I was talking to a very pregnant friend of mine recently about bills (you know you’re an adult when you chat about bills with friends) and the cost of child care came up. It seems to be general knowledge that child care is expensive. The average cost per day in Sydney CBD area is approximately $155, followed closely by Melbourne and Perth (both around $130 per day). Brisbane is next in line at around $122 per day and Adelaide at around $97 per day.
For working families needing to enrol children multiple days per week, the cost of child care alone could potentially mean sacrificing the wage of one parent, making their paid work be financially worthless.
The Child Care Subsidy is going to help improve affordability of child care. But is child care truly a manageable expense?
The new Child Care Subsidy that we spoke about here is set to make child care costs easier to manage for Australian families.
The activity test will recognise and assist families regardless of whether the work parents do is paid or unpaid.
With the subsidy being capped at $11.77 per hour for centre based child care, the government is committed to assisting a higher number of families with the costs of child care, than ever before.
Income and activity dependent, the out of pocket expenses for a low to middle income family could be around 50%, still an expensive out of pocket cost but far more manageable with the government’s assistance.
Understanding the value of child care
My son attends child care. I work part time and I’m hoping to return to university part time later this year. My partner works full time. We are by no means high-income earners, so I definitely know the struggles of balancing living expenses, bills, pay days and child care fees.
The average fee per day in our area is $106 approximately, leaving me with potentially $53 out of pocket to pay, per day. When I think of all that each $53 day gets us, I don’t feel as bitter towards that direct debit coming out.
Mindset and reflecting on what is important, is necessary when children and money is involved. Nappies, meals, bedding and sunscreen are provided for my son (and in most centres too).
Quality experiences are engaging. Educators are available to him all day long. We have access to a smartphone application for us to log-in to see photos of him and read about his day. There are regular incursions, and his interests are utilised when learning experiences are planned specifically for him. He is safe, and he is in the care of educators I feel I can trust. So when I think of it like that, $53 per day is something I am determined to manage, or at the very least understand I’d need to travel to find cheaper fees for.
For us, with our son attending fewer days than what I work, it’s a manageable expense but not quite what I’d consider affordable.
According to Oxford Dictionaries online, ‘affordable’ is defined as “inexpensive; reasonably priced”.
Whilst the fees for five days of child care per week would be $265 approximately out of pocket in my case, my subsidy amount would increase if my son’s attendance to care, and my activity levels increased also. This would ensure that I’m not working full time purely to fund child care fees, which would be a bit of a vicious cycle if it were the case!
So how do we manage as a family?
How do Aussie families genuinely get by when the need or desire for early childhood education arises?
1. Direct Debit your child care fees
Firstly, in my household, we set up our weekly child care fees to be direct debited as close to one of our pay days as possible. This means that we never really ‘see’ that money and so we don’t miss it as much. It’s never there for us to think ‘we have X amount to spend on X’ type of thing. We learnt this the hard way, from times when unanticipated large bills popped up, and we still needed to pay child care – and so now, we direct debit or have set payment plans for as many bills as possible.
Doing this eliminates having too many lump sum amounts coming around regularly.
2. Budget and plan your weekly expenses
I (try) to put thought into the meals I hope to cook for the week, and we do a weekly grocery shop. We buy things when they’re on special when we can, and sometimes we visit various grocery stores in order to stretch our dollar further. It sounds like a big effort, but it’s mostly just organising ourselves and sticking to it for the sake of our own priorities.
For me, early childhood education is a priority. Providing my son with extra education and care, away from his relatives (learning to trust other adults is a huge step in cognitive and emotional development), and in the company of other children, is something I consider important. There are many benefits to child care (read more about them here). Therefore this is an expense that I try to stay organised for, to afford and to continue, and I am optimistic that the new subsidy will support me with this.
Can you make child care fees manageable for yourself?
I believe so. I believe with these simple tips, you too can make child care fees more manageable.
1. Register for and maximise your Child Care Subsidy entitlements.
Make sure you register (if haven’t done so already) for the Child Care Subsidy through myGov or through Centrelink. The Australian government provides families with a lot of assistance with the costs of child care. We prepared detailed information about the Child Care Subsidy here.
2. Find a centre that provides as much as what you feel is important to you, your child and your budget.
When choosing a child care centre, look at what the centre offers as part of their daily fee. Are meals, nappies, excursions or language classes included? Are these important to you? Perhaps even do a quick crosscheck on how much extra each additional extra-curricula activity/service would cost should you do them separately. Emptyspot.com.au was created to help you do just that. To search, compare and find a centre that suits your needs.
3. Seek discounts for multiple days or for multiple children.
For families with multiple children, don’t be afraid to research services that offer discounts for families with more than one child enrolled or if you enrol your child for multiple days. Look into the areas that are a slight drive out of the way, as some areas have lower fees.
4. Budget and plan your weekly expenses.
Just as we have done, try to plan and budget your weekly expenses and minimise any unnecessary costs. Planning and budgeting will help you identify where your money goes and how you may be able to best manage your expenses.
5. Direct Debit your child care fees.
Set up your child care fees to be direct debited from your account. This will help you with budgeting and planning your fees just as it helped us too.
I believe that by following these simple steps, you too will be able to manage your child care fees. It takes time, research and a little bit of organisation. But for the sake of education, safety and care of your child whilst you’re working, studying or volunteering, it’s worthwhile!
With all of the benefits that child care can provide to these young, absorbing minds, I’d say it’s motivating to manage the costs involved.