Forget saving for higher education. Try paying for daycare first. According to Child Care Aware of America, a nonprofit dedicated to improving access to childcare, the average cost of care for a four year old is higher than the average cost of tuition and fees at a public college in 19 states and the District of Columbia. Here are five states where daycare is more expensive than college and advice on what parents who are saving for both can do.
Average Tuition and Fees at a Public College: $6,213
Average Childcare Costs for a Four Year Old: $11,585
Considering that the average cost of care for an infant in the Empire State tops $14,000, it’s actually cheaper to educate two college freshmen for a year than put a baby in daycare.
Parents who are college students themselves may get a break through single parent programs says Katie Kough, Director of Women With Children Program at Wilson College in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania. Designed to provide single parents with extra support, programs like Women With Children offer family-friendly housing and free on-campus child care. Some programs also offer specialized scholarships and financial aid.
“The point is not having to make a choice between education and a family as a single parent,” says Kough.
Information on single parent programs across the country is available at Singleparentcollegeprograms.org.
College Costs: $7,000
Childcare Costs: $15,437
Childcare is more than double the cost of tuition for DC dwellers, but it can also be more expensive than housing. The average renter forks over $13,344 to their landlord each year, but the average family pays over $6,800 more for infant care.
One way to sidestep childcare costs is to mobilize other parents says Kough.
“The women in our program, when childcare isn’t open or available to them, often use a barter system,” she says.
If bartering isn’t an option, parents can still save money by negotiating flexible work scheduling that might allow them to be home and by tapping local parenting groups to find discounted babysitting.
College Costs: $4,125
Childcare Costs: $7,316
One way to defray the costs of education and childcare is to have your boss pay. Many companies offer tuition assistance, but these programs often come with limits on the amount of assistance or restrictions on what the employee can study.
Lori Long, author of “The Parent’s Guide to Family Friendly Work” and an associate professor in business at Baldwin-Wallace University in Berea, Ohio, says that flexible spending accounts allow employees to set aside up to $5,000 per family in pre-tax dollars for childcare.
“That ends up saving you about 30 percent or so,” she says.
The catch is that once employees earmark flexible spending account money, they can’t get it back. Here’s a bigger breakdown of flexible spending accounts .
College Costs: $5,456
Childcare Costs: $8,856
Regardless of where you live, parents who don’t have flexible spending accounts may be eligible for sweet tax benefits. The Child and Dependent Care Credit provides a credit of 20 percent to 35 percent of childcare expenses up to $3,000 for one kid or $6,000 for more. Only families with children under age 13 are eligible and the credit only applies to expenses taken on while parents are working or looking for work.
College Costs: $5,685
Childcare Costs: $7,774
With both education and childcare, there’s power in numbers. Many higher ed savings programs including 529 prepaid and college savings plans accept contributions from grandparents, relatives and family friends, meaning that students don’t have to shoulder all of the fiscal burden.
Babysitting co-ops allow families to share childcare costs too. An agreement between several families, co-ops offer points to those who babysit families can later trade in when they need some childcare themselves.
“…put together a written agreement about how [the co-op] will work,” says Long. On top of outlining the co-op schedule, the agreement should also address any eating restrictions, contingency plans in case of illness and what happens if a family goes on vacation.
“You really want to make sure you treat it kind of as a business arrangement,” she adds.