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How to save on child care

Abbi Perets lives in Houston, TX, with her husband and five children.






Cut costs keep quality

You wouldn't entrust your children to just anyone. But that top-rated nanny with the stellar references may be a little beyond your budget. So, can you afford to be a bit of a bargain hunter when it comes to childcare? Yes -- if you're a smart consumer. Here's how.

Toddler boy playing with blocks

How much do you spend on childcare? For most families, it's a huge expense -- the second-highest item in a monthly budget and about 15 percent of their income, says Sheila Marcelo, CEO of Care.com. And even though your own salary might be lower these days, you probably still have to pay the same amount -- or even more -- to the people you hire to watch your children. So do you have any options?

Yes, says Marcelo. "It is certainly worth revisiting your care arrangements periodically to find ways to save," she says, and adds that there's no reason for parents to feel guilty about trying to spend money wisely. Often, you can find comparable, high-quality care for significantly less than what you've been paying.

Of course, before you shop around, you should know the going rate in your area. Online calculators can help you figure out that number.

Smart ways to save

Start by taking a close look at your situation:

  • If you're paying for private care, what are you getting? Could your toddler share his private sitter with another child or two?
  • Would your nanny charge less if you she watched your kids in her home?
  • Is your child ready to move from in-home care to a day care center?
  • Can you arrange your schedule with your spouse, or around your child's naptime to cut down on childcare hours?
  • Do you have a nearby relative who will give you a price break on childcare?

Try a care exchange

Another option that's slowly growing in popularity is a childcare exchange. You and a few friends get together and establish some ground rules -- either a schedule of who's watching the kids when, or a point system when every hour your spend as caregiver entitles you to an hour of care -- and rack up the savings.

Several points you should remember if you go this route:

  1. Write down the rules from the beginning and require everyone to sign off on them.
  2. Keep track of everything in writing -- memories can be strangely selective.
  3. Speak up if you feel you're being shortchanged.

Shop around safely

Maybe your current situation is too pricey -- or just no longer right for you -- and you want to hire someone new. You want to get the best possible price, but you also need to know your child will be cared for properly. In addition to an interview, take the time to check references and run a background check.

>> How to find a good child care program for your child

If you think you'll need to interview several possible candidates, consider getting a premium membership at Care.com, which allows you to run background checks for free.

Remember that while price is important, "finding someone with the right training and level of experience to look after your children is a priority," cautions Marcelo. Take the time to do a little digging, and you'll uncover someone who fits perfectly into your life -- and your budget.

For more child care tips

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