Care Costs

I think that the “cost of care” is not fully comprehended when trying to conceive.  Every “single” mother knows that in order to provide for her family, she needs to work.  So, she will need to pay for someone else to care for her child while she works.  When I was trying to conceive, I know I spent many hours comparing the cost of a center vs. home care vs. nannies vs. au pairs.  (I actually had a spreadsheet.)  I considered the commuting miles involved, the extra fees, whether lunch was included, and so on.  I did my homework and I figured out – at least in my mind – which way I intended to go (i.e. what made the most sense for my lifestyle).  Of course, things changed a bit for me (and many other Single Mothers by Choice (SMCs) when I realized that I was expecting twins….that extra blessing on the ultrasound…changed my calculations significantly.

But I will be honest and say that I did not take into account the fact that I would need to continue paying for care after kindergarten.  Public kindergarten is not an all-day thing.  For my kids, kindergarten starts around 9 a.m. and ends at 3:55 p.m.  For a person with a full-time job, this means that someone needs to watch my kids before school and after school.  The cost of organized “before and after” care varies widely.  But, where I live, it costs $850 per month for both my kids.  Our school has long waiting lists. (Reliable before and after care is highly coveted by families.)  The cost isn’t the $1,300/month/2 kids I paid for daycare (for 2 years) or the $2,200/month/kids I paid for preschool (for 2 years) – but it isn’t minimal or free.  And I guess I always anticipated that the cost of care would be nominal/free by the time the kids were in kindergarten.  Not so.

So, how long will I need before and after care?  I guess it depends.   I think it depends on the maturity of your kid and whatever laws there may be on the subject in your state.   When I was growing up, I remember coming home from 3rd grade on my own and staying home until my mother arrived (I was a “latch key kid”).   In 3rd grade, I was 9.  I have no idea – at this point – if my twin boys, at 9 years old, will be mature enough to come home on the bus alone and stay home safely.  I don’t know what the law may say on the issue where I live.  I believe they won’t be mature enough simply because I was an extremely mature child.  So the care costs will continue well past 3rd grade!

Yes, at some point, the kids will be old enough to not need care.  So, for a few years, the cost of paying someone else to watch my kids before/after school won’t be a monthly budget item.  And, then, around the corner, like a speeding bullet – comes college.  Now, if anyone isn’t aware, college is the ultimate care cost.  So, while you may not be paying for care during some of the middle and high school years, college will cost 3-4 times as much as preschool did conservatively.  And that is PER CHILD.  (Does anyone know if colleges give sibling discounts?!)   With two kids, expect 6-8 times preschool costs.   And there are plenty of 2-child, and even 3-child SMCs these days.  So I’m not alone.

How on earth is it possible to pay for our kids to go to college?  What sort of fiscal policy must be in place in my household to be able to afford that?  Of course, it depends on whether you believe college is important.  (I personally think it is.)  And it depends on how one looks at a parent’s responsibility in this area.  My parents fully paid for me to attend a state university (where I lived) and they partially paid my law school education (again, where I lived).  I, personally, want to fully pay for my children’s undergraduate education (at least).  But I have a real question, as a single parent – with one income – whether that is possible.

My sons will be going to college in 2024.  I will be 58 years old.  My research says that college in 2024 will cost approximately $41,000 for a public school and $82,000 for a private school (that’s tuition and room & board).  That is per year.  That is per child.  My children just learned to tie their own shoes last year so I have no idea what they will want to pursue in 2024 (right now, one of them wants to be a wizard and the other one wants to be a Jedi knight!) and whether they will attend public or private schools.  It is possible that college won’t be right for them. But, for the sake of argument, let’s assume they will both attend public schools and they will reside there.  That is a total of $82,000 per year or $328,000 for 4 years for both kids.

In order for me to save $328,000 in the 13 years I have left before college arrives – I would need to be socking away at least $1,500 every month, starting today, and getting 5%.  So, in essence, I would need to pay the equivalent of the cost of infant daycare (which runs $1,500/month around here) from today until my kids go to school – in order to have savings to put my 2 kids through college beginning in 2024.   I always wanted a third child but this is not exactly what I imagined!

The idea of saving $1,500 per month each month starting immediately – for the next 13 years – is simply not possible for me.  So, perhaps, my salary will make payment in 2024 possible?  For me, that means, from age 58 to 62, assuming $82,000 due per year, I will have payments of approximately $6,833 per month.  It appears clear to me that retirement dreams should be popped and forever put away!

That number just numbs me.  I thought daycare was costly.  What was I thinking?!  I honestly can’t spend too much time thinking about this because it upsets me.

