What Does Your Child Care Village Cost You?

If you’ve found it hard to find reliable child care, much less pay for it, you are not alone.

Illustration of what does your childcare village cost you

Illustration by Danie Drankwalter for Parents

Child care is a significant household expense for most families—but the cost of quality daycare, reliable babysitters, and crucial before- and after-care services go beyond just finances. With increasing costs, higher demand, and new or exacerbated stresses since the start of the pandemic, caregivers often have to juggle an unfeasible—or nonexistent—work-life balance with dependable care for their kids, with the mental load and emotional labor disproportionately impacting the “primary parent,” which is oftentimes the mom.

According to a ChildCare Aware 2022 report, the national annual average cost of child care is around $10,174. “In three out of four regions, the annual price of center-based child care for an infant exceeds the cost of housing,” it reads. The West Coast—Washington and California—had some of the highest costs in the country, but affordability (which takes into account median salaries, cost of living, and the cost of child care) yielded surprising results. For example, while the average cost of infant care in the nation’s capital is higher than in Nebraska ($18,425 versus $10,660), considering the median income for married couples with children in both places means that Nebraska was less affordable. 

The study shows that the cost of child care was much higher in 2022 for a lot of reasons. The pandemic reduced the supply of child care available, as many licensed family child care (FCC) programs closed temporarily and permanently. And with a lack of access to affordable child care, working moms have been leaving the workforce in record numbers.

Child care costs vary depending on where you live, the age of your child, the number of hours/days per week that care is needed, as well as the type of child care—in-home or in-center. As you figure out what's best for your family, it is important to prepare for the average childcare costs and to take advantage of opportunities to save money while also decreasing emotional and mental burdens.

What Is the Average Cost of Child Care?

Some factors that affect the cost of child care include the number of children and their ages, the number of hours needed, and the required experiences, special skills, and training. Some of this also boils down to personal preference. Some parents prefer to leave their children at home with a nanny or au pair, while others may choose a daycare center or home-based care facility. 

Care.com’s research shows that with each passing year, the costs climb. The 2019 to 2021 comparison shows a significant jump in nanny care. (Disclosure: Care.com is a division of IAC, as is Parents.)

National average weekly child care rates from Care.com
   2021 2019 2021 2019
One child One child Two children Two children
 Nanny* $694 $565 $715 $585
Child care center*  $226 $215 $429** $409**
Family care center*  $221 $201 $420** $382**
After-school sitter  $261 $243 $269 $246

*Rates for infant children. **Rates for two children calculated by adding the weekly rate for one child and the weekly rate for the second child with a national average sibling discount of 10%.

According to the Care.com survey, 51% of families spent 20% or more of their annual household income on child care and 72% of families spent at least 10%. Without a doubt, families are struggling. The survey found that 31% were considering a second job, 25% were changing jobs, 26% were reducing hours at work, and 21% were leaving the workforce—all to figure out how to make paying for child care work for them.

ChildCare Aware's report offers that the national annual average cost of childcare is $10,174. For married couples, this burden is significant but not as crippling as it is for single parents relying on one income to satisfy this need. Low-income households are also trying to squeeze the most out of every penny.

The Emotional Toll of Securing Child Care

Figuring out child care isn’t just about calculating dollars and cents, it also adds a tremendous scheduling, transportation, and emotional burden for parents. The Care.com study found that “43% of parents say it’s much harder to find child care over the past year.” 

Upstate New York mother, Jessica Lucia, described the run-around of securing childcare for “The Motherload.” In the emotional ordeal, she outlines a story that working parents, especially moms, know all too well. When her son was just two months old, her reliable babysitter got sick. The following two years included everything from generous relatives, Care.com-recommended sitters, and her work’s on-site daycare center as backup child care. She still finds that there are days when she has to work but the center is closed, and that throws her household into a tailspin. Her experience reads like a patchwork quilt, messy and imperfect, although even she admits that things could have been much worse; she had the benefit of nearby relatives who could help. Many parents bear the stressful burden of trying to make the square peg of child care fit within the round hole of a normal work day. Often, they just don’t fit. 

