How to slash the cost of child care

Wallet torture: that’s what childcare costs are. Those of us with children often pay a small fortune to ensure our loved ones get the very best of care.

I read that the OECD says New Zealand families with pre-schoolers pay on average 28% of their net income on childcare. It’s like having a second mortgage. Even hiring a babysitter to cover your date night could cost $60 to $70.

So here at Canstar we’ve put our heads together to come up with 10 money-saving tricks to help manage the cost of childcare:

1. Stagger your work hours.

If you’re a double income couple, can you take turns at working from home, even one or two days a week each? Or could you work flexi hours with one of you starting late and the other finishing early?

2. Nanny share.

You pay much the same whether the nanny is looking after one, two or three children. You could get one nanny for two families. Not all nannies or nanny agencies will agree to this. But if it works, you halve the cost of childcare.

3. Use an Au Pair.

Au Pairs are overseas tourists who live in your home and provide childcare for 30-45 hours a week usually. You provide them with full board and pay between $150 and $200 a week.

4. Childcare exchanges.

Can you do a deal with another parent where you swap childcare hours? Perhaps you work Mondays and Tuesdays and your friend works Thursdays and Fridays. This might be quite good for afterschool care as well – especially if your children go to the same after school activities. That could be a win-win situation for both of you.

5. Be creative.

If you work from home or work part time, can you be creative around childcare options? You might find, for example, that if your child is 2.5 years or older that you can drop off up to three mornings a week at Playcentre, which has very cheap fees. If you can share drop offs and pickups with another parent then you might be able to extend your work time each day by as much as 45 minutes.

6. Use the Walking School Bus.

If you want to add up to an hour to your working day, then consider putting your children on the Walking School Bus. They’ll leave home at 8.30am and don’t return until 3.30pm adding valuable working time to your day.

7. Take advantage of subsidies.

If you’re on a low income there’s a good chance you can apply for Work & Income subsidies. You can apply for a childcare subsidy for under 5s, Out of School Care and Recreation (OSCAR) subsidy for before and afterschool care and school holiday programmes, or a Guaranteed Childcare Assistance Payment if you’re a young parent and have a child aged under 5. More information can be found here.

8. Use your 20 free hours a week.

If your children are 3-5-years-old they’re entitled to 20 free hours a week at a teacher-led day-care, kōhanga reo, or Playcentre. The centre may charge optional fees for additional services such as meals. The 20 free hours scheme makes day-care a better financial option over a nanny for some families.

9. Farm the kids out in the holidays.

Can you send the kids to granny and granddad, or Uncle Bruce on the farm for a week of the holidays? This will save lots in holiday programme charges. Or can you send them to friends’ houses for a day here and there? Perhaps your son or daughter is at sports camp in the morning and one of the other parents will take them home for a playdate in the afternoon. To make this work you really need to be proactive with your communication. Let your children’s friends’ parents know your situation and see if there is something they can do for you (and vice versa).

10. Babysitting and childcare exchanges.

Kerching. Did you really just pay $60 to a babysitter to sit in front of your TV all night or play on your WiFi? Set up an exchange with a friend or group of friends. It’s not going to kill you to sit at your friend’s house one night a month. Or get organised about sleepovers so that your children go to someone else’s house for your date night.

I’m the first to say that these ideas won’t work for everyone. But even if you can only save $60 a month on babysitting or one day’s school holiday programme charge, then it’s worth it.

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