Rising Child Care Costs Eat Into Budgets

Nearly half of families spend 15% of household income on child care
A mother and young son walk holding hands

Like most roles that carry a great deal of responsibility, parenting comes with its fair share of stress. But a new survey suggests that much of that stress could be financial.

Child care costs are rising for a majority of Americans. In fact, nearly two-thirds of respondents to a survey by online caregiving platform Care.com said they are spending more on child care this year than last year. Care.com set out to find out how those costs are impacting family budgets by surveying 4,146 parents for its annual Cost of Care survey.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, child care is deemed unaffordable if a family is spending more than 7% on it. Yet, more than 70% of respondents to the Care.com survey said they spend at least 10% of their income on child care, while nearly half spend more than 15% on child care-related costs each year.

While 31% of respondents said child care costs have led them to take on debt, others reported making major lifestyle changes and sacrifices in an attempt to manage the costs. Among them:

  • 37% stopped saving
  • 37% put a halt to debt repayments
  • 41% cut out some non-child-related expenses, such as gym memberships and cable TV

For many families, child care costs have caused problems that go beyond finances. More than a third ⁠— 36% ⁠— said the cost of child care has led to tension in their relationships. On top of that, 39% said child care costs have impacted their family planning and 39% said they either waited to have children or decided to have fewer children because of the high costs involved in taking care of them.

Child care costs impacting parents’ career choices

Child care costs are also influencing parents’ career decisions, as 63% of respondents said the financial burden had caused them to make professional moves. For example, 38% said they had changed jobs] to make more money to pay for child care, 36% said they had asked for a more flexible schedule and 26% said they had stopped working full time and switched to a part-time schedule in order to save money on child care.

Moms, in particular, felt the impact of child care costs on their careers. Of the mothers surveyed, more than half reduced their hours to save on the costs of child care while 25% left the workforce entirely.

The career decisions parents made were, in many cases, undesirable, as 22% said they later regretted the professional sacrifices they made in order to deal with rising child care costs.

If you’re a working parent, it’s important to have a good idea of the average cost of child care if you’re going to manage your budget effectively. That information will factor into your decision about whether it makes more sense financially for you to work or stay at home with your child. The state you live in may also impact your decision as some states have more expensive child care than others.

Tamara E. Holmes

Tamara E. Holmes is a Washington, DC-based writer who covers personal finance, entrepreneurship and careers.

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