A 2021 survey by the Penny Hoarder found that “four out of 10 parents say they have gone into debt due to the high cost of child care.” Ironically, 38% of parents surveyed had taken on a second job or side hustle, just to pay for child care. Anecdotally, many stay-at-home parents say that the cost of going to work just isn’t worth it, given the price of child care for non-school-age kids. “In 40 states and the District of Columbia, child care costs for two children exceed the average mortgage cost,” the data says, and that’s enough to make anyone question their entire lives. Over 25% of parents surveyed moved houses to be able to afford the cost of childcare. These are major sacrifices and stressful events for parents trying to make ends meet.

And while the pandemic increased work-from-home policies, many employed parents took on the burden of remote schooling too. The immediate reduction in the cost of out-of-home care was met by the stress of trying to do it all. Working moms, in particular, reported that their careers took a serious hit. During the pandemic, a Pew Research Center study found that “among those who have child care responsibilities while working from home, mothers are more likely than fathers to say they have needed to reduce their work hours (50% vs. 30%), have been treated as if they weren’t committed to their work (22% vs. 13%), have been passed over for a promotion (13% vs. 3%) or have turned down a promotion (13% vs. 5%).”

Natalie Mayslich, president of consumer for Care.com

When it comes to child care, there are three critical criteria—cost, quality, and availability—and based on our research findings, we’ve not only failed to make progress as a country, we’ve actually gone backwards.

— Natalie Mayslich, president of consumer for Care.com

Making Child Care More Affordable

There are many strategies to reduce the cost of child care, but it takes research and diligence. If you have reliable friends or relatives nearby, they are the first line of defense for babysitting help. While some grandparents are happy to do it for free, you’d be surprised to learn that many others would be willing to watch your children for much less than the average cost of enrolling them in formal child care programs. For infant care, in particular, this may be the most cost-effective.

If you can pair up with a neighboring family, you both can babysitter or nanny share. This means you split the cost of joint-child care from one provider. This money-saving option can help your kids interact with other children in a safe home setting. Or the provider can spend half the day or half the week at one home with one family, and the rest of the time with the other. This split schedule allows the provider to make full-time wages with full transparency.

For low-income families, assistance is available to help pay for childcare costs. Childcare.gov helps people find state-specific resources like state-funded pre-kindergarten, head start programs (0-5 years old), and subsidized vouchers or certificates. There are also special programs for Native Alaskan, Hawai’ian, and tribal American Indian communities.

To further reduce the cost of child care, consider paying through a flexible spending account (FSA). Many companies offer employees access to a Dependent Care FSA (DCFSA) that allows them to use pre-tax dollars to pay for child care. Take advantage of any and all employer-provided perks, like on-site daycare or discounts at certain childcare providers. Don’t forget the IRS credits and deductions that can help, like the Child and Dependent Care Credit and the Earned Income Tax Credit.

More Solutions Are Needed

“When it comes to child care, there are three critical criteria—cost, quality and availability—and based on our research findings, we’ve not only failed to make progress as a country, we’ve actually gone backwards,” says Natalie Mayslich, president of consumer for Care.com. Many advocates of the Build Back Better Framework say that free preschool for three and four years, as well as expanding the Child Tax Credit, are urgently needed solutions. 

But while Americans wait for relief, there’s both a financial and emotional weight for parents and caregivers. For now, some parents may qualify for Head Start programs. Others have to creatively approach the challenge by maximizing workplace perks—like parental leave, remote work, or work-from-anywhere policies—to eke out some savings. Living near relatives and friends who are available during the workday is particularly beneficial for parents of children under 5 years old, especially non-potty-trained infants and toddlers, but that may come with emotional and mental health trade offs. Parents who can afford it may find that securing live-in care from relatives or even au pairs may turn out to be much more modest than expected, after tallying up the transportation cost for pickups, drop-offs, before- and after-school care. 

The Bottom Line

Regardless of their location or income level, American parents are clamoring for more reliable and economical child care solutions that will help them afford the cost of child-rearing day-to-day, without sacrificing long-term goals like owning a home, retirement, and kids’ college funds.

Explore More

As the cost of raising a child in 2023 continues to skyrocket, caregivers are leaning on their communities more than ever. Read more of Parents' deep dive into what child care really looks like for American families—plus tips to create your own child care village.

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Parents uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Demanding Change: Repairing Our Child Care System. ChildCare Aware of America. 2022.

  2. A rising share of working parents in the U.S. say it’s been difficult to handle child care during the pandemic. Pew Research Center. 2021.

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