If you have a kid under the age of four, a recent study by New America found that the average cost of full-time childcare runs $9,589 a year, more than the bill for in-state college tuition (that’d be just $9,410). If you want to hire a full-time, in-home caregiver, the average cost is nearly $29,000. So what’s a good but-less-than-loaded parent to do to keep Junior cared for? Here are some of our top tips:

  • Consider a nanny share situation. Splitting costs with another family or families makes the expense of a full-timer far more reasonable. But, as your toddler has taught you, sharing can be difficult. Seek parents with similar parenting styles (time outs or talk it out? limit sugar or ice cream for dinner? consistent schedules or go-with-the-nap-flow?), who live close to you, and who share your expectations about the nanny’s job responsibilities.
  • Home-based daycares tend to be cheaper than larger centers. To assure you’re using a high-quality one, look for businesses accredited by the National Association for the Education of Young Children or the National Association for Family Child Care, ask for personal recommendations, and check with your local better business bureau.
  • The YMCA, JCC, and places of worship often offer cheaper fees than secular day-care centers.
  • If you work in one area (maybe a city downtown?) and live in another (the suburbs?), check day-care center prices in both area. You might find that the suburban ones are
    somewhat less spendy.        
  • If your employer offers a dependent-care Flexible Spending Account (FSA), enroll to pay for child-care expenses with your pre-tax earnings. At the time of this writing, you could set aside up to $5,000 per year. If you don’t have an FSA, the next-best thing is to claim your child-care costs on your taxes: You can deduct 35 percent of costs, up to $3,000 for your first tyke, and up to $6,000 if you have more than one kiddo.
  • Many large employers have arrangements with on- or off-site day-care centers with reduced rates for employees.
  • Ask for a flexible schedule at work. This might
    involve one parent working 10-hour days in exchange for a four-day workweek and one less day of paid childcare. If grandparents step in once a week, you could net even greater savings.
  • If you have an extra bedroom, consider hiring an au pair. While the average weekly cost of a nanny is around $750 (depending on where you live), the average weekly cost of an au pair is about $350. And that’s regardless of how many children you have or where you live. Plus, au pairs are also available 45 hours a week, versus a nanny’s 40 plus overtime, and many au pairs are insured by their placement agencies, meaning you don’t have to pay their premiums. And because most au pairs are technically nonresident aliens, you get to skip paying their taxes, too.