The Childcare Choice: Costs and Benefits of Nannies and Daycares

When you have young children, choosing the best childcare situation – and figuring out how to pay for it – can be a major cause of stress. Some families choose to have a parent stay home while their kids are young, but many just can’t make the numbers work … or simply don’t want to.

Whether you work because you have to, because you find it fulfilling or because you want to continue contributing to longer-term financial and career goals, you’re faced with the decision of finding a childcare situation that makes the most sense for your family.

According to the Care Index, a significant  portion of a family’s pay with children under 18 goes to childcare. Nationally, “the cost of full-time care in child care centers is 85 percent of the monthly U.S. median cost of rent.” In four states, the average cost is more than the average cost of rent.

It’s important to think carefully and critically about any expense that eats up so much of your budget, but especially one that impacts your family’s life so greatly. Your childcare choice not only affects your kids’ life day-to-day, but yours as well. Not only right now while you’re paying but if you’re diverting costs from other goals, into the future.

Some families decide it works best for one parent to stay home with the kids. However, for those who need outside care three of the most common options are care in your home (from a nanny), care in someone else’s home, or care in a center. Each carries costs and benefits, both financial and habitual. Here are some things to consider about each scenario:

Care Inside Your Home (Nanny)

  • Having childcare in your home can be helpful for parents with very busy schedules or long commutes. Instead of scrambling to get your family up early and out the door quickly enough to beat traffic and get to work on time, you only need to get yourself out the door. A nanny can get your kids fed and ready at their own pace.
  • Staying home in a comfortable, familiar environment is a great option for many kids. They may sleep better, have more time to rest if they’re sick and they get the chance for home-cooked meals more often than they would elsewhere.
  • A childcare provider who focuses only on your family can form a strong bond with children and give them more attention than they might get in a room full of other kids.
  • Some nannies help by cooking, cleaning and doing laundry for families.
  • In-home childcare is expensive. The Care Index reports the average cost of full-time care using an in-home caregiver, or nanny, is $28,353 a year. If you have multiple children, this might end up being less money per child than enrolling them all in daycare, but for one or two, it’s likely the most expensive option.
  • When you rely on one person for your childcare, you may be left scrambling if something happens to them. If your nanny gets sick the morning of an important presentation, it can be stressful finding last-minute backup childcare.  
  • There’s less oversight in such a one-on-one relationship. Even if you have security cameras, it’s tough to know what’s really going on between a nanny and your child.
  • You’ll be an employer. When you hire a nanny, you’re responsible for paying social security taxes, filing a W2 and all the potential headaches that come from dealing with the IRS.

Daycare Center

  • Daycare centers provide social interaction that many children thrive on. Especially if they don’t have siblings, a daycare center can be a great way for kids to begin interacting with peers and teachers in a structured environment before starting elementary school.
  • Many daycare centers offer preschool curriculum and valuable instruction. Parents with kids at daycare centers sometimes find their children meeting milestones before those who aren’t around same-age and slightly older peers all day.
  • Daycare centers are state-licensed, audited often and operate under a great deal of oversight.
  • Caregivers at daycare centers are often trained professionals with backgrounds in early childhood education. They are likely required to stay up-to-date on first aid, CPR and other safety certifications.
  • Daycare centers can also be cost-prohibitive, especially for families with multiple children in care. According to the Care Index, the average cost of full-time care in childcare centers for children ages 0-4 is $9,589 annually.
  • Many daycare centers are in-demand, with wait lists for infant rooms, in particular, stretching two years or more.
  • Rooms full of small children are full of germs. It’s common for kids to get sick more often when they first start daycare. State health laws mean centers usually have strict attendance policies if your child has had a fever or vomited in the past 24 hours, which might mean missed days of work for you.
  • The larger staff numbers required to care for larger numbers of children mean some daycare centers experience high turnover rates. Imagine if your child’s favorite teacher takes a new job and leaves your little one heartbroken.
  • A daycare center won’t make an exception for a meeting that runs late. If you don’t pick your child up by the time the center closes, you might be charged a fee.

Home Daycare

  • Home daycare centers are the least expensive childcare option for many families.
  • An in-home daycare center often offers the benefits of both a nanny and a daycare center. It combines a more intimate provider relationship with schedule flexibility of a nanny with the social interaction of a daycare center.
  • However, it can also present the drawbacks. Home daycares aren’t always licensed and may offer very little oversight, can leave you scrambling for backup care if the provider gets sick and still exposes your child to illnesses and viruses.

Initially, sending your children to daycare can be a hard pill to swallow – both emotionally and financially. But with research and careful budgeting, you can find a childcare situation that’s not only safe and affordable, but fun and enriching as well.  

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