This summer will be anything but a vacation for some weary and financially stressed parents. Despite school openings and increasing numbers of COVID-19 vaccinations, pandemic childcare woes are not over yet.
A new Bankrate.com survey found almost half (45 percent) of parents who plan to pay for childcare this summer will accrue credit card debt from the cost, which parents tally at an average of $834 per child. Childcare includes any service where you pay someone to watch your child, from hiring a babysitter or nanny to sending the child to summer camp or enrolling them in classes or daycare.
All throughout the pandemic, childcare and virtual schooling duties have had a big impact on many family incomes. In fact, the Bankrate survey found that 56 percent of parents with children under age 18 said either they or their spouse or partner have changed work hours or quit a job to care for their kids since March 2020.
Being a working parent has been especially challenging over the past year, and the pandemic will likely create a financial ripple effect for these families into the future, says Ted Rossman, senior industry analyst at Bankrate.com.
“People who quit their jobs or scaled back their hours could experience lasting effects, including reduced wages and delayed promotions,” Rossman says.
Parents face tough summer childcare choices
There’s no doubt the COVID-19 situation has improved over the past few months, with almost half of the U.S. population having had at least one dose of a vaccine. The problem for parents: kids under 12 are not yet eligible to get vaccinated.
“The vast majority of children have not yet been vaccinated, so parents are still tiptoeing around restrictions at schools, daycare facilities and summer camps,” Rossman says.
And some parents don’t feel comfortable sending their unvaccinated kids to daycare, summer school or camp, so they plan to continue shouldering childcare and work responsibilities.
“This summer will be a struggle,” says Jen Brady, a working mom in Florida who runs GreenBabyDeals.com. She doesn’t feel comfortable putting her children, aged three and five years, in childcare this summer. She’s been counting on her in-laws to take the kids and do school lessons with them in the morning so she and her husband can work —an arrangement she plans to continue through the summer.
“I’m really hoping that COVID cases will be really low or there will be a vaccine available for younger children so I’ll feel comfortable sending them back to school in the fall,” Brady says.
The cost of childcare varies based on where you live, what kind of care you use and how many kids you have. But childcare bills for some families can tally up to $1,000 per month per child or more.
“Monthly childcare costs can feel like an extra mortgage payment, especially if you live in an expensive area or have more than one kid,” Rossman says, adding that this helps to explain why fewer than half of parents say they’re paying for childcare.
“Sometimes it makes more sense for a parent to leave the workforce rather than working and putting so much of their salary toward childcare,” he says. “In other cases, people are getting creative and working part-time or calling in favors from friends and relatives to supervise their kids.”
Scrambling to pay for summer childcare
Many parents find themselves without a village of relatives or friends who can provide childcare for free. Or even if they do have that support, prefer to pay a professional childcare provider than rely on those resources.
Almost half (46 percent) of parents with children under age 18 will pay for some kind of summer childcare this year. And almost one in five (19 percent) of those parents expect to spend $1,000 or more per child, according to the survey.
With costs that high, many of the parents who do plan to pay for childcare this summer are feeling the financial squeeze. In fact, 45 percent of these parents are planning to put at least part of their summer childcare costs on a credit card and pay off the debt over time.
Another 15 percent also plan to use a credit card but say they’ll be able to pay the bill in full. Almost one-third (29 percent) plan to use another payment method such as cash or a debit card, and another 10 percent haven’t yet figured out how they’ll foot the summer childcare bill.
Of all the parents surveyed, almost one in three (29 percent) said they will pay for childcare for just one child in summer 2021. Another 13 percent plan to pay for childcare for two children and 4 percent plan to pay for childcare for three or more kids.
Full-time preschool for one 2-year-old can average $200 to $250 a week or $800 to $1,000 a month, says Tom Callahan, CEO of Child Care Seer, which offers business management technology to child care providers.
“It gets cheaper as children get older, but it’s still a very significant cost for families,” Callahan says.
Parents quit jobs or cut hours to care for kids
Sky-high childcare costs forced some parents to make hard choices well before summer was on the horizon.