When I was trying to conceive in 2004, I only considered my current salary and whether I could afford infant care.  I never considered how many years of care I would be paying for.  In fact, I don’t think I ever considered the fact that a child requires more space, more food, more medical coverage, more special activities, more clothes, more gear, more airfare, more life insurance (on mom), etc than an infant.   I know that seems ridiculous but I didn’t.  I was focused on each step of the journey and never looked beyond it.  A baby, after all, is small and doesn’t eat much or do much.  Other than the cost of care while I was at work, it didn’t seem too daunting.  I never thought of the costs associated with the little boy …or, even, the young man……that my baby would become.

Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t have changed a thing about my decision to be an SMC.  But, it might have opened my eyes, if someone told me to start putting $1,000- 1,500 into a bank account every month from the moment that I started to consider ttcing.  If I could afford that with ease, with my current lifestyle, the “monthly care cost” would not be too daunting.  But, if it was a struggle, I needed to make changes in my lifestyle until that monthly payment was affordable.  If nothing else, the exercise would have resulted in saving a bit of money before the baby arrived – which would have been a good thing too!

Phoebe Pappas


10 thoughts on “Care Costs”

  1. I paid for my college. I paid for my graduate school. I am paying for my baby, my life insurance, hopefully a new home. I have a job (thankfully) but I am not the product of nor am in the business of creating multigenarational wealth. One of the reasons I am 43, not married and not pregnant is that I perseverate over every detail, etc and not just living my life. I am not going to sweat every penny of childcare. Yes, you need to be prepared and prudent. People have been having babies for thousands of years. We are smart women. We are resourceful. Everything will work itself out.

  2. This makes me want to run down to the store and grab about six packs of cigarettes and get puffing.

    Seriously, though, something has got to give between now and 2024. My dad paid about 50 bucks a quarter to go to UCLA. I paid about 900. Well, truthfully, my dad paid it. Now it’s about four grand a quarter. Either we’re not going to be a 3-generation UC family, or there’s going to have to be a way around this, through scholarships or loans I’d be happy to help my child pay off. I can’t imagine I’ll be in the position my parents were in when I was a college student. They had the money to pay for it all, though it wasn’t without sacrifice on their part or working on mine.

    I feel an especially harsh amount of pressure; my grandmother didn’t get to go to high school in the 20’s, and worked her whole life for my mother to be able to come to the US and go to college. My grandfather hammered into our heads that the only reason his mother didn’t starve after his father died, leaving her with five children, was that she had a degree and could teach English. This was in the TEENS. In Portugal. This was also why my parents forwent many extras and sent us to private k-12. So not giving my child the same feels like tantamount to flipping off my sainted great-grandmother and my grandparents. But I’m just one woman, and I’m not living in 1915. I can only do what I can do and hope for the best.

  3. I too stay up at nights panicking about kids college, my retirement, day care for 2 different aged kids, and aftercare for both. Any way I run the numbers, they just don’t add up. Somethings gotta give.

    FWIW – my married siblings that also have kids and two salaries are fretting about this too. Misery loves company.

  4. Phoebe,

    As a public schoolteacher, I don’t make a great deal but I have summers off and some other perks. In the district I work (and live in), school-age children are allowed to wait in their parent’s classroom during the last hour of school — buses even drop off the students — and I’m hoping that it will still be the case if and when I have a child on my own ten years from now. (I know this is very advance planning but I’m a big planner!) Furthermore, students of teachers may attend schools in the system at no cost, regardless of their place of residence. I’m very fortunate this way because I know many careers are not as parent/child-friendly. (We also have an insurance rate for one adult-one child that is much, much cheaper than for two adults and/or one adult and two or more children. Therefore, I can really imagine how having twins — while wonderful in many ways — is much, much more expensive than one!!)

    I also teach at community college at night: I believe one can start off a great education there (or by accumulating AP/dual enrollment credits, as others have mentioned.) If your children do very well in school, they’d also be eligible for the generous merit scholarship programs many smaller private schools have. (And many of those places even have ‘twin’ discounts!) An option that is currently popular is a program where students become CNAs or LPNs in a shorter amount of time and then have their hospital employer pay for their RN degree (and more!)

    I think it’s really honorable and positive that you want your sons to graduate from college without any student debt: I was very luck this way and would hope for the same for any children of mine, should I have them. The current cost figures are so discouraging, indeed, but I really believe there will be a way for you (and me and others) — I certainly hope so! 🙂

  5. I graduated college four years ago (at age 30) and am due with my first child in March. My parents were poor because they were raising four kids however the FAFSA showed my parents could contribute a ridiculus amount of money to my education. Basically, if I wanted to go to school, I need to do so on my own dime and I am so glad I did! The majority of my friends who had their parents paying for school did not take it as seriously. Was it hard to work a full time job and juggle full time school. You bet. I did have to wait until I was 24 to go back when I could be considered an independent student (allowing me to take on my own loans that were of larger amounts) which sucked but I was much more mature and could handle the stresses of college, I think, much more than some of the 18 year olds. The time between college and high school served me well. I worked and saved money, occasionally traveling to places all over the world. Although I can only hope my child will have the ambition and adventurous nature I have, I really don’t intend to save a significant amount of money for my child’s education. With that being said, getting a 4-yr college education is not what it use to be. It’s not a guarantee that you will get a great job and sometimes isn’t worth what you put in (depending on your chosen career path). I work in the economic development field and work with post secondary education facilities and local businesses/industries. Current trends show that it’s more sound to get a 2yr-degree and your more likely to get a job. In the end, you are almost better putting money away for your retirement (taking care of yourself first, which will result in you being able to take better care of your children in case of disabilities or other unforseen situations) then hurting yourself by socking more money away for college. Just food for thought.

