Wendy Brauner's rent clocks in at $1,800 a month -- what some might consider a great deal in San Francisco. But don't think Brauner is living the high life. With a son, 3, and another almost 6, she was spending $2,750 a month on child care until her oldest started kindergarten last fall -- nearly 20% of her household income.
"I was writing a check for $17,000 to the preschool and wondered why it sounded so familiar," she says. "Then I realized it was a few hundred off what I paid for my first semester of college at Wellesley. It's just an enormous outlay."
I get that. Even with just one child, child-care costs were a major chunk of my own family's monthly expenses until our daughter, Harper, started kindergarten. The tab never came close to the $3,200 a month we spend for shelter, but that was mostly because, as a freelance writer, I can shuffle my work hours as needed. And that saves money -- a lot of money. In part-time day care, Harper never cost us more than $900 a month. Video: Should one parent just stay at home?
Still, it's a serious budget item. And we're among the lucky ones. The cost of child care in this country is one of those little secrets -- like leaky diapers and colic -- that parents just don't share with friends who are expecting.
Forget about the angst and expense of finding shelter that is safe and warm for your new arrival. I'm talking about the sticker shock of handing over a significant chunk of your paycheck every month just so you are free to work. That $2,750 a month for Brauner? That was after taxes, of course. Map: Average cost of child care
Yes, the federal government grants a tax credit of up to $1,050 per child for up to two children in child care. But that's annual: Brauner ran through it in less than a month.
"We're not even thinking of buying a house," Brauner says of her family's current outlook. "We're targeting 2009, when the youngest finally starts kindergarten."
With child care for infants running as high as $14,650 a year and care for a 4-year-old in a licensed center as high as $10,920, child-care costs have outpaced what the average family spends on food, according to the National Association of Child Care Resources and Referral Agencies. The association keeps tabs on how these costs are affecting working families nationwide. Video: Hear the nanny's perspective
Presidential candidate Barack Obama has proposed reforming the Child and Dependent Tax Credit by making it refundable and allowing low-income families