I work from home and struggled to find affordable childcare for my son, until I cobbled together the perfect mix
- 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.
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.
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.
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.Personal Finance Insider offers tools and calculators to help you make smart decisions with your money. We do not give investment advice or encourage you to buy or sell stocks or other financial products. What you decide to do with your money is up to you. If you take action based on one of the recommendations listed in the calculator, we get a small share of the revenue from our commerce partners.