Career & Finance

Paying for Childcare Is Tough—Readers Reveal How They Make It Work

paying for childcare"
paying for childcare
Source: @katiekett
Source: @katiekett

It’s no secret that paying for childcare is one of the biggest stressors amongst parents today. “I think all parents who pay for childcare can agree that the cost is astronomical,” said Steph A., a mom of two living in Dallas. “We are fortunate enough to qualify for financial assistance through a private program, but what about those who don’t? Oftentimes, the burden of childcare ends up falling on mothers when traditional care is financially out of reach. Whether they have to sacrifice their quality of work, reduce their hours, or stop working altogether, this issue holds women at a disadvantage in the workforce. It’s no surprise that more people are choosing to remain child-free.”

“I really don’t know how people afford to have kids in this country, particularly ‘average’ earners,” said Lisa J., a mom of one living in Chicago. We “stomach it,” said Maura O., another Chicago mom with two boys in daycare, “You have 18 years to plan for college and about one year to plan for daycare which is the same cost. That’s insane!”

These moms echo what many all over the country are feeling: overwhelmed, stretched, and stuck between a rock and a hard place. Especially because mothers 1) experience the motherhood penalty when it comes to earnings, 2) are returning to work well before they are ready due to inadequate maternity and paid family leave in the U.S., 3) are already feeling the effects of the childcare cliff (the abrupt end to pandemic-era funding that kept thousands of child care programs afloat nationwide), and 4) disproportionately shoulder the burden of caring for the children.

We know you feel it; we do, too. In the spirit of learning, connecting, and empathizing with each other, we asked you: How much does childcare cost where you live? How do you do it? And how do you manage to pay for childcare?

We heard from readers all over the U.S. as well as readers in Canada, Denmark, and Australia (no surprise spoiler: childcare costs outside the U.S. aren’t nearly as exorbitant). Here’s what you said:

How Much Does Childcare Cost in the U.S.?

According to’s 2024 Cost of Care Report, families in the U.S. are spending 24 percent of their household income on child care, while Fast Company noted single parents spend over 50 percent of their income on childcare. Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) states child care is “affordable” when it costs families no more than seven percent of their household income. So it’s no wonder the gap between the affordable cost of childcare (7 percent) and the actual cost of childcare (24 percent) is a primary pain point for parents.

While family childcare costs vary based on where you live and the age of your children, a poll of our readers found the majority are spending $1000-3000 per month in childcare costs—many mentioning it’s a bigger expense than their mortgage or in-state college tuition. Data from The Economic Policy Institute backs up our readers, sharing the average cost of childcare breakdown by state and noting where childcare costs more than in-state college tuition. So how do families pay for it?

how much do you pay for childcare

How Families Are Paying for Childcare

Extreme Budgeting for the Short-Term

The cost of care for the early childhood years is temporary, and many readers say they’re prioritizing childcare above all else—vacations, new cars, college savings, etc.—during this time, knowing their children will eventually be in school (although, working parents will still need to pay summer and aftercare costs). Even those families who have two parents with high-paying jobs say the cost of childcare requires both a budget and a mindset shift.

“I almost break even with my job and childcare, but I tell myself one day, I’ll need less childcare, but my career will be further along, and I’ll make more money eventually. It’s not ideal at the moment.”—Mom of three, Clarendon Hills, IL

“Mentally, acknowledging the situation is short term. We review our budget to cut back on most aspects of any spend! Still feel stress from the high cost.”—Kelly R., mom of three, Grosse Ile, MI

“We try to not spend a lot on non-essentials and just recognize this is hopefully a phase of life where we are saving less than we would like.”—Mom of two, NJ

“The long-term financial benefit to both of us staying in the workforce outweighs the five-ish years of extra costs related to daycare. We also think our baby/toddler have benefitted so much socially from being around other children.”—Mom of two, Colorado Springs, CO 

“We won’t have enough every month to save for our child’s college or our retirement until he’s school-aged.”—Mom of one, Washington, D.C.

paying for childcare
Source: @karissfarris

Leaning on Family

Whether for childcare or generous donations towards care, readers lucky enough to have family nearby lean on members willing to help.

