According to Child Care Aware® of America’s annual Parents and the High Cost of Child Care report, child care is one of the greatest expenses in a family’s budget. The cost of care is often higher than what families pay for housing, college tuition, transportation or food. Many parents are left to wonder, “Can we afford child care?”

Your Current Budget

When you’re looking into your child care options, an important step in the process will be to review your current monthly budget. Create a budget that shows where you currently spend your money. Include all major expenses (housing, vehicles, loans, utilities, and medical expenses), all family necessities (food, clothing, diapers, and gas), and savings and retirement funds. Be sure to think about any other regular expenses, and add those into your budget. This may include spending for vacations, entertainment, clubs or activities, dining out, coffee shop stops, etc.

The resources below can help you create your household budget. Once you have your current budget in front of you, you are ready to add in child care costs.

Cost of Child Care

Child care tuition is what a child care provider charges weekly or monthly for each child in care. The cost of child care tuition varies depending on a number of factors. This can include your location, the type and schedule of care, and your child’s age. If this is your first time seeking child care in your location, you’ll want to learn more about average costs where you live. Your local Child Care Resource & Referral (CCR&R) agency are your local child care experts. They can share with you how much you should expect to pay for child care in your area. Search for your local CCR&R here, and call to speak with a representative.

“Hidden” Child Care Costs

In addition to child care tuition, you’ll need to take into account any fees that might come along with selecting a program:

  • Annual registration fees: Registration fees are often required when you apply at a program or accept a slot. They can range from very low to several hundred dollars. Providers may require a new registration fee each year.
  • Materials/Supply fee: Depending on the program, you may have a fee for books, classroom materials or uniforms.
  • Meals and snack fees: Some programs charge extra if you choose to have them provide healthy meals and snacks to your child during the day.
  • Field trip fee: Many programs plan field trips in advance and charge a pre-set fee for these events.
  • Late fees: If there’s a possibility that you may be late picking up your child, you will need to know if there is a late fee that will be charged on those occasions.

Because rates and fees vary from program to program, it may be helpful to get a list of providers near you and to call several to learn what fees they charge. Be sure to ask providers about the extra costs listed above and any other costs you can expect to face if you enroll your child there.

Adjusting Your Budget

Your budget will likely look very different after you factor in child care tuition and fees. If you’ve found that your income is not enough to cover all of your costs, review each line item to see where you can save money.

  • Can you cut back on coffee shop runs or eating out?
  • Is there a grocery store nearby that offers lower prices than where you shop currently?
  • Can you buy some household or baby/child items second-hand?
  • Are you able to decrease spending on your cable bill or phone plan?

Be creative and realistic when trying to cut costs. There are many blogs and internet articles available with ideas to help families save money.

Many families find that money-saving efforts are not enough to help them afford the cost of child care. If you are unsure if your family can afford to pay for child care, you can find out what options exist to help low-income families pay for care where you live. Visit our Federal and State Child Care Programs page for information on government child care assistance. We also encourage you to read through our What If I Don’t Qualify for Assistance? page for information on other options to look for and ask about during your child care search.

Budgeting Resources

There are a number of tools out there that you can use to create your budget. Choose a tool that allows you to add in all of your monthly expenses. Tools that do the math for you help you quickly see what you’re able to afford. The resources below may be helpful as you calculate your budget for child care costs.

  • Download our free budgeting template to get started on your family’s budget. Line items are included for common household expenses and possible child care costs.
  • Mint: Mint is an all-around financial tool that helps families and individuals manage their money. You can use Mint to create your family’s budget and easily see where your money is going and where you may be able to save money.
  • MyMoney.gov: This website provides user-friendly information and resources about a number of financial topics. Get information on borrowing money, saving and investing, budgeting, and more. Visit the “Spend” or the “Tools” tabs for budgeting resources.