Biggest Threat to Family Finances? It’s Childcare.

Everyone knows childcare is expensive. But some may be shocked to learn just how expensive it is and the enormous threat it poses to the family finances.

According to a recent Washington University in St. Louis study, the cost of quality childcare is the greatest threat to families’ financial security. Childcare makes up the single greatest portion of the average family’s monthly expenses — families spend more each month on childcare than they do on housing!

“Childcare is so expensive that income needs for a one-parent family with two preschoolers are equivalent to those of a one-parent family with five teenagers,” states the report.

It’s no surprise that families are looking for ways to save on childcare costs without comprising the quality of care their kids receive. Savvy parents are seeking alternative arrangements, such as nanny shares during the week and babysitting coops at night and on the weekends.

What are your thoughts on the dramatic costs of childcare? Have these costs put your own finances at risk?

How much does the average family spend on babysitting?

Simple Question.

It seems like a simple question, doesn’t it?

But it’s Not.

If you want the results without a long story on why we did the research ourselves, scroll down to the fourth heading.

In 2010, when we wanted to figure out how much families could save by joining a coop, we went to trusty Google to try to get an answer to this question, fully expecting that it would be a 5 minute exercise and we could move on.

After about an hour of searching, the best answer we could find was a USDA report that lumped all childcare and education together – daycare + babysitting + private schools + college + SAT tutors. I didn’t think that we could justifiably say that joining a coop would reduce the cost of college, so we were at an impasse. We wanted to start a website to save families money on babysitting, but we couldn’t figure out how much families were actually spending.

After another three hours, I could confidently say that, on average, families were spending at least $1 and less than $5,000 per year on babysitters. I’m pretty good at working with bad data, triangulating, being creative to find a reasonable range, but there’s seriously nothing out there to work with. $1 to $5000 just isn’t specific enough to build a business case. I not so quietly gave up hope of finding out how many families are currently using coops, or even how many families were using babysitters.

The babysitter’s club is not doing their job as an industry association. Its like the entire industry is run by teenagers.

Ok, We’ll do the Research

Luckily, my co-founder has a bit of a background in statistical research. She pulled together a user friendly survey, a methodology that makes our results fairly valid given the limited budget ($0) we had to conduct the survey, and took to the mommy blogs to try to get an answer. (It helps that she has a mommy blog herself.)

The Results

What’s that? You wanted information on babysitting, not a long story about market research. You don’t find standard deviations and response biases fascinating? Really? Ok, ok, I’ll get to the results.

It turns out that the average American family spends about $500 per year on babysitters. The actual average in our survey was $462. Given sample size, methodology, sampling biases, etc we should really say that the average family spends about $462 on babysitting. To me that’s close enough to saying “about $500” that I go ahead and round it, but if that’s not your style feel free to mentally replace $462 everywhere I use $500.

The average family spends about $500 on babysitting. Alone, its a pretty interesting number: 5 hundred dollar bills, half of a thousand, more than my son gets in allowance each year. But, lets see if we can put that number into better perspective.

  1. The average family makes about $50,000 per year. That means they’re spending about 1% of their income on sitters. The average family saves 4% of their income each year – 1% isn’t a negligible amount.
  2. The average sitter costs around $10 an hour. So that means the average family consumes about 50 hours of babysitting a year. If the average night out is 4 hours, that means the average family has a night away from the kids about once a month.
  3. The more a family makes, the more they spend on sitters. The lowest income group in our survey reported an average spend of $350, the highest income group reported an average spend of $740.
  4. $500 per year in a college fund would be over $22,000 by the time your kid goes to college. (assumes you save $500 each year stopping when the child is 13, the child goes to college at 18, and an average annual rate of return of 10%)