I live in Indiana, and in the Midwest, almost everything is cheap – including daycare. According to Pew Research Center, the average cost for full-time infant care in Indiana is somewhere between $6,000 and $8,999 a year. Compare that to $14,939 in New York or more than $16,000 in Massachusetts.
Still, averages mean nothing when you’re shopping for daycare for your own family. Even with low average daycare costs relative to the rest of the country, I was pretty shocked to see how much daycare might cost when we moved in early 2014. The Goddard School right outside my neighborhood, for example, wanted $400 per week to watch my two kids full-time. And another private preschool around the corner was even more expensive - they wanted $529 per week for full-time care.
I balked at the idea of paying that much, even though I was slightly intrigued by all of the “extras” they had to offer. The private option taught gymnastics, French, and yoga in addition to preschool instruction taught by licensed teachers. The Goddard School offered much of the same, and both schools offered a huge playground, an ongoing roster of activities, and plenty of other perks.
Still, I couldn’t wrap my head around how we could pay for the expensive centers without making some huge financial sacrifices. At $529 per week, we would be paying out over $27,000 per year. And even at $400 per week, we would still owe well over $20,000. No matter how much we make, that’s still a huge chunk of our pay.
Considering All Our Daycare Options
So I started looking for cheaper options, starting with small in-home daycare options and smaller commercial centers. And I have to admit, I was pretty underwhelmed at first when I compared the two.
Instead of huge playgrounds and activity rooms, most "cheaper" options featured a slide or two and a living room converted to an activity room. Foreign language lessons weren’t on the agenda either, and yoga was replaced with regular ol’ "play time."
Obviously, our first consideration wasn’t where our kids would go to daycare, but who would be watching them. And that’s one area where I actually wasn’t disappointed.
In almost every in-home or small center I visited, I was greeted by loving caregivers who enjoyed caring for children. I was also surprised to find that many of the in-home centers we considered were licensed. Meanwhile, they all had great references too.
Finding Value in Daycare and Everything Else
Like anyone else, I want the best for my kids. And that’s part of the reason our daycare decision was such a hard one. Still, we all know that sometimes you have to look at the big picture when deciding what is best.
After all, buying the "best" car for my family would involve trading in my paid-off minivan for something pricier - siphoning resources away from other big-picture goals like saving for my kids' college education. Meanwhile, buying the "best" house in the neighborhood would likely mean upgrading into something more expensive than what we have now. You have to draw the line somewhere, and for me, that line is drawn at "value."
First and foremost, we wanted a caregiver that would take excellent care of our children. We wanted someone who was responsible and able to provide them with the direction they need. Buy beyond that, everything else was negotiable.
A big playground? We have one in our neighborhood. French lessons? Totally unnecessary. Yoga? Not high on the priority list.
For us, the value of those “extras” was almost non-existent. And even more importantly, none of those things actually added to the value of the care my children would receive.
How I Decided an Expensive Daycare Wasn’t Worth It
In the end, we chose a small, licensed in-home daycare run by a loving caregiver for $150 per week. No ginormous playgrounds. No organic fruit smoothies for lunch. No bells or whistles.
Here’s how we decided that the expensive centers weren’t worth it: At $150 per week, we were paying $7,800 per year. That’s $20,000 less than the most expensive center we considered. Because of that difference, I was able to put $5,000 in my children’s college 529 plans last year, take my kids on a handful of family vacations, and also max out our retirement accounts. And because we are still sticking with a less expensive option, we should be able to do the same from this point forward.
When you look at all we gained by forgoing the pricey “extras” of an expensive childcare option, it’s easy to see why we decided that the expensive centers just weren’t worth it. Simply put, the price we would have to pay for the “best” is money we would rather put toward college savings, retirement, and other family goals.
It isn't always easy to decide what's best for your family. I know I struggled with this decision for far too long, even when the answer might have seemed obvious to an outsider.
But when I’m able to pay for my kid’s college tuition years from now, I know the sacrifice will be worth it.