Is the Cost of Childcare Worth it?

by Emilie Cleaver

It’s no secret that childcare is expensive. Maybe you’ve been debating going back to work after having a baby. Maybe you’ve been thinking about whether or not staying home is the right choice for you or your partner. Is the cost of childcare worth it? That all depends. I’ll explain my own childcare situation, then discuss whether or not childcare is worth the cost.

*A note that I am very open about our financial situation because I believe talking about money should not be taboo!*

When I had my baby, I took a 12 week, unpaid maternity leave (you can read my thoughts on parental leave in the US here), which my husband and I had prepared for by saving up ahead of time. We had a good sum of money saved, but definitely not enough to replace my entire lost income for those 12 weeks. I opened a cash back rewards credit card with 0% interest for 15 months just in case. We ended up needing that card, and ultimately put about $3,000 on it before my leave was up.

Once I went back to work, childcare expenses began. We pay less than many people in other parts of the country due to our relatively low cost of living area, but our professions are in human services and teaching, so we don’t make as much money comparatively either. By having daycare tuition automatically deducted monthly, we save 5%, and our monthly expense is about $844. Again, this cost may seem low if you’re used to seeing the price tag for childcare in higher cost of living areas, but this is 1.4 times the amount of our mortgage.

Childcare as a Financial Necessity

I was recently inspired by a tweet from Stephanie at Graduated Learning to think critically about childcare expenses. The cost of childcare for my family is well worth it for many reasons. First, let’s look at the obvious one. The expense is roughly 17% of our combined take-home pay. This means we still come out ahead financially by both parents continuing to work (because this number is under 50%).

Both of us working also means we’re both still contributing to our retirement accounts, getting our equivalent of “company matches” (this looks a little different in our respective industries vs. the private sector), keeping current with skills and research in our fields, and not losing valuable time in the workforce. A large resume gap would make it harder for either of us to come back to a job in the same fields in the future. It would likely be impossible to come back at an equivalent pay grade had we continued working. Right now, these factors are important to us because we’ve already started from behind due to our large student debt, lack of savings, and minimal retirement funds.

The Cost of Childcare Also Bought Me Mental Peace of Mind

For my family, childcare is worth the cost for more than just enabling our ability to work. This is something I don’t think gets talked about enough, maybe for fear of judgment or maybe others just don’t or can’t use childcare services in the same way, but daycare helps with my husband’s and my mental health. What I mean by that is, it gives us a break. My husband and I have had several days off work when we still take the baby to daycare. We are able to spend time together, get things done, or just SLEEP! We know she’s well cared for, in her normal routine, and with adults she knows and trusts during that time. It’s freeing.

Our baby is amazing and fun and smart and cute. She’s also high needs, demanding, clingy, and not a great sleeper (caregivers experiencing this temperament often lovingly call these babies “dragons” – as opposed to easygoing, smiley, generally happy “unicorn” babies – and our girl has most definitely been a dragon since birth). I’m more than happy that my husband and I get to be tasked with caring for this kiddo. We are super responsive parents and always try our hardest to give her what she needs as soon as we can. That may mean helping her get to sleep, holding her just because she needs the security and closeness of physical comfort, or trying ten different ways to calm her when she cries. And we had to do those things almost constantly from the moment she was born.

Mama (and Dada) Need a Break!

Thankfully as she’s gotten older, her temperament has improved significantly from what it was her first few months of life; she went from screaming all the time, to a baby who requires much more work than most (I’m not just saying this; I’ve got over a decade of childcare experience under my belt and none of that could have prepared me for the wrath of this child whom I love with all my soul), to a strong-willed but generally joyful, loving babe.

You probably get the picture here, but basically, my baby was and is exhausting. In the best way possible. But mama needs a break sometimes. The ability to have some self care time, when I’m not working and I know she’s in good hands and following her normal daily routine, is priceless (or, like, $844 a month). So many parents don’t have that same ability to get a break, and I will never take it for granted. That, along with many financial reasons, is why the cost of childcare is worth it for my family.

Newborn baby in crib
The exhausting little angel baby šŸ˜

But the cost of childcare might not be worth it for every family, and that’s okay too.

Maybe childcare will cost more than 50% of your combined household income. In this case it COULD mathematically make more sense for one partner to stay home (there are still reasons why one wouldn’t want to stay home to take on childcare responsibilities, even if childcare costs are over 50% of household income – see this AMAZING article for info and for why I never consider childcare an expense from one partner’s paycheck, but instead a household expense).

Maybe you don’t want to work because you WANT to be home. That is 100% okay too! If that’s a tradeoff you’re willing to make (or if it doesn’t even look like a tradeoff to you at all), and you’re in a financial position to do this, good for you!

There are tons of reasons why the cost of childcare may or may not be worth it based on your own financial and family situation. For my family, it has been very worth it. Now where we currently are in terms of COVID, social distancing, daycare centers being closed, and working from home, I have been forced into a position to re-think what we want to do about childcare once the world goes back to a somewhat normal semblance of what it used to be. I’m not sure what that may look like for me and my family.

What is your situation? Have you paid and found the cost of childcare worth it? Are you one of the lucky ones with family willing and able to watch your little one(s) for little to no cost? Are you able to stay home and provide childcare yourself? Let me know what works (or what isn’t working) for you and your family in the comments.

Peach Colored Flowers

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