I asked my wife what I should talk about for this “Whatever Wednesdays” because it’s always good to get a different perspective on things. She suggested that I talk about our experiences with Child Care. I think this is something every family must deal with, especially if there is no strong extended family support system. For us, both being physicians made our schedules very rigid, which made finding good child care difficult. For this reason, I felt it was a good subject to post about our experience(s).
First things first. I have two beautiful children.
A daughter, who just turned 3 (born in 2013) and a son who is almost 9 months old (born in 2015). Our first child, my daughter, was born in Maryland, during the end of our fellowships. We were lucky enough to be able to schedule a short break in between my wife finishing her fellowship and starting her first job. For this reason, my wife was able to spend quality time with my daughter for her first 6 months when we first moved to Rhode Island. Then we were met with trying to find her child care from then on.
Unfortunately, the options for childcare for children less than 3 years old aren’t great. From my experience, there are a lot of “pre-school” type options which begin accepting kids at about 3 years old. Any child less than 3 years of age falls into the “daycare” range, and finding child care for children less than one year of age is very difficult. Additionally, for the most part, finding a day care with longer/flexible hours is difficult. While in Rhode Island, my wife had a pretty length commute of ~45 minutes. My commute was slightly shorter, at ~30 minutes. However, we both had to be at our jobs by 8 and usually could leave no sooner than 5, and often were there later than 6.
Nonetheless, we went and visited pretty much every daycare in our general area, including ones near our apartment and ones near our work. For completeness sake, most daycares are aware that parents may be late from time to time, and charge a “late pickup” fee. Unfortunately for us, it became pretty apparent that it would be difficult, if not impossible for us to commit to picking up my daughter on time. Without any family support to be able to pick up my daughter in the situations where we would be “late”, daycare (for us) didn’t seem like a very viable option.
At this point we began to search for a nanny. We had no idea how to go about looking, and being new to the area we didn’t really have any recommendations. At this point, we turned to Care.com to search for a nanny. Like anything, searches were hit-or-miss. Some could not commit to full-time, some could not commit to us being late somedays, and a host of other things that just “didn’t fit”. In total I think we probably contacted 30 different prospective nannies who were were messaging back and forth, multiple times a day.
We ended up interviewing a total of 10. The first few interviews we didn’t really have any idea what we were looking for or what to ask. However, by the 10th interview we generally knew what we wanted and were pretty confident in our selection. Just in case, we interviewed our selection a second time because we had initially interviewed her so early in the cycle. The 2nd interview confirmed that she was the right “fit” for us.
She was able to come to our apartment in the morning at 7am and would stay until one of us got home. Additionally, she was great about helping out a little bit with the laundry. She interacted with my daughter every second of every day. Our nanny taught her things, played with her and provided her the social interaction she needed. Most importantly, my daughter loved her. Our nanny felt like an extension of our family, and my wife and I were thankful to have her everyday.
Fast forward to April 2014.
My group is Rhode Island was great and I would have stayed there permanently. However, due to things outside the control of my group or myself, the hospital we had a contract with was acquired by a larger health organization… and our services were no longer required. I was hired for July 2013, and I found out September 2013 that our contract would end in April. It was a Monday, probably the hardest one of my life. So, after the initial shock wore off, I had to dust off the CV and start looking for jobs again.
Luckily, even though the job market was tight, I was able to secure a great job in Hawaii. I moved there by myself in April to settle in while my wife and my daughter stayed with her parents in New Jersey, they would follow me there in June. My daughter was now one year old and I really wanted her to start getting more social interaction with kids her age. This time around I tried to find a good daycare for her to settle into. Once again, the most difficult thing was finding a daycare with the hours we needed. As I previously stated, not having extended family support is difficult. This significantly narrowed our search.
After much searching, the daycare with the combination of the best hours, best reviews, and easiest commute won out with hours of 6:45am to 6:00pm located in Downtown, close to both my work and my wife’s work. It was also the most expensive… by a lot. However, I don’t regret the price in the least. I was thrilled that my daughter would get high quality child care with the flexibility that my wife and I needed. More so than that, my daughter loved her daycare, her teachers, and her classmates. I don’t think I can ask for much else.
My son was born in 2015, right here in Hawaii. He started going to daycare with his sister when he was only 3 months old. Once again, the flexibility was very important to us. However, when my son was born my wife and I had to decide whether we wanted to stay with daycare or try to look for a nanny again. A nanny probably would have been the less expensive alternative when they are taking care of two children.
However, like I said before, I didn’t want my daughter to miss out on the social interactions at daycare and she loved being able to see all her friends everyday. Our daycare did provide a small “multi-child discount”, but it likely wasn’t enough to be less than the cost of a nanny. It also didn’t make sense to take my daughter to daycare and then leave my son at home with a nanny. We entertained the idea of doing part-time day care 2-3 times a week, with a nanny the rest of the time, but that felt too complex. Ultimately, we decided to stay with the daycare. My son and daughter have been doing great and they love their daycare.
Then another little bump in the road came up. My daughter was going to turn 3, the age when most other pre-schools start taking kids. Additionally, many of these other pre-schools were less expensive than our daycare. A lot of her friends were going to be moving on to different places. Some due to accessibility (closer to home/work) and likely some due to cost. My daughter’s peanut gallery of pals was going to dwindle significantly to only 1 or 2. Should we move her into one of the other preschools then too? Once again, it didn’t really make sense for us to do this since my son would still have to go to this daycare. Additionally, having to drop off the kids at two different places would lengthen the commute significantly and just be too difficult. We’ll see how things go.
Looking ahead to the future…
My daughter will start kindergarten in 2018 (close to our house) and my son will turn 3 soon after. At that point should we move him into a different preschool, closer to home? Most likely. Only time will tell for sure.
DCFSA (or something similar)
Don’t forget to use your Dependent Care Flexible Spending Account (or something similar) if you have one.
*Exclusion or deduction:
The amount you can exclude or deduct is limited to the smallest of:
1. The total amount of dependent care benefits you received during the year,
2. The total amount of qualified expenses you incurred during the year,
3. Your earned income,
4. Your spouse’s earned income, or
5. $5,000 ($2,500 if married filing separately).
The definition of earned income for the exclusion or deduction is the same as the definition used when figuring the credit except that earned income for the exclusion or deduction does not include any dependent care benefits you receive.
If you don’t have a DCFSA, then remember:
*”There is a dollar limit on the amount of your work-related expenses you can use to figure the credit. This limit is $3,000 for one qualifying person, or $6,000 for two or more qualifying persons. ”
Did you notice…?
DCFSA limits to $5000. But technically, you can max that, and still be eligible for another $1000 (because the limit is $6000 for two or more).
(This exact example is given as example 2 “Randall” on page 12 of 20 of the 2015 IRS document I linked above.)
This post seeks to summarize my experience and my thought process throughout this whole dependent care maze. My wife and I made the choices that we felt were right. Every family is different and every child is different. I hope that by writing about our experience here, that others can learn from it and make the best possible informed decisions themselves.
Nanny versus Daycare versus Pre-School.
Flexibility, Accessibility, Cost, and Quality are all things you need to consider.
Research. More Research. Even More Research.
Go on a lot of tours of daycare facilities.
Interview a lot of potential nannies (sometimes twice).
Flexible Spending Account for Dependent Care and Tax Stuff.
Agree? Disagree? Questions, Comments and Suggestions are welcome.
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