Juggling work and childcare

Is it possible to strike a healthy balance?

If you have little ones it can be hard to decide whether to stay at home or to juggle work and childcare. Your financial circumstances may influence the decision, but if you choose to return to work it’s important to strike a good work-life balance.

Am I entitled to free childcare?

As things stand, all 3 to 4-year-olds in England are entitled to 570 free hours per year (often taken as 15 hours a week, 38 weeks a year) compared with the average 1,856 hours worked per year (or 36 hours per week). Better still, some 3 to 4-year-olds are eligible for the maximum 30 hours of free childcare a week and some 2-year-olds are entitled to free early education and childcare. It’s worth checking here to see whether you are entitled to these incentives and any other benefits, such as tax credits and child benefit.

How much does weekly childcare cost?

According to the Money Advice Service, the average UK cost for 25 hours’ childcare for a child under the age of two is:

  • £113 for a registered childminder (who usually works in his/her home and may also look after other children)
  • £127 for a day nursery
  • £250-£400 for a nanny (who usually works at your home and looks after your child(ren) exclusively)
  • Room and board plus £70-85 for an au pair

Some workers may be eligible for tax-free childcare, which means the government will pay £2 for every £8 you pay your childcare provider, so it’s worth finding out whether you qualify for this 20% saving.

Work out the total expense involved

Don’t forget that the time you pay for will need to include commuting time, and that you may also need to pay travel and other work-related expenses. It’s vital that you work out how you’re going to pay for the amount of childcare you need as well as factoring in the logistics involved in dropping off and collecting your child either side of your work day.

Next you’ll need to come up with contingency arrangements in case of sickness, an unforeseen interruption to your childcare, or exceptional circumstances where you might need to work longer hours or travel further afield. Your childcare plans also need to take into account holiday days when the nursery is closed or when your childminder is away but you are still needed at work. Some childcare providers charge all year round, even if you’re on holiday or the child is too sick to attend, so find out what the rules and regulations are before signing up.

Ways to cut childcare costs

The first step is to speak to your employer about the options available. It may be that you could work part-time rather than full-time, which would potentially reduce your childcare bill. Or perhaps you could work four long days and have a full extra day at home with your little one, or six shorter days and sacrifice part of your weekend, when more help might be available from a partner, family member or friends. Or you could maybe ask to work from home so you don’t have to pay for childcare to cover your commute at least.

It might be that a trusted friend or relative would be willing to provide some free childcare so that you are able to make the transition back to work, or perhaps you and a friend with kids around the same age could share childcare responsibilities so that you look after each other’s children on a set basis while the other mum or dad is at work.

Alternatively, you could look into sharing a childminder or nanny with another parent. There may also be other free or low-cost childcare options in your local area, such as play groups, breakfast clubs, nursery schools, preschools and Sure Start Children’s Centre sessions. If you have childcare provisions at work this can be really helpful in terms of cost and convenience, as onsite nurseries are often subsidised.

Other considerations

If you’ve been a full-time stay-at-home parent for a while, getting back into formal work and leaving your precious little one with someone else is a major transition. Don’t underestimate the impact this may have on you and your child. Ease yourself back in gently and set your childcare arrangement up on a trial basis if you can. Talk to your employer and childcare provider if you have any concerns, as they may be able to ease your mind or offer solutions you haven’t yet considered.