  6. Phoebe, thank you for this post! I am a mama of almost-2-year-old twin girls, and I lay awake nights thinking about everything you wrote. I am lucky to have my mom a few blocks away who owns her house outright (and who takes my girls to daycare in the morning!) and who we could live with (again!) if we had to. I have visions of myself living in a rented room while the girls are in college so that the bulk of my income can go to their tuition! I’m only half kidding! My goal is to pay for their college educations, but…how?? It is so scary.

  7. Wow, what a poignant blog. I’m going to TTC in January, and I’m already worried about money. I’m busy paying off debt and looking at saving as much as I can during TTC and pregnancy in order to support myself during a maternity leave and afford infant care when returning to work. And—like you—I’m only considering infant care! Thank you for the realistic view of costs beyond infant care. Yes, I considered before and after care…but not preschool costs. Yikes. College…yes, I sometimes think of that..but it’s just too overwhelming.
    By the way..I graduated from Valparaiso University..and we had A TON of twins attending..b/c they give discounts! No joke.
    Best wishes to you. And, I will continue with my daycare spreadsheets (I have one, too!)

  8. When I had my first child, my seasonal job paid $50 per day and my company wanted $75 per day for daycare. It was less expensive to stay home. I started a home business, which provided for us except during drought and recession years. There were eight of these years during the past decade, so we supplemented by depleting college and retirement accounts. The home business allowed me to avoid daycare costs.

    The problem with college is that it becomes less affordable over time. When my son was young, there were several possible strategies to deal with college costs. He could study abroad, he could attend in-state, he could even attend some out-of-state schools. When college costs skyrocketed in the U.S., the supply of U.S. students desiring to study abroad swelled. In response, nearly all foreign colleges raised tuition rates for Americans citizens to match out-of-state tuition costs. As for out-of-state schools, U.C. Berkeley was between $4,000-$6,000 when my son was young. As he moved closer to high school graduation, I checked costs once more and suddenly tuition was over $30,000. College students can’t get much in the way of loans at age 18 because they don’t have a credit rating. We’ve found $5,000, but that’s it. I don’t qualify for loans with the new restrictive lending criteria. Banks aren’t as eager to lend these days.

    My son was just accepted to a state school and the cost is $30,000 per year. He has one year worth of AP credit. Due primarily to a lack of affordability, in my state, only 56% of students graduate after six years of attendance.

    I hear that at age 24, the government will lend students much more money, but the cost of college attendance goes up 1.5 times the cost of living, so deferring attendance will significant raise the cost. Also, at least some of the in-state colleges are making efforts to reduce affordability. Some are reducing the percentage of in-state students accepted, preferring the higher out-of-state payers. Our flagship state school, which isn’t all that great to begin with, wants the state legislature to cut it free so it can become a private school. My state is barely funding its state schools and there isn’t much money being handed out. One remaining strategy is to work for a university that offers free or reduced cost attendance.

    While there are still a few college affordability strategies, I’m not sure this will be the case a decade or so from now. Then again, maybe college costs are like the tech stock or housing bubble and maybe the bubble will burst.

  9. Remember with college you also have the options to take out very low interest loans. (I know right now they’re offering them with a 3.5% interest rate!) So you can always help pay the kids loans off as they go through school and after. Remember to put your retirement first since there are no loans for that!

  10. I absolutely agree. When I was deciding whether to have a child on my own, money was my greatest concern, and while doing the math on my salary, the salary I expected, daycare, school, camp, shoes, and matchbox cars, I frequently settled my fears with the idea that if something bad happened, then my parents had plenty of money, and would help me. I also figured on a substantial windfall in the form of inheritance, sometime before my child was in high school. I wouldn’t have gone through with it otherwise.

    A year after my son was born my parents lost just about everything when the banks tanked. If something awful happened to me, they would be happy to let us live in my old bedroom, but there’s no way they could support me financially, period. And I have no expectation of any inheritance beyond a share of the value of their house. If it hadn’t been theirs outright, I could have been looking at having to help support them.

    The safety net is gone. And for now, we’re ok. I am still healthy and employed and contributing to the single fund that I think of as both my retirement and my son’s tuition. But if I’d waited another year, and knew in advance that my parents wouldn’t be in a position to back me up, I don’t think I would have gone through with it.

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