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How to Afford Child Care After Leaving the Military

Kathryn Barrager, Child Development Center family child care provider, reads to the children at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia. (Photo: U.S. Air Force/Senior Airman Derek Seifert)
Kathryn Barrager, Child Development Center family child care provider, reads to the children at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia. (Photo: U.S. Air Force/Senior Airman Derek Seifert)

When a parent or both parents transition out of the armed services a lot can change, especially when it comes to child care. If you previously lived on base and were able to take advantage of on-base child care, it will no longer be available, and you may be looking at increased costs.

Arranging child care can be an expensive and stressful venture, but it can be even more so when you’re making a career change at the same time. Finding just the right daycare situation that fits your budget may feel impossible, but there are some strategies available to make it a bit easier.

Budget carefully and start your care search early

According to NPR, child care costs can eat up a significant portion of many family’s household incomes in almost every part of the country. Day care can cost around the same amount as one’s mortgage or rent in many areas, especially for infants. Costs vary quite a bit depending on the type of care situation and families often face tough decisions when trying to find the right care setting.

One of the best tips for finding the perfect fit in childcare is to start early. Child Care Aware notes that in some areas, you need to be on a wait list before your baby is even born. Finding care for all ages can be tough, but infant care can be especially challenging to find. As soon as you know that you will need childcare for your family, start researching and interviewing.

Consider all types of provider settings and evaluate what best fits your needs

There are several types of childcare settings available, from childcare centers to private home daycares to nanny or au pair arrangements. It can be helpful to explore every option to see how the services and costs align with your family’s needs. If it’s a childcare center you are considering, visit the provider location and ask about adult-to-child ratios, licensing and qualifications, and staff turnover, and be sure to ask for references.

As Parents details, when you visit a potential caregiver, you will want to observe the interactions between the staff and children to get a sense of the routine and policies. Are the staff members interacting with the children? What forms of discipline are used? What activities are arranged for the kids? Be sure to ask about food, nap procedures, and other topics to ensure that they align with your own preferences.

Don’t miss opportunities to utilize credits or spending accounts to save money

If you, or your spouse, are still in the Reserves, you may be able to get financial assistance from Child Care Aware, which offers childcare fee assistance for service members and their families when on-base child care isn’t an option.

Many families also benefit from the Child and Dependent Care Credit at tax time. The IRS allows you to claim a portion of your care expenses in most situations, and this can be a big help when it comes to figuring your tax liability and potential refund.

You might also check with the American Legion in your area. The organization supports a number of efforts to aid Active Duty military and veterans. They also offer inexpensive youth programs like Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts that may not be able to serve as full-time child care, but are great supplemental options.

Think outside the box on care options that may work for your family

Some families circumvent the cost of child care by changing work schedules so parents can alternate being at home to reduce the need for daycare. Some companies allow flex schedules or telecommuting these days, and these types of work accommodations can help stretch a child care budget quite a bit further.

If you need part-time or flexible care, a neighbor or friend might be willing to join in on a swap or shared arrangement where you trade off watching one another’s kids for no out-of-pocket cost.

Choosing child care for your family is a huge decision. The costs can be high and there are many different types of settings available. Start your search early and ask detailed questions to ensure that the provider you choose is a fit for your family. Utilize credits and flexible spending accounts to keep the costs within your budget and don’t be afraid to get creative in finding a care solution that fits both your needs and your budget.

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