When you’re a single parent, being able to find and afford quality childcare is crucial to being able to provide for your family. Unfortunately, single parents are one of the groups that struggles the most with this expense. Without another parent around to pick up kids when they get sick or provide another source of care when a babysitter or daycare falls through, it can be hard to reliably show up to a job or find a way to pay for care. Fortunately, there are some ways to save on this expense and increase the odds that your childcare provider will be available when you need them to be.
Work away from home during school hours, then work from home during off-school hours. Perfecting this schedule to the point that you never have to pay for daycare will be a masterful feat, but you can start now to get as close to it as possible. If you have a salaried job, start putting together a plan that shows your boss how you can attend meetings and perform other vital office functions during the day, then get other work done at home at night. If you can, get your boss to agree to a trial period of your plan, making sure everything gets done on time. Even if you can only convince your boss to let you have some time working from home, you’ll still save some money on care.
Look for a job that follows the school calendar. If you’re looking for a new job and wondering how you’ll ever get child care, start by looking for employment with companies that work with the school calendar. Public and private schools need administrators, teachers, janitors and even landscapers. Daycares and churches also tend to offer more hours during the school year and less during holidays. This might be a great way to work while your child is at school and still have nights, weekends and summers off to care for him.
Find other parents and develop a shared childcare plan. You’re not the only person to be in this situation. Some people develop elaborate systems in which everyone in the group takes one day off per week (or simply schedules not to come in on that day) so that they can all share childcare duties. For many other people, however, a simple arrangement in which you and a friend share childcare on major holidays and/or when one of you has to work is a lot more practical. Because holiday childcare can be so expensive, many people save a lot of money by getting in a group with a few friends where each person uses one vacation day a year to cover one holiday.
Look for a job with built-in childcare. While it might not be easy to just go out and find one of these jobs that replaces the salary you make now, it might work out to cut back your hours at your current job and make up the lost income with a second job that offers childcare. Large companies rarely offer childcare, however, there are numerous contract positions that you can do from home or in smaller shifts that might help out. It’s important to be careful with your finances, and you can sometimes arrange your schedule so that you avoid the cost of childcare. You may also want to consider working in a pre-school or daycare.
Look into government assistance. Many states have programs that offer vouchers for children in low-income households. These vouchers can be given to any daycare or pre-school that meets certain quality requirements. If you’re attending school while you’re working, you can also look into options for daycare through your college or university. Many large schools have programs that are staffed by students working on their degrees in education or child development. Your kids will get great care, and you’ll save money.
Cut back your hours slightly. Many daycares and preschools charge separate rates for before school, during school and after-school care. In a lot of cases, single parents end up paying for all three sessions and then only using a small fraction of the care before and after school. To make matters worse, the before-school and after-school sessions are often more expensive per hour than the main daytime session. This is because of the limited number of kids who sign up and the extra expenses of providing meals, snacks and extra personnel and overtime. To save money, move or cut your hours so that you only need to pay for one or two of these three sessions. If you have to cut your hours, odds are the money you lose will be less than the amount you spend on the extra session.
Consider a helper. A trusted neighbor or local student can walk your kids home from school (or meet them at the bus stop) and watch them for a few hours. Make sure you give her several different emergency numbers to contact if something goes wrong. In some cases, several parents pool together to get several different babysitters to watch all of their kids. This gives you the benefit of knowing someone will be there in case one of the babysitters gets sick.
If you have an infant, consider a live-in nanny. For many single parents, paying for childcare for a child who isn’t potty-trained can be more expensive than their mortgage. Live-in nannies can often be slightly less expensive than a live-out nanny, and that cost becomes more valuable when you realize you have someone to lean on in your home. If you work a lot of hours or hours when a standard daycare isn’t usually open, this might be a way to spend a little to save a lot.
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