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Planning for a Baby: Childcare

July 26, 2018

Editorial Note:  I updated my post on maternity leave with a graphic on the normal California leave (up to 16 weeks paid at >$1200/week!) and noted the leave I get (just a few weeks partly paid if I deliver on my due date).  I do, however, have a boatload of PTO banked, and will be able to be paid for nearly all of my 16 week leave using this saved time.

The baby is still a few months away from coming, but childcare was something we started thinking about right away.  We don’t have it figured out for sure yet, but we have a good understanding of our options. I’m not sure what age we will start needing childcare.  I’ll go back to work when the baby is about 4 months, with my initial plan to have some reduced hours.  The need for care at that age will depend on 1) how much care T can do while still being productive in research during his semester without teaching 2) how much I can juggle my schedule to support that.  I suspect we’ll want some part-time care at the point when I go back to work – but I can’t say for sure what will be enough.

The goal:  Find a safe place for our infant to be while we work.  Ideally, we’d start out with a part-time schedule (both T and I intend to have reduced hours initially).  We’d transition to full time at some undefined point in the future, probably depending on my job demands.

We’d prefer something that minimizes commutes, but given my current 5 minute commute, commute will be impacted.


Costs noted below generally ignore the small tax break we can get for using a dependent care spending account.

The choices:  

  1. Daycare center: This is our leading option, although we have nothing confirmed and are on a couple of wait lists.  My favorite choice is over $2,200/month for full-time care and does not offer part-time care. I’m unconvinced part-time infant care in a center will be available at all, because the centers all have very few infant slots and prefer to use them for full-time families.  No day care centers satisfy our goal of minimizing commute time – the are all inconveniently located.  The cost of this is about $27k/year, plus we’d seriously consider getting a 2nd car to save some commute time.

  2. Nanny share:  The concept is that you team up with another family, and you each pay something like $14/hour for a nanny who watches both kids at the same time.  Sometimes it is hosted at one house, and sometimes it is shared between both houses.  We have a large and energetic dog (and I’m absolutely confident we can manage him with our kid), so it could be hard to host this at our place. I love this idea, but finding a match seems logistically challenging. Finding a part-time match seems even more difficult.  This is about $31k/year for full-time care.  This potentially could have a more optimal commute situation.  Nanny shares seem to be forming several months out / after birth, so I’ve made no progress here. We’ll keep this option on the table.
  3. Dedicated nanny:  My guesstimate is that a full-time nanny would cost about $50k/year (including the nanny tax).  This number is not something I can stomach, though technically we can “afford” this.  A dedicated part-time nanny may be an option, but in the long term we’ll need full time care.  This obviously would have the best commute situation!  Again, it seems to be too early to find a nanny if I don’t need care until February/March.
  4. In-home daycare: I’m not yet comfortable with this, but I do suppose it is an option.  It is not something I’m seriously considering yet so I’m not familiar with the costs.  It would be cheaper than a daycare center, but I don’t know how much yet.  These tend to have openings shortly before you need them, so we can’t start looking yet.  This also could have a better commute situation, but not necessarily.
  5. One of us staying home: This is more of a financial cost than any of the above options. I did some math on this here. I suspect that working is a better fit for both of us.  If my current job went away due to us running out of business, I would be picky about something new. Most jobs that are a good match for my skills have terrible commutes – but there are some options. T staying home is not a serious option, as the entire reason we live where we live where we do is to further his career.  I consider this is a fall-back plan if my work situation changes in a way that is unworkable for our family.  And it would be a temporary fall-back until business picked up.

Did these numbers give anyone a heart attack, or did they seem about right for those of you in high cost areas?  How did you decide what to do when your infant needed care?  If you hired a nanny or a nanny share, how did you do that hiring?

