WASHINGTON — For kids, the ring of the final school bell signals months of sunshine, free time and Popsicles by the pool. But for parents, it can cause a wave of panic.
After all, who’s watching the kids while you’re at work all summer long?
Now is the time to start planning for summer child care, and Kevin Brasler, executive editor of checkbook.org, has some tips that can save you big bucks over the next few months.
Pair up with another family
One way to cut your summer child care costs in half is to enter a nanny share, or an arrangement where one or more families use the same nanny. The cost of the nanny is then shared among the families.
Brasler says this is a great way to save money, but there are some things to carefully consider before jumping into a nanny share.
For starters, it’s important to find another set of parents with similar work schedules and a similar parenting style.
“If you don’t like timeouts, if you’d rather talk it out, then you need to make sure that everybody’s on the same page in terms of style and how kids are disciplined and what kinds of experiences you want your kids exposed to,” Brasler said.
Finding a family that has kids with similar ages and interests can also make summer activities more enjoyable for everyone.
Home-based and community center care
Looking into day care options? Brasler says child care centers tend to be the most expensive. Instead, consider a licensed home-based day care. D.C., Maryland and Virginia all have resources to help connect parents with licensed providers in their areas.
And don’t ignore community centers, especially in the summer when programming tends to operate more like summer camps. Brasler says places such as the YMCA, JCC and other faith-based facilities often offer child care at lower rates than secular centers.
Take advantage of employee benefits
One way to save big is to make sure you’re taking advantage of all the benefits offered by your employer, including flexible spending accounts, which you can use to pay for child care.
“That means you’re paying for child care costs with your pretax earnings. It’s the effect of getting like a 35 percent discount,” Brasler said.
Some employers have arrangements with day care facilities where they offer subsidized rates. Others allow parents to keep more flexible work schedules.
“If one parent can work four days a week and the other can work four days a week, they can coordinate their schedules to where the kids only need to be in day care three days a week. That’s going to save on costs, big time,” Brasler said.
Have the space? Go the au pair route
If you have an extra bedroom in the house, or even an in-law suite, consider hiring an au pair. This is a child care provider from another county, often a young woman, who works in exchange for room and board (and often a reduced monetary rate).
Brasler says one of the great things about going the au pair route is that professional agencies help to coordinate most steps along the way, from the paperwork to the interviews to the payroll.
“Au pairs in general cost about half as much as what nannies cost,” he added.