The daycare dilemma

Newly self-employed Sandra wonders: Should she ditch daycare, or suck it up for one more year?

Photo: MarsBars/iStockphoto.com

If I could somehow take all the money I’ve spent on daycare over the last nine years and reinvest it in real estate, I’d be well on my way to owning another house by now. Or at least a cottage. Or a comfortably large nest egg.

Other daycare parents will know I’m not exaggerating. Infant room fees now routinely top $2,000 a month across Toronto, which means parents with very young, closely spaced children are easily spending more on child care than they do on their mortgages. (At least I hope no middle-class families are paying more than $3,500 a month on their mortgage repayments! That’s a whole other blog post.)

With Isobel having moved out of preschool daycare in July, we’re now paying the least we’ve ever paid for care since having two kids. For September, the fees are $560 per kid, or $1,120 in after-tax dollars (although we’ll recoup some of that through the federal Child Care Expenses deduction at tax time). Non-financial bonus: We’re back to a single drop-off for the first time in four years.

That’s still a large sum of money. And given that a) I’m now working from home as a freelancer and b) both girls are in full-time school, Matt and I talked about taking Bronwyn and Isobel out of daycare.

Having to earn about $1,500 less per month would certainly take a little of the pressure off me. The trouble is, at least half of the gigs I’ve been offered involve being in an office for a full business day. Editing work is more lucrative than writing, so it would be tough to turn down those kinds of jobs. Yet I can’t take those kinds of jobs unless I have reliable daycare for both girls. And if I take them out of their daycare situation, that’s it — I lose their spots forever.

I’m trying to look at the long view, as well. Bronwyn’s in Grade Five and will be done with daycare forever at the end of this school year. Her middle school is literally connected to the elementary school Isobel will continue to attend for the next five years. Do we stick out this expense until Bronwyn is old enough to be in charge of her younger sister, and can walk her to and from school? That’s just eight more months until we can ditch daycare for both girls, and not worry about it.

As a short-term solution, I’ve decided to keep both girls where they are for the month of October, and assess halfway through the month what makes the most sense financially, and for my new job situation. Meanwhile, I do know of a couple of school moms who offer daycare from their homes, and will talk to them about whether they’d consider occasionally (and with very little notice, because jobs come up at the last minute) keeping an eye on the girls after school.

What’s your take on daycare centres: Are they worth their high fees for the peace of mind they offer working parents, or is your policy to get out as soon as possible and “don’t let the door slam behind you?”

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