“My husband and I pay my mom to care for our two kiddos, who are 4 and 2 years old. The peace we have with knowing my mom is caring for our kids is priceless to us. She provides such great care, and we feel so absolutely lucky that we could pay for her to do something she already loves doing.” —Anonymous 

“We would not be able to afford the high-quality preschool we send our kids to if it weren’t for our extended family’s generosity. I’m a teacher and my husband is a full-time doctoral student. We technically can’t afford the childcare we depend on.”—Mom of two, Friendswood, TX

“I am a single mom fortunate to have my mom watch my daughter Monday through Thursday, while I work 10-hour days to take Fridays off work… I wake up at 4:30 a.m. Monday through Thursday. It hasn’t been easy, but I’m fortunate to have my family to help out!” —Anonymous

“I’m paying approximately $2,400/month for two kids in daycare in the Nashville area—a 3-year-old and a 4-month-old. It’s outrageous! My husband and I both have full-time careers. Even if we wanted another kid, we couldn’t afford it. It’s a fantastic school, but we’ve had to become indebted to my husband’s family to be able to afford it and still put food on the table.” —Anonymous

paying for childcare

Leveraging Job Benefits, Tuition Assistance, and Subsidies

Only 20 percent of our readers polled that they have employee benefits to help with the high cost of childcare. While many readers who responded from outside the U.S. have government subsidies to keep their childcare costs down. 

“Our private daycare/preschool center offers tuition assistance through a third-party program, which we thankfully qualified for. We are currently saving 25 percent on our son’s tuition and 30 percent on our daughter’s tuition. However, even with these discounts, my family still provides me with additional financial help monthly ($350). The total amount I pay from my own salary is $1900 for both children. This is more than our mortgage, but since my husband pays that with his salary, it is doable.”—Steph A. mom of two, Dallas, TX 

Dependent care FSA reimbursement [helps pay for childcare], keeping mortgage and car payments lower for now. Waited to have kids until after we paid off student loans.”—Lauren W. mom of two, Milwaukee, WI 

“We have one currently in daycare but are expecting twins any day now. We are a dual-income house; however, my husband is a full-time Ph.D. student, so his stipend is not very substantial. Because he is a student, we were able to qualify for a childcare subsidy through the financial aid office at his school. We were also able to negotiate with our daycare for a multi-child discount off two children instead of one. We also use our FSA to pay tuition pre-tax.” —Anonymous

“Grateful for government mandates subsidizing daycare.”—Mom of one, Halifax, Canada

“In Australia, certain policies have helped keep cost down such as 2 days a week of free ‘kindy’ (pre-school), as well as childcare subsidies that are income-based.”—Jeff M. dad of two, Brisbane, Australia

“In Denmark, the cost of daycare is subsidized 75 percent, so it’s really manageable.”—Jennifer H. mom of one, Copenhagen, Denmark

mom and smiling toddler
Source: @luckyandi

Getting Creative

“It’s a hodgepodge. Our 5-year-old is in full-time Pre-K (tuition), and our 2-year-old is with my mom three days a week (free) and a nanny two days a week (not free). I work remote with super flexible hours and ultimately end up working with a kid or two in tow for at least one hour per day while waiting for my mom or waiting for my husband to come home from work. We actually moved halfway across the country just so that we could have family watch our children. My mom’s our lifesaver, and I will never take it for granted. Ever..”—Anonymous

“I just opened an online shop to try and sell my art for some extra income that also offers something that makes me feel like me again. We also budget like mad.”—Sarah P. mom of two, Bettendorf, IA

We actually moved halfway across the country just so that we could have family watch our children. My mom’s our lifesaver, and I will never take it for granted.”