While summer childcare certainly isn’t cheap, childcare during the school year has an even bigger impact on the family budget. The 46 percent of parents who pay for it report an average cost of a little over $750 a month per child, which adds up to more than $7,500 per child for a typical school year. And about one in six parents (16 percent) report monthly costs of more than $1,000 per child, tallying up to over $10,000 a school year.
So it’s no surprise that almost half (45 percent) of parents with kids under age 18 said they or their spouse or partner changed their work schedule to care for their kids during the pandemic. And 17 percent said they or their spouse or partner quit their job to care for the kids.
Younger millennial parents (ages 25 to 31) were most likely to have made changes in their career path or work schedules to take on childcare duties. Almost eight in 10 (79 percent) say they or their partner or spouse made changes to work schedules or hours, while 22 percent reported that one of them left the workforce.
Older millennials (ages 32 to 40) and Gen Xers (ages 41 to 56) were less likely to have made these changes, with about half (51 percent) of older millennials and slightly less than half (45 percent) of Gen Xers reporting that an adult in the home changed work schedules. One in five (20 percent) of older millennials and 12 percent of Gen Xers reported an adult leaving a job to provide childcare.
Where parents live also had an impact on how they handled childcare. Parents in the West (62 percent) and in the Northeast (65 percent) were more likely to say they and/or their spouse or partner have altered their work schedule or stopped working than those in the Midwest (52 percent) and South (47 percent).
One mom, Marissa LaBuz of JustSimplyMom.com says she and her husband have tried a mix of solutions to care for their kids: Brielle (3 years), Brayden (2 years) and Dylan (2 months).
They live in the Jersey Shore area of New Jersey, and she’s a full-time blogger who runs two online shops while her husband, Gene, is an ammunitions project manager for the U.S. Army. They’re both older millennials in their mid-30s and have altered their work schedules whenever the daycare where they send their two older children changed hours or closed due to COVID-19 cases.
They have staggered taking days off from work, coordinated meetings and calls, or resorted to using the “iPad babysitter,” LaBuz says. “Earlier on in the pandemic, we got a babysitter to come for a couple of hours per day to just give us a break to work,” she says.
How to manage summer childcare costs
There’s no easy solution to the how-to-pay-for-childcare dilemma. Here are three tips on how to cut costs and minimize childcare debt this summer:
1. Look into special programs and discounts
The LaBuz family has managed to lower daycare costs by finding a provider that offers a military discount. “That has had a tremendous impact on the cost burden,” LaBuz says. Not eligible for a first responder, military or other discount? Check with your state to see if you qualify for help paying for childcare, Callahan recommends. Help for families has increased due to federal pandemic aid.
2. Seek flexible arrangements
If you don’t need daycare full-time, Monday through Friday, look for a childcare provider that offers flexible care, Callahan says, adding that your child may be able to share a teacher with another child. Child Care Seer uses technology to help providers manage the logistical challenges of this type of scheduling. “It might cost more per hour but cost you less overall,” Callahan says.
3. Try to avoid credit card interest
Do you plan to put your summer childcare on a credit card and pay the debt down over time? Consider applying for a zero interest credit card deal, says credit card expert John Ulzheimer. Look for a credit card that offers a 0 percent intro APR on purchases and a long introductory period. Some cards offer intro APR periods for 18 months, which gives you more time to pay off your bill before interest kicks in.
For example, if you charge a $1,000 childcare bill on a card with an 18-month zero-interest period, you could pay a little over $55 a month and avoid interest. “If you can pay it off before the zero-interest grace period ends, your cost would be no more than the amount initially charged,” Ulzheimer says.
Even if paying for childcare is a strain on the budget, some families have decided it’s worth the cost. “When we weighed the financial burden against our mental health with trying to manage two wild toddlers while working from home, we knew that getting childcare was the best decision for our family,” LaBuz says.
Bankrate.com commissioned YouGov Plc to conduct the survey. All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 3,499 adults, including 718 parents with children under age 18. Fieldwork was undertaken from May 3-6, 2021.