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If you’re looking for alternatives to traditional, center-based child care, you’ve probably found out that child care is expensive and, for many families, unaffordable.

A 2018 survey from Care.com revealed that child care is unaffordable for seven out of 10 families. In fact, one in three families reports spending upwards of 20% of their income on child care.

If child care is necessary but unaffordable for your family, what can you do? We talked to child care experts and parents from across the country to find five alternatives to traditional day care. These options can help you find a solution that will suit your family’s needs.

Baby-Sitting Co-Ops

A baby-sitting co-op is a group of families who share baby-sitting duties among themselves. It’s a structured organization in which members share responsibilities.

While there are many different ways a baby-sitting co-op can function, typically members take turns baby-sitting and are given “points” based on how many children and how many hours they baby-sit. You earn points for being the baby sitter and you pay points when you need a sitter for your children.

Groups like this are usually found in tight-knit communities, like churches, schools or mom groups, and they can be great resources. If you need help locating a co-op, Care.com can help you find groups in your area.

If you’re uncomfortable joining a co-op with people you don’t know, consider starting your own. Reach out to other parents you’re close with and see if there’s a way you all can work together and lessen the financial burden of child care.

This option may not be ideal for day-to-day day care needs, but it’s a great way to save money if you frequently find yourself in need of a trustworthy sitter.

In-Home Day Care

When she decided to go back to work after her second child, Audrey M. from the blog Mommy Enlightened had a difficult time finding child care that her family could afford.

“We found that we would be paying more for day care than I would bring home in a week, which made us decide that we needed to find a different way,” says Audrey.

The mom of two opted to look for in-home day care options. In-home day care providers supervise a few children a day and can be flexible and more affordable than traditional day care centers.

Even though Audrey knew in-home options were out there, she had a hard time finding them, so she turned to social media.

“Find a Facebook mom group in your county and join. Search through past posts of people asking about day care options, and if you find posts that were within the last month or so, consider contacting someone who responded to the post. If you can’t find anything recent, post a request in the group,” recommends Audrey.

In Audrey’s experience, Facebook mom groups provided her with genuine and reliable feedback. She could also see if she had any mutual friends with the moms she was chatting with, which added another level of trust.

“For us, in-home day care was a great option. I felt that a more ‘homey’ option would be easier for my child to get used to, and the lower cost was more reasonable,” says Audrey.

She does caution parents to make sure the in-home day care is licensed. “Some states do not require licensure, and lack of licensure will make it much harder for you to claim the expense on your taxes,” explains Audrey.

Nanny Shares

“An emerging and popular child care trend is nanny shares,” says Elizabeth Malson, president of Amslee Institute, an online licensed technical school issuing child care diplomas.

Nanny shares are when two or more families employ one nanny. If you split costs and hire one baby sitter for two families, the baby sitter will often have to be paid a higher rate, but it is still cheaper than if you were paying for the baby sitter by yourself.

According to Malson, most nannies watch the children of the two families together, but you can also make a schedule that fits your specific needs. For example, maybe two days a week the nanny watches the children together, but one morning the nanny only watches one of the families’ children. You can work out any arrangement you need while still splitting the costs.

Flexible Hours

According to the 2018 Care.com survey mentioned earlier, 63% of parents said the cost of child care influenced their career decisions. Some parents (28% of them) changed jobs for higher pay, which could be used toward child care.

If you love the work you do, that option can seem extreme and, honestly, a bit frustrating. If you’re uncomfortable finding a new job, consider asking for a flexible schedule. Maybe you can work from home two or three days a week or come in to work later some mornings.

When all else fails, consider working part time. If you’re spending what you make in a week on day care, going part time could help reduce day care costs and allow you to use some of your money for other payments or savings.

Family Sitters

You may have heard the saying “It takes a village to raise a child.”

Don’t feel bad about asking your relatives for help. Anything you can do to lessen the load of paying for full-time day care 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 children, and your child will bond with relatives outside their immediate family.

You can compensate those relatives by paying them an agreed-upon wage, helping them out with chores or errands, giving them gift cards, or choosing any other form of payment that shows how much you appreciate their assistance.

It can be uncomfortable to ask for help, but there may be members of your family, or some of your friends, who would be more than happy to help you out a few days a week.

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

Do you have tips to save money on child care? Share your story in the comment section.

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