When you have little ones, unexpected surprises and expenses are a way of life. Even if you have a solid child care plan in place, a case of the flu or an unscheduled closing at your day care center can throw your life and finances out of balance. The simple fact is, child care is expensive. A recent Care.com study found that 54 percent of American families spend more than 10 percent of their household income on child care alone. Beyond the cost of child care itself, a whopping 74 percent of respondents reported that their jobs have been impacted (whether through missed days or lost pay) because they did not have a backup child care plan in place.
However, if you have a backup child care plan, life doesn’t have to come to a standstill because of a case of the sniffles. With a backup plan, not only will you feel confident that you’re leaving your child in capable hands, you’ll also avoid missing work — and potentially losing wages — or having to dip into your hard-earned savings to cover the cost of child care.
Why You Need a Plan
You’re dressed and ready to go, with just enough time to make it to work, when you suddenly get a call from your nanny. She’s come down with the flu. What do you do? While you might be able to call in a favor from a friend or ask a relative to help, having a concrete arrangement established ahead of time can save you a lot of stress and money. Instead of having to skip an important meeting or miss a full day of work, you can simply call your backup care provider and make it to the office with minimal delay.
Researching Your Options
There are many caregiver options, depending on your needs and the particular situation you’re in. Here are a few examples of backup child care options:
- A friend, neighbor or relative who has an open schedule, is retired or stays home.
- A day care center or indoor play center that allows drop-ins.
- A part-time babysitter you already use.
- An online caregiver registry service.
- A community organization, such as your church.
- A friend’s nanny who is willing to care for an additional child temporarily.
- A sick child care center. (Some cities have these; search online to see if there’s one in your area.)
Regardless of which option you choose, it’s ideal to give your backup plan a trial run ahead of time to determine if it is, in fact, reliable and a good fit for your child’s needs. Set up a short visit when everyone is healthy to see if the arrangement will work, and always hammer out the details, such as how much you will pay, in advance.
You may want to consider setting up some sort of savings account for unexpected expenses such as backup child care. A good option to consider is a dependent care flexible spending account, which allows you to use pretax dollars to pay for eligible dependent care expenses, such as day care, preschool or after-school care for a qualified individual. The last thing you want to do is dig into other savings accounts set aside for vacations or college funds.
A Helping Hand
TotalSource’s Employee Assistance Program (EAP) can also be a great resource. This program can provide you with a list of local, licensed facilities, discounts on child services and tips for interviewing prospective child care providers.
A Backup for Your Backup
The last thing you need is for your backup plan to fail, but if you’re not employing someone full time, there’s no guarantee that they’ll always be available when you call. That’s why it’s a good idea to vet more than one option in advance. Keep a list with the names and contact information of a few different caregivers on your fridge so you don’t have to fumble around for phone numbers when you’re already running late.
Life can definitely throw you some curve balls when it comes to parenting, but if you put in a little legwork before an emergency strikes, you’ll be prepared to knock any parenting challenge, out of the park.