How Can You (Really) Afford Daycare?

I may have a lot of gripes about Pennsylvania; but I do have the utmost appreciation for their Child Care Works Subsidized Child Care Program. It’s an absolute lifesaver for me…in that it brings down the weekly cost of daycare for my three boys to about $100/week. That is still about $5,200/year…which is well over 10% of my take home pay.

However I do not complain — because the standard daycare rate is 6 times that…which I would never be able to afford! 🙁

My sister lives in Florida and her son is right in between the ages of my sons. She does not send him to daycare. Instead she relies on a neighborhood woman who watches kids and her mother to watch them (when her mother is off). While my sister’s income is low enough to qualify for FL’s daycare subsidy, the waiting list for the program has over 29,000 children on it. So she did not even bother to apply.

A Closer Look at Income

According to the National Women’s Law Center, if you make the federal poverty level or below, ($24,540 for a family of three), you qualify for daycare assistance nationwide. However once you reach 150% ($37,650) of the poverty level you become disqualified in the 15 following states:

AlabamaFloridaGeorgiaIdaho
IndianaIowaMarylandMichigan
MissouriMontanaNebraskaNevada
OhioSouth CarolinaWest Virginia

If you make 200% of the poverty level ($40,840) you become disqualified in an additional 13 states:

IllinoisDelawareArizonaConnecticut*Hawaii*
PennsylvaniaKansasKentuckyLouisianaNew Mexico
New YorkRhode IslandTennessee

(* – based on percentage of state median income…which, currently, places the limit at this level)

And Then Their Are Waiting Lists

Even if you do qualify, then you often have to intend with being put on a waiting list. In 2017, 26 states had a waiting list for subsidized childcare. They were:

Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Maryland, 
Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, 
Pennsylvania, Texas and Virginia.

Along with a livable wage, many parents are desperate for quality affordable child care.

-Kirsten Gillibrand

So What Can You Do?

With my oldest, I was able to avoid daycare altogether with creative scheduling. Two family members were utilized to watch him during the day while I worked. I was very blessed…in that they did not charge me for this. When I discovered that I was expecting twins, I went to various daycare centers and my local CCIS office when I was on maternity leave. I will be the first to say that this is really too late. Very fortunately for me, the waiting lists for both were only a few weeks long.

If you do not qualify, get creative with care options. While it may be too much to ask a Grandparent to watch your child 5 days a week, they may be willing to do 1 or 2 days. Then if you can one more day covered…i.e. another sitter, or by the parents adjusting their work schedules to get that coverage, then you only need daycare twice a week. Of course if you are focused on costs, this only works if the Grandparent agrees to watch your child for free or for a reduced rate. So this option will ultimately depend on both their capability and the nature of the relationship that you have with the Grandparent/family member/friend.


Staying At Home Can Save Money – But it Can Also Cost You As Well

If you opt to stay at home with your children, then the issue of daycare is off the table (unless you still want to utilize it so that you get some personal time). However, there is still a cost to stay at home, particularly in terms of your career. Time spent outside of the workforce is time when you could have been actively working on a positive career trajectory…and squirreling away money for retirement. Of course everyone’s situation is different. If you are not the primary breadwinner in the household, the weight of this issue is lessened.

In Michelle Obama’s book Becoming, she talked about taking yet another route — working part-time. However, in the end, so was not a fan of this approach. For her, it felt like she was coming up short both in her job and in her responsibilities as a mother. I’ve never tried it myself, so I can give my own take on the issue. But it does seem like this could be an option if you want to keep a toehold on your career.


In conclusion do not feel overwhelmed and that there is not help if you are struggling. There are millions of women in your shoes and there is financial help out there. Do not despair…you can do this! 🙂