“We cut costs in many other areas or rely on our skill sets to bargain. For example, I do the antiracism training for my daughter’s daycare for a discount.”—Daizha R. mom of two, Dallas, TX 

“I’m a single mom and paying for my now 4-year-old by working extra jobs and trying to get another side business going to give me a bit more cushion and safety net. I did apply for a grant to help due to being a single parent, but the cost is still beyond expensive, and I can’t afford to send my 19-month-old as well!”—Anonymous

“We have two kids (3-year-old and 9-month-old), my husband and I are both in grad school, and we have an au pair from Costa Rica. She’s amazing, adores them, and we LOVE having them at home, able to run around and go outside and have the childhood we wanted them to have. Bonus: They were both sick this week, and neither of us had to take time off because they couldn’t go to daycare… An au pair was the least expensive option where we are located, but we have really felt so LUCKY to have such a wonderful woman taking care of our little ones.” —Anonymous

“We currently put money into an account throughout the year to ensure summer camp costs are covered and don’t go back into our monthly budget during that time.”—Lauren G, mom of 2, Grand Rapids, MI

Transitioning to Part-Time Work or Staying Home

“We have two kids, and one on the way. We have been double income [family], but when baby #3 is born, my husband is going to stay home. As my career has progressed, we are in a position where I out-earn my husband 10 times; it just doesn’t make sense for him to keep working. My older two will both be in elementary school next year, so that helps.” —Anonymous

“When baby #3 is born, my husband is going to stay home.”

“Our son will be going [to daycare] three days a week, and my husband is now working part-time to watch him two days a week. I’m in tech and make more than my husband, so this seemed to be the best arrangement. This [childcare] money used to go into our savings.” —Mom of one, Ann Arbor, MI

“I work two days a week, and my husband works full-time. My Fridays are my son and my time together. My salary basically pays for the cost of daycare; we haven’t made a ton of sacrifices, just saving less per month than before. It’s frustrating because when our second child is born, if we continue this situation, I will be PAYING to go to work every day. That is something I’m struggling with.” —Anonymous

“It’s frustrating because when our second child is born, if we continue this situation, I will be PAYING to go to work every day.”

“My husband and I both work full-time (dual-income) and pay a lot for our 18-month-old to attend daycare. We love his daycare, but would love more than anything for me to be home with him but can’t afford it! Maybe we’ll be forced to afford it when baby #2 comes because there is no way we could afford twice these payments.” —Mom of one, Orange County, CA

“We are now figuring out how to live in a single-income household. Not having the weight of childcare costs had eliminated a huge emotional stress off of my shoulders.” —Anonymous

Thinking Critically About Having More Kids

The cost of childcare was overwhelmingly stated as directly affecting family planning—whether parents are limiting the number of children they have or waiting a certain amount of time to have more. 

“They [childcare workers] are taking care of the most important person in my life so I understand and believe they deserve to be paid a strong wage. However, it is a lot for young families to balance. It has also dictated our timeline for having a second child, as we are waiting until our first will have free 3k available.”—Mom of one, Astoria, NY

“The cost of childcare is one of the main reasons we’re waiting to have another baby!! We currently can’t afford two in daycare, and neither of us want to be stay-at-home parents.”—Mom of one, Utica, NY 

“The cost of childcare is one of the main reasons we’re waiting to have another baby.”

“I have twin 2-year-olds who are in full-time childcare since my husband and I both work full-time. We are counting the days until they go to public kindergarten, and we can have some disposable income again. The cost of childcare has also led us to decide that we probably won’t have any more kids.” —Anonymous

“This can keep me up at night! We have one child and are a dual-income family in the DC area. Due to the high costs of housing/living in the area, the grandparents are graciously helping with the costs of daycare for our 11-month-old. The #1 thing preventing me from thinking of having a second child right now is childcare.” —Mom of one, Washington, D.C.

