This is How Expensive Daycare Can Be

I am a proud parent of a 2 year-old boy. My life completely changed whenever my wife and I had our son, and now I can’t imagine coming home from work and not see him running to give me a hug and hollering for daddy. It’s truly a highlight of my day.

As much as I love being a parent, I acknowledge how crossing that milestone in your life can put a whole new bind on your finances.

You may have heard statistics recently that showed the cost of raising a child through age 18 can be about a quarter of a million dollars. Fortunately (for me), there are considerable regional differences in cost of living which can raise or lower this estimate. But still, that’s a lot of money! If you read the entire article, you see that the two biggest component of that total figure are housing and food costs, but the next biggest item is childcare expenses, at an average of over $37K per child.

BabyCenter has a great post on the cost of childcare, and according to the National Association of Child Care Resource & Referral Agencies, the average cost of center-based daycare in the United States is $11,666 per year ($972 a month), but prices range from $3,582 to $18,773 a year ($300 to $1,564 monthly). Keep in mind that these rates are PER CHILD. As the spouse of a grade school educator in Oklahoma (2nd lowest teacher pay in the US), let me tell you that it doesn’t take much more than one child to make daycare expenses outpace a second income in the house.

The total cost can’t be limited to dollars, however. A realization struck me recently about how I’m essentially paying for strangers to teach my child shapes, colors, words, and how to use the potty. I’m paying somebody else to play with my son and keep him entertained while his parents go out and work, trading their time for money.

It’s a strange situation when I think of it that way. It’s also a little depressing. After all, how many of my son’s “firsts” am I missing out on? In a few years he will be in school every day and I will have missed out on the opportunity to play, explore, and learn with him at any hour of the day, or any day of the week. I know many mothers who quit their job to raise their children to school age, and now I see how smart that decision can be. When I think about these unseen costs, it makes me feel a little trapped by my own past decisions and financial situation, to need to work a 9-5 and potentially miss out on a huge amount of time that my son and I could spend together, time that will never come around again.

That’s why daycare is too expensive. In dollar terms, it amounts to a really nice car payment, or another mortgage or two. But we may find the biggest cost of all is the one that is mostly unseen and unconsidered – wasted time and blown opportunities. Unseen growth and missed moments. But hey, I guess that’s what we pay for.