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

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