“Cost of childcare has become a big factor in our decision to likely refrain from expanding our family beyond 2 kids. I always dreamed of having a big family, but I’m a teacher and nearly my entire paycheck goes to our preschool. It’s not very practical to have 3 kids in daycare when you make less than $60,000/year as an educator.”—Mom of two, Friendswood, TX

mom and three kids
Source: @saschadoesthings via #sharetheeverymom

Childcare Frustrations and Solutions

challenging part of finding childcare

Accepting “Good Enough” Care

“The most challenging part of childcare is that it’s so expensive, yet there really isn’t any great option. A nanny can be unreliable and expensive, and suddenly, you’re also a manager. Daycare can lead to endless sickness and a revolving door of employees taking care of your kids in a group setting—often 9 or 11 kids to a single teacher. You’re paying as much as your mortgage, yet you have to constantly accept what’s ‘good enough’ and if the issues you’re facing are worth finding another option that’s completely unknown, has its own unique challenges, and likely a waitlist.”—Allyson T. mom of one, Temple, Texas  

“My husband and I are fortunate to a) both make a sufficient living to afford childcare and b) live in a lower cost-of-living region, so ultimately, the cost alone isn’t the most difficult part for us. However, the QUALITY for the cost is extremely difficult for us. In a rural area, one hour away from a major metropolitan area, we are left with in-home daycare situations and ONE daycare center (with a 15+ month wait list). But even the daycare center is not up to our standards in terms of child behavior management and caregiver qualifications.”—Mom of two, Salem, IN

Childcare Workers Are Underpaid

“It is so frustrating to know that no one is winning with the current state of childcare. It is unaffordable or barely affordable for so many families (even those that make good incomes). At the same time, childcare workers barely earn a livable wage — this is so heartbreaking to me because they have such an important job! I feel like this speaks volumes to how children and families are prioritized in this country (they are not).”—Mom of two, NJ

“It is so frustrating to know that no one is winning with the current state of childcare. It is unaffordable or barely affordable for so many families (even those that make good incomes). At the same time, childcare workers barely earn a livable wage.”

“I think childcare providers work incredibly hard and are doing such important work and deserve to be paid well. [Yet] It is a massive expense and we have struggled to find anything affordable in our area.”—Mom of one, Minneapolis, MN

“It’s a vicious cycle—the childcare workers don’t get paid enough and the expense to parents is too high. Solving both problems seems impossible.”—Julia S. mom of two, Fort Worth, TX

The Hours Don’t Meet Parents’ Needs

“The hours are also tough, some childcare options do not open until 8 a.m., and that is the expected time for parents to arrive at their workplaces. Pick-up also poses a challenge when you have a high-demand job, as pick-up is often by 5:30 p.m., and since you were “’ate’ for work, you think you need to stay longer or work through lunch to make up the time you need to pick up your child.”—Megan S. mom of one, Overland Park, KS  

Better Workplace Solutions and Benefits Are Needed

“There is insufficient support for childcare in every aspect. I know parents who pay astronomical prices, yet teachers are not fairly compensated. I know parents who have to drive 30 minutes outside of their neighborhood because the lack of resources and funding for Black and Brown communities means that early childhood education centers aren’t able to provide quality education. There has to be more emphasis on creating accessible, affordable, and diverse care options for all families… not just those who can afford them.”—Daizha R. mom of two, Dallas, TX

“The commonly cited employer-provided benefit is a flex account for childcare. The maximum amount annually is $5,000. We pay $12,000 yearly for our toddler, which is the least we’ve ever paid. It is not a meaningful benefit.”—Mom of two, Minneapolis, MN 

“I firmly believe if childcare was treated like the public good it is (instead of being expected to turn a profit), we would see a huge ROI from any government subsidy, both in our GDP and the number of working adults in the U.S.”—Lauren W. mom of two, Milwaukee, WI

“I firmly believe if childcare was treated like the public good it is (instead of being expected to turn a profit), we would see a huge ROI from any government subsidy, both in our GDP and the number of working adults in the U.S.”

“We are a dual-income family with one child. I was up for a review at work and met with my boss (who happens to be HR) and the CEO of the company, and in my pitch for a promotion/review, I gave them a number that… required a $17K raise. I let them know their option was to get me as close to that $17K raise or that I’d have to quit because I wouldn’t be able to pay for childcare. Thankfully, my company values me and my family, and I secured a $23K raise!”—Anonymous

“Policy changes would be great, but more employers offering flexible work/ culture change around supporting parents would be even more beneficial. It’s been the most helpful for our family.”—Mom of two, Chicago, IL

Nanny vs. Daycare: How to Decide Which is Best for Your Family
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