The average weekly cost for child care hovers around $143, as of 2011 -- and that doesn't even take into consideration the cost of mommy guilt for going back to work. It's tough to leave your child with another caregiver, and it can be even tougher to swallow the hefty bill that comes along with it. As your maternity leave comes to a close, do the math to determine how you can make child care work for you financially.
Before you go back to work, pull out your calculator to determine your take-home pay after factoring in child care, taxes, gas and other business-related expenses. "While $75,000 to $150,000 might seem like a lot of money, you'd be surprised how little is left over," says Carolyn Lowe, director of e-commerce for UpswingBaby.com in Austin, Texas. "See what you need to live on and decide if the hours are right for you." It might turn out that going back to work isn't the financially savvy thing for your family—but also consider the impact it would have on your career if you quit. "I'd read 'Lean In' and felt comfortable with Sheryl Sandberg's advice for women," says author and reporter Amber Hunt of Cincinnati. "If it's a wash, consider staying in the workforce. It will cost you time and money in the long run to take a lengthy break."
Explore Alternative Options
If it's hard to fit child care in your budget, but quitting your job isn't an option—perhaps because you're not keen on becoming a stay-at-home mom or because living on one salary isn't doable even if you aren't paying for day care—look for alternative options. One option might be asking your boss if you can work from home one or two days a week, the tactic that Lowe chose. "When I returned to full-time work ... the child care was a big issue," she says. "I worked it out with the CEO that I work Monday to Thursday. Not having to spend that fifth day is a huge savings for me." If your boss says no, alternative options for child care might include your partner taking one day to work from home or asking a family member to watch your child a couple days a week.
Be careful, though, when you begin to revolve through family members for day care—it might work in the short-term, but the day could come when you're caught without anyone available to watch your little one. If you have two little ones in day care, consider hiring a nanny instead of shelling out cash for two spots at a center. It can be financially smarter to bring someone into your home.
Ask for Discounts
In some cases, a child care center might offer a discount or scholarship for your little one. Most states offer a child care subsidy if you meet certain income restrictions, Linda K. Smith, executive director of the National Association of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies, told Christina Couch in Bankrate.com. If you don't fit into those parameters, the center might also offer a discount for military workers, government employees or teachers. Ask if the provider will give you a discount for signing a multi-year contract -- as long as you know you don't plan to pull your child out for any reason.
It's hard to shell out money for child care up front, but you can use flexible spending accounts or tax deductions to your advantage. For the first option, you can put up to $5,000 a year in a flex account and use it to pay for child care, meaning you pay a lower tax bill on your income. If you don't use it, you lose it -- so contribute to the account prudently. Alternatively, you can claim the Child and Dependent Care credit on your taxes; it allows a maximum of $3,000 for a person filing alone and $6,000 for two working people filing jointly. However, the actual amount you can deduct is tricky, and there are a number of qualifications, so talk to your tax preparer to avoid complications.