The Rising Costs of Child Care: What You Need to Know

Whether you're a parent-to-be or a parent heading back into the workforce, it's important to know just how much child care costs today.
Thayer Allison Gowdy

Ask working parents what money worries keep them up at night, and chances are they'll say child care costs. And for good reason: According to the U.S. Census Bureau, overall child care costs have nearly doubled in the last quarter century.

Of course, that rate can fluctuate wildly based on where you live, something Erica Zidel of Belmont, Mass., learned when she had her son, Gavin. "Up until my son was 5, we lived in Seattle and were paying $10-$12 per hour for a sitter," she says. While that was the market rate, she says, "I was surprised at how high it was." When Zidel and her family moved back to the Boston area, however, she quickly realized that $12 wouldn't get her very far in her new city -- and even the $15 and hour she started paying was on the low end of the range for the area. In order to keep a sitter she liked, she ultimately starting shelling out a whopping $18 an hour.

For most parents, child care is an unavoidable expense, especially if there are no friends or relatives nearby who can lend a helping hand. Still, it doesn't have to break the bank. Whether you're looking for a babysitter, nanny, or full-time day care, here are some things to keep in mind.

Ballooning Babysitter Costs

According to a recent survey conducted by Care.com, babysitters in 2014 commanded an average rate of about $13.50 per hour. When it comes to sitters, where you live dictates how much you'll pay for a caregiver. In fact, there can be a difference of as much as a $6 per hour based on your location. "When looking at average rates nationwide, we have seen a modest increase of 5 percent from 2013 to today," says Melissa Marchwick, executive vice president of Sittercity.com. "However, the increase has been steeper when looking at large, more urban cities, like New York, Chicago, and Boston, which have experienced a 13 percent rate increase over the past two years."

Also influencing pricing is a potential sitter's amount of experience. While a teenage sitter might charge less than $10 per hour, a college-aged sitter with a few years of experience will usually cost more. If you've got more than one kid, you can expect the price to be higher. And if you're expecting your sitter to do chores beyond watching the kids -- like laundry, cleaning and cooking -- you'll pay more, too, says Marchwick.

Nanny vs. Daycare

Of course, for parents who need full-time help (or anything more than just a couple of hours here and there), nannies and day care centers tend to be the options. On average, a nanny commands about $12.16 per hour, according to Care.com.

But as the number of hours a caretaker spends with your child increases, so do your costs. And not surprisingly, your ZIP code factors into how much you'll pay. Nannies in Dayton, Ohio, for example, only receive about $9.88 an hour on average. But in San Francisco -- the most expensive city for nannies -- you can expect to pay about $16 an hour, says Katie Bugbee, senior managing editor at Care.com.

Of course, nannies will also charge more based on experience, any certifications they have, additional responsibilities you may ask of them (like housekeeping or overnight care) and whether or not they are expected to use their own cars, among other things.

The price tag can be nearly as high with a day care facility. It's tough to determine the average cost of day care -- there are a number of factors to consider -- but Care.com estimates it's more than $700 per month for one infant to attend full-time. Finding a family child care program (or a child care program run out of someone's home) will most likely cost you less than going with an actual day care center, depending on a number of factors. For example, according to Care.com, care for an infant in a full-time family child care program averages out to about $127 per week, while the same full-time care for an infant at a day care center could cost you about $186 per week.

Trim the Costs

To cope with the rising costs of child care, many parents have gotten creative. Some, like mom Becky Thompson of Westville, New Jersey, have arranged flexible work schedules so they can switch off child care responsibilities with a friend or family member. Others, like Zidel, split child care duties with other families, co-op style. (In fact, Zidel was so inspired by her co-op experience in Seattle that she launched SittingAround.com, which helps parents find babysitting cooperatives in their area.)

Likewise, you can save a bundle by sharing a nanny with another family. Sites like NannyShare, for example, can help connect you with an available nanny share partnerships.

Another possibility: Your employer-offered Flexible Spending Account may cover expenses up to a certain amount for daycare and preschool. And remember to apply for the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit, which families claim up to $3,000 in dependent care expenses for one child and $6,000 for two children per year.

Ready to choose a nanny? Learn how to select the perfect babysitter for your child.

Copyright © 2015 Meredith Corporation.

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