I work from home and struggled to find affordable childcare for my son, until I cobbled together the perfect mix
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- Writer Sarah Li Cain works from home in Jacksonville, Florida, and needed to find affordable childcare for her toddler.
- Full-time childcare in Jacksonville can easily cost $1,000 a month or more.
- After trying some options, she cobbled together a mix of morning preschool, drop-off daycare, gym childcare, and a mom group that together only cost her about $400 a month.
As a full-time freelance writer who works from home, I assumed I would be able to watch my son and still be able to get my work done.
I was sorely mistaken.
Now that my son is a toddler, it's a bit too distracting for me to go between my laptop and making sure he isn't getting into trouble.
But even though I'd decided to put my son in childcare, I was worried about the costs.
Other parents who work full-time where I live in Jacksonville, Florida pay upwards of $1,000 each month for full-time daycare, from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday to Friday. Sure, I wanted my son to be in a good facility, but I wasn't willing to spend that much money.
The good news is that I've been able to pay for childcare that costs around $400 a month by mixing and matching options.
I started by looking at preschool programs at local churches
Just to be clear, I don't put my son in full-time childcare like most other parents. My son gets dropped off around 9 a.m. and comes home around 1 p.m. There are times when he goes longer in the afternoons, especially when I'm away on work trips.
Knowing that I didn't need full-time daycare, I was able to look at alternative options like babysitters and part-time nannies. A friend told me to look at churches in my area as many of them offered preschool during the mornings, many of which were so close I could walk to them.
I ended up finding a preschool that offered care for five days a week from 9 a.m. to 12:00 p.m., with the option of what's called wraparound care. This means you can pay more to extend your child's school day either before or after regular preschool hours. The preschool I ended up going with had a special lunch program, where for an extra $50 a month, my son could stay an extra hour a day and the preschool provided a lunch.
Then, I added some drop-off daycare
In addition to the church preschool, we also have a bunch of drop-off daycare options, which allow you to drop off your child for however long you wish, and pay by the hour. I decided to buy one of its packages - where you pre-pay a certain number of hours - so I could lower the hourly fee, which averaged about $7 per hour.
This was much cheaper than a babysitter or nanny in my area, which averages around $14 an hour.
I also banded together with other mothers for support
Since the preschool was nearby, I got to know the other mothers who took their children to the same preschool. Most of the moms had flexible schedules like I did, and I found out they made arrangements for one mom would drop off a group of children or watch them after preschool, giving the other moms time to run errands.
I decided to ask them if I could get in on their group. So once I week, I would walk the children to school, and watch them for a few hours when preschool was done. The rest of the week, a different mom would come by the house, pick up my son, and I would pick him up at the playground near our apartment around 3 p.m. instead of sending him to the drop-off daycare after preschool.
I took advantage of the gym's childcare program
One of the reasons I joined my local YMCA was so that I could take advantage of their childcare facilities - membership costs about $120 for a family in Jacksonville. Since I can work from anywhere as long as I have a laptop, I sometimes dropped my son off and worked in the cafe. He loved going there because there are lots of toys, and sometimes scheduled activities he could take part in. While I don't recall there being any time limits, I never dropped off my son for more than two hours at a time.
Childcare can be expensive in my area, but I'm lucky to live in a place that has so many options. I'm able to work without distractions and be able to spend quality time with him when he's around so I don't have to worry about if my work is getting done.
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