The struggle is real. Our daycare decision

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Last week, our son started daycare. In addition to going through all ‘the feels’ as first time parents, we were surprised at how we much we learned in the process.

If you’ve been following our story, then you know that we have worked hard, lived small and are just beginning to reap the benefit of the work we’ve put in ten-fold. As we’ve always said, this is the result of being two relatively high earners, living well below our means and paying off our mortgage last year. Many of these choices, coupled with our Moms providing in-home care for our son during the day while we worked, allowed us to keep our monthly expenses fairly flat when he was born.

Opting for childcare that costs significantly more than what we were paying for “GrannyCare” adds a mortgage-sized pressure to our budget. Especially now that we live off of one check.

There were 3 key points that we considered to narrow down the list of daycare options.

1) Location, location, location

Like many people, we love convenience and are willing to pay a premium for it when it makes sense. Having the daycare close to our new home was high on our list, so we opted for one that’s within 2 miles and smack dab in the middle of many of the other perks of our new neighborhood.

2) Diversity of staff and students

Unlike today, when Mr r&R was growing up in Brooklyn, NY there were virtually no white people in the area he lived. Mrs r&R went to predominately white schools, but her parents knew the value of frequent interactions with other black families so they made that happen through church and extracurricular activities. While our experiences were different, we’re both acutely aware of how demographics can shape the way our son views himself, the way he’s treated by his peers and how he’s viewed by his teachers. Knowing that our daycare of choice was mixed with people from a wide set of backgrounds made it easier to say yes.

3) Quality of food options

If you follow us on Instagram, then you know Mr. r&R cooks most of our son’s food. As a classically trained chef; not only is this a HUGE benefit for our journey to FI (financial independence), it allowed our son to be exposed to a wide variety of flavors, textures and foods at an early age. For example, last week he enjoyed a turkey, parsnip, kale and potato ragout, a teriyaki vegetable sauté and mixed fruit cup of blueberry, blackberries and red pears. Knowing this, it was important to us that the food he eats in daycare not dull or ruin his enthusiasm to try new foods because of a limited menu.  We’re well aware that this may sound like some boojie $hit BUT we see this as the ground floor to his nutrition, so I’LL BE DAT.

So what about price? Was price not a factor?

Of course it was; it just wasn’t at the top of the list. But since this is a personal finance blog, let’s talk money.

In general, we identified four options/price points to guide us and toured 3 of the 4 in person. They were priced $810, $850, $1400 and $1700. Some were bi-lingual, some were SUPER convenient and others were “Hoshi Toshi” academies with commercial kitchens, topnotch technology and innovative classrooms.

Ultimately we opted for the $1400 price point, which we later discovered was the national average. Snacks are included but for his meals, we have the option of packing his lunch or we can add an additional $3/day if we would like to have something catered in for him.  Yes, you read that right. They are catering lunches for toddlers these days, ya’ll.

We were blown away by all. of. it. until we asked our Instagram family what they were paying. This is what they said.img_3469

It became remarkably clear why so many people opt to stay at home. If you enroll your child in daycare so that you can work, but your paycheck barely covers the costs of daycare, what's the incentive to keep working? Click To Tweet

What we learned

Well first, it highlights another way that work fails us.  The number of companies that subsidize childcare costs is not on par with the number of workers who are forced to put their children in less than ideal environments during the day. Mrs. r&R takes advantage of a Daycare FSA with her employer, but the cap is $5000 annually so we still come up short.

Secondly, this experience was a reminder that personal finance is, above all else, personal. Sometimes you have to go against the grain and do what’s best for your family. Prevailing Mustachian/FIRE Community wisdom says that we should avoid “Ivy League Preschool Syndrome”. The argument is that it doesn’t make good financial sense to spend a bunch of money when they’re so young if you don’t know if it’s going to affect how your kid turns out.

To that we say: meh. While we understand that calculus is one way to give generic advice, statistics is another. Statistically speaking, we need to give our son every possible advantage just so he has a fair shot.

Last but certainly not least, we also learned how to share the emotional labor aka “the small stuff that somebody HAS to sweat” that comes with big financial decisions. The thing about emotional labor is that it’s disproportionally performed by women and feels like an unpaid second job.

This kind of burden undercuts the feeling of ‘freedom’ that wealth is supposed to provide so we manage it closely. 

When we originally started talking about daycare, Mrs. r&R took the lead on the research. In the midst of adjusting to a new normal, new job and new house, grappling with the thought of introducing another big change in our son’s life was a daunting task. When we would discuss her findings, if the conversation became too centered around features like location and price, she felt like it undermined her anxiety. For her, this wasn’t just about finding a cheap classroom with an empty spot – it was about selecting “psuedo-parents” or the people he would spend the majority of his time with…

We had several tense conversations and it took us a few weeks to get to a place where we both felt equally accountable for the outcome…and not just in terms of the impact to our savings rate.

Paying for full-time childcare is one of the most intimate things we’ve ever done with our money. The fact that we were able to approach it that way instead of treating it like a transaction is another testament to why the journey to FI is so important to us.

We’re a few weeks in and we’re adjusting nicely with Mr. r&R handling the drop-offs and pick-ups while Mrs. r&R’s anxiety has returned to normal mamabear levels. Now she only worries about basic stuff like the number of hairs on his head and assessing whether his farts are “too fragrant” or “just right”.

With only one payment in the books, it’s still too early to understand how this new $1400 bill will impact our plan; but we believe there’s more to gain than lose and hopefully it’s worth every penny.

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11 comments

  1. $289/week here for a large city in the Midwest. One of the more expensive options in our area but we really love the daycare and know our daughter is well cared for there.

    It has definitely put a dent in our savings rate, but on the flip side, we’ll be making out like bandits as far as savings goes once she goes to school in a few years!

    • We cast no judgment on anyone’s decisions to do what they believe is best for their children. I hop it all works out and you do MAKE OUT LIKE BANDITS!

  2. Wow, this article hit home. We have had so many hard conversations and decisions about daycare. Everyone of them gut-wrenching, but every decision has been the right one for us. Like you, we just bought a new house and just moved, and my oldest just started kindergarten. My you gest’s daycare is now inconvenient in terms of location. Something we had always avoided. But he is happy with his friends and his teachers. We are lucky that we are no longer paying double daycare! However we now pay for before and after school care for my kindergartener, something I never thought about until I realized that public school hours arefrom 9-4 in our neighborhood. Anyway, thanks for your real discussion about childcare choices, costs, and emotional labor, and the realities of giving kids and fair chance. Always appreciate you both.

  3. Just discovered you (thanks Tanja!) and loving it! We are super lucky that having one parent stay home fits in BOTH our budget and our lifestyle/desires. I’d suck as a stay-at-home mom, but my husband is amazing at being home with the kiddos (and homeschooling our daughter). It is an incredibly emotional and tough decision but it sounds like you found a great fit for you!

  4. Great stuff guys! We don’t have our kids in full time daycare, but our oldest (about to turn 3) is in pre-school for 3 hours twice per week. We are hoping this helps to socialize him more so he is ready for a school environment while keeping us from spending too much.

    We spend $197 per month for this.

    Keep up the awesome work! Good to see other new personal finance bloggers.

    • We thought about taking the part time approach but opted to go all in at first. We’ll see how it goes, especially if there is a savings opportunity.

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