9 Comments leave one →
  1. July 26, 2018 9:04 am

    We do full time care at a daycare center for our daughter, and will be sending my infant son there in two weeks! For two kids, we’ll be paying just under $50k/year. I’m hyperventilating looking at that number but it’s our best choice at the moment. We keep reminding ourselves that it’s only a few years. I wrote about our decision to keep doing daycare for two (vs one of us staying home) a few months ago. Just thinking again about how small a benefit the dependent care FSA is! $5k seems like nothing in comparison to costs. Good luck with your decision!

    • July 26, 2018 4:47 pm

      Yeah, that is pretty nuts for two! We can do one without me getting a heart attack, but adding a second (if it happens) will be harder! I read your post, and I expect we’ll end up in the same boat – short term pain of paying for it, but in the long run it is the better financial decision. The major uncertainty is my job stability.

  2. Jackie permalink
    July 26, 2018 9:32 am

    I’m going through a similar process now in DC. We ruled out larger centers due to cost, FT only slots, year+ waitlists and wanting kiddo to have more personalized attention and fewer caregivers. We looked into nanny shares but have found the people open to PT basically want to keep everything about their current situation (personal nanny for their two kids) but have someone else offset the cost now that their older child is going to preschool, so haven’t found an appealing option there. We just decided on a home based daycare that came highly recommended. It’s not the cheapest ($1200/month for 3-4 days, centers here are about $2200 FT), but she has only four kids, ours would be the only infant, and clients stay with her for years. We’re also paying for a month earlier than we need to secure the slot, but plan to use the time for a gradual transition. It’s been harder than I expected to make a choice and imagine handing our baby over to someone else. In retrospect, I wish we had made a selection before she was born when we could have been a bit more dispassionate. Good luck with your selection!

    • July 26, 2018 10:46 am

      Thanks for sharing your experience! I’m definitely considering non-center options, but they are harder to pin down far in advance.

      I’m having trouble even finding any nannies, nanny shares, or home based daycare that know what their availability will be 6-7 months from now – so I don’t know if making the decision early is possible, even if it would be nice.

      I had a hard time getting comfortable with finding a dog sitter for our puppy, so I imagine this will be a million times harder!

  3. Deb permalink
    July 26, 2018 10:01 am

    We nanny share with a family in our neighborhood (who we already knew pre-kids). It’s been a great experience – the boys are now 18 and 20 months, and we started at 3 and 5 months.

    Our nanny takes them to the park and library most days and our toddlers love hanging out together. They are at our house every day because it’s a bit easier since the other family has less space. – in exchange we get the ease of not having to take our kiddo anywhere in the morning. We’re close with the other family and even went away for a weekend recently and shared an Airbnb.

    Highly recommend seriously considering – check out your local parent groups and nextdoor to look for people. We’re in the bay area and have been on a daycare center waitlist for over a year now, and I think it will be great to move to that setting now that he’s older.

    • Deb permalink
      July 26, 2018 10:04 am

      Also, spouses in each family have shifted work schedules such that one parent works earlier and the other later – we did this to minimize expenses and keep nanny share costs comparable to local daycare center infant rates.

      Part time shares are less common in our neighborhood but happen (e.g. 1 full time baby with 2 half times)

      • July 26, 2018 10:50 am

        My parents did that when I was young since my mom was a nurse. We both have jobs that require mostly daytime hours – but there is some flexibility.

    • July 26, 2018 10:49 am

      That’s great! It is definitely on the list of options.

      I don’t know of any babies coming in our neighborhood at the same time yet, but maybe we’ll get lucky. I’m on the parent / NextDoor groups, but it seems too early to set up anything for these types of arrangements. I would love a nanny share at our house, but I think with the dog (and the potential desire for PT) it is probably not going to happen.

  4. July 27, 2018 4:56 am

    The costs sound about right. We paid our nanny $45k plus had to pay her share of taxes since everything was above board, and also some payroll fees and other things. We had two kids so the cost was more equal compared to a daycare center. It was a great decision though – not having to get kids dressed and out the door was a major improvement. We found her on

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