By Nicola Field
Nicola Field is a personal finance writer with 20 years of industry experience. A former chartered accountant, who holds a Master of Education degree, Nicola delivers expert, commonsense commentary as a regular contributor to Money Magazine and Canstar.
Young families face a variety of household expenses, and juggling them all can be challenging. But when it comes to child care, some simple steps can help to reduce the cost without compromising on the quality of care your child receives.
With creative thinking and some shopping around, you could be surprised at how much you can save on child care costs, while reaping the financial and personal rewards of being in the workforce.
For families on a budget (and that’s most of us!), here are five ways to help make child care more affordable.
1. Allow time to select your child care centre
Maternity and paternity leave can fly past, and before you know it, you’re due back at work in a matter of days without having child care sorted.
Leaving anything to the last minute is stressful – and we rarely make good decisions under pressure. So, allow plenty of time to shop around, compare different child care centres, and decide which is best for your budget, and your child, long before you’re ready to head back to work.
It can also take time to ensure your Child Care Subsidy (CCS) is sorted, and it’s best to look into beginning to arrange it about three months before returning to work. Find out more about the CCS here.
2. Embrace flexible hours
Nine to five is so yesterday. These days, almost one in two employees have flexible work hours , and companies increasingly recognise the value of offering hours that allow staff to accommodate family needs.
Have a chat with your employer about possible changes to your work schedule. Then get together with your partner, and decide the best way to mix and match your respective work hours.
The beauty of this approach is that a growing number of child care centres also offer flexible hours, with options for care in 9- or 10-hour blocks. That way, you only pay for the time your child is in care rather than being charged for a full 12-hour day. It’s a simple way to reduce out of pocket costs and increase access to subsidised child care hours. Find out more about flexible hours here.
3. Know what your money is buying
Many child care centres offer considerably more than quality care. Your fees may also cover fresh and nutritious meals including morning and afternoon tea as well as lunch. Some centres even provide nappies.
All these extras can provide big savings for parents. That’s why it’s important to know exactly what is included in the fees you’re paying to determine if you’re getting real value for money. Remember too, add-ons like meals and nappies can also mean massive time savings when you’re getting ready for work.
4. Look for a centre with a grace period
Work environments don’t always run to clockwork. Meetings run late, clients don’t turn up on time, or you could face a conga line of traffic when you leave work. Some child care centres charge significant late fees, and the cost can make a real dent in your hip pocket.
One way to make the cost of care more affordable – without the need to break land speed records trying to pick your child up on time, is to look for a child care centre that offers a grace period if you’re running late. Ask your centre manager about the grace period for lateness; for example, it might be 15 minutes. It’s a feature worth looking for.
5. Rethink the location of your child care centre
Don’t assume the child care centre closest to your home is the most affordable.
According to the Department of Education, a high proportion of centres in near-city suburbs particularly in Sydney and Melbourne, charge hourly fees above the $12.20 maximum covered by the CCS. This can leave you facing significant out of pocket expenses.
For the sake of a 10-minute drive, you may be able to find a centre in a neighbouring suburb that offers high quality care with a more affordable price tag. Your travel time to work can be added to your approved activities for the Child Care Subsidy, so it shouldn’t leave you out of pocket.
Need assistance with working out how to maximise your Child Care Subsidy? Our Family Support Team is ready to help – contact them on 1800 314 517.
Alternatively, click here to find our Child Care Subsidy guide.
Please note that information provided in this article is general in nature and does not constitute financial advice. Before making any decisions, families should take into account their individual circumstances and consult with their professional advisors.