders and payment all in one place to help people make smarter choices about their money.