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June 10, 2008

Affordable Child Care Options for Summer

With gas prices soaring to an all-time high and recession buzz on the lips of every media source, finding affordable child care this summer is a priority for all parents, including me.

Whether you need a new nanny or babysitter on the fly, as Ron and I do (our nanny, Natalie, is expecting her second child later this summer), you're looking to fill the gaps between summer camp and family vacation, or the end of school just plain snuck up on you this year, check out my Top 5 Tips for finding—and saving on—child care this summer.

1. Use your dependent care FSA.
If your employer offers a dependent care flexible spending account (FSA), use it this summer for babysitting, nannies and au pairs, community programs, child care centers, or family daycares. These pre-tax dollars are earmarked for child care, and using them for approved types of child care can save you at least 5%. Check with your human resources department or FSA provider for a list of approved, reimbursable expenses and maximum contributions and deductions.

2. Ask your employer about working from home.
Most U.S. employers have become more flexible about working from home part-time, especially given the rising costs for commuters and the efficiency of modern technology. Many are even moving towards a four-day workweek, asking their employees to work longer hours per day but fewer days per week. If you have reliable internet access and a quiet, productive place to work, you could save a bundle on child care costs this summer by working from home part-time.

3. Organize a care swap or co-op with local parents
Other parents at your child's school or in your neighborhood are probably in the same boat. Send an email around to the parents of your child's friends—or to your condo or neighborhood association—to gauge interest in a rotating swap arrangement for the vacation weeks, with one parent or family taking the kids each week. Five days of the week divided among five parents or families equals only one day of commitment per parent or family. Bingo!

4. Join forces for a care share.
If everyone works full-time, think about hiring nannies or babysitters jointly to take care of multiple kids, and rotate the house at which house the kids are being watched. My rule of thumb for quality child care is that no single babysitter or nanny should watch more than 3 kids under the age of 6, more than 4 kids under the age of 12, and no more than 5 kids total of combined ages. Babysitters and nannies can be your best bet for recruiting a buddy, too: they have friends or siblings they might like to work with for the summer, and may offer a shared, discounted rate in exchange for the benefit of companionship on the job.

5. Hire a college student, local teacher, or academic professional
Most students and academic professionals either have their summers off or have more flexible schedules with "summer hours," meaning they may work fewer days in the workweek for the summer months, or have shortened hours each day throughout the week. Since travel has become so expensive, students and teachers may also be rethinking their plans to take the summer off, and may be looking for additional income to cover their own rising expenses.

Have your own tips or advice for saving on summer child care expenses? Share them with the Care.com community by posting a comment!

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