The best part of my day is when I pick my son up from daycare and he yells “MAMA!” while rushing in for a big hug. He’s such a mama’s boy, and I have no problem with that. He’s pretty darn good for my ego.

Anyways, while I love picking him up from daycare, there are two things I also hate about it.

  1. Dropping him off absolutely breaks my heart.
  2. Paying the bill. Enough said.

I know I’m probably preaching to the choir here, but traditional daycare is crazy expensive. We pay upwards of $150 per week for my child to attend two full days at his daycare center. It’s great for him to socialize with other kids his age, but sometimes I wonder if it’s all worth it. If you’re on a tight budget, it’s important to look beyond the conventional options so you can put your hard-earned money somewhere else. Sure, quality childcare is important, but so is saving for retirement, right?

Understand that your child can still receive quality care without you paying the big bucks. There are options out there that can take the pressure off your wallet and leave you feeling confident that your child is well taken care of. Without further ado, here are some great alternatives to traditional daycare centers.

Start (or join) a babysitting co-op.
If you’re not familiar with babysitting co-ops, let me break it down for you: basically, a co-op is a group of families who share babysitting duties amongst themselves. It’s a structured organization in which members share responsibilities. While there are many different ways a babysitting co-op can function, typically members take turns babysitting and are assessed “points” based on how many children and how many hours they babysit. When one member needs a sitter, the organization relies on other members to volunteer. While this may not be ideal for day-to-day daycare needs, it’s a great way to save money if you frequently find yourself in need of a trustworthy sitter. If there are no co-ops available to you and you’d like to start one yourself, check out Frugal Mama’s blog on starting a babysitting co-op – it’s got some really great advice!

Search around for in-home daycare.
If you’re looking for your child to have interaction with other children, in-home daycare can be the next best thing to your traditional daycare center. In-home daycare providers supervise a few children a day and can be very flexible and much cheaper than traditional daycare. There are laws placed on how many children they can watch, and they’re often required to be licensed. According to BabyCenter, daycare costs for home daycare providers can vary a ton, depending on where you live. For preschoolers and younger, the National Association of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies estimates that home daycare averages around $650 a month. To put this in perspective, the full-time costs of in-home daycare are less than what I currently pay to send my child to a daycare center two days a week. You can find many in-home childcare providers on Care.com, a website that offers reviews, background checks, and references for licensed caregivers.

Share a babysitter/nanny.
Having a personal nanny or babysitter can get really expensive really fast. On the other hand, there are a lot of pros to having individualized attention. Your child will be more comfortable in a familiar home, and they’ll get to know the babysitter on a personal level. If you split costs and hire one babysitter for two families, the babysitter will have to be paid a higher rate, but it will still be cheaper than if you were paying for the babysitter yourself.

Don’t go full-time.
Like I said, our part-time daycare tuition is expensive, but it would be much, much worse if he went full-time. If possible, rearrange your work shifts so that you only have to use daycare services a few days a week. If you can’t rearrange your work schedule, consider combining the daycare center with a cheaper option. For instance, send your child to daycare two or three days a week, and ask your relatives to watch them on off days. This way, you won’t be relying on relatives full time, but you’ll be paying less for pricey tuition.

When all else fails, beg your relatives.
It takes a village to raise a child. It wasn’t until I became a mom that I understood just how true this is. Don’t feel bad about asking your relatives for help. Anything you can do to lessen the load of paying for full-time daycare will help. Ask if your parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins or anyone who lives nearby can help out a day or two each week. It’s a great option because the caregiver will have a personal interest in the child, and it will help your child bond with relatives outside their immediate family. You can compensate them either by paying them an agreed-upon wage, helping them out with chores or errands, giving them gift cards, or any other form of payment that shows how much you appreciate their assistance.

In a society where it’s not always possible or desirable for one parent to stay at home, you have to find a way to afford childcare. By thinking outside the box, you can help lower that childcare bill and place your child in an environment where they’ll be happy, healthy and comfortable.

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