Some expecting parents may forget to prepare for what will likely be their biggest expense when the baby arrives: child care.
When asked how much they think it costs to raise a baby, 54 percent of people planning to have children in the next three years said they expect to spend less than $5,000 a year, according to a recent survey by the personal finance site NerdWallet.
That would be barely enough to cover the cost of day care in most states.
On average, child-care costs for one infant can range from more than $5,000 a year to more than $20,000, depending on the state, according to Child Care Aware of America, a nonprofit group that advocates for affordable child care. For example, full-time day care for an infant costs an average of $22,658 annually in the District. In South Carolina, it costs $6,483 on average.
Some parents-to-be may be focusing too much on other costs for their new child. The majority of expecting parents said clothes, a car seat and a crib would be their biggest spending priorities in the first year of raising a child, according to the NerdWallet survey. Only 30 percent listed child care as a spending priority.
“They put too much attention on items that don’t really add up that much,” says Amy Danise, an insurance expert at NerdWallet.
For many young parents, the bill for child care can be overwhelming. In 17 states and the District, millennial parents earning the median income would need to spend at least half of their pay to send an infant to a day-care center, according to a March report from Child Care Aware of America.
There were only seven states, including Wyoming, Louisiana and Mississippi, where it would take up less than 30 percent of the median paycheck for millennials.
“It’s the biggest expense, maybe bigger than housing for some people,” says Elise Gould, senior economist at the Economic Policy Institute, a left-leaning think tank.
While there are state and federal programs available to help parents pay for child care, there are strict income requirements and often long wait lists, Gould says.
For some parents, the sticker shock can lead to tough choices about whether both parents should continue to work, says Michelle McCready, chief of policy at Child Care Aware of America.
Others are able to make ends meet by relying on family, sharing a nanny with other parents or applying for assistance.
Five years ago, Ssire Ivy was working at a call center earning $9 an hour in Pennsylvania when she was told she made too much to qualify for child-care assistance for her son, Aydin. “It was devastating because I didn’t know where I was going to come up with the money,” says Ivy, 27, adding that the $200 weekly bill for day care would have taken up more than half of her paycheck.
Ivy eventually moved to St. Louis to be closer to family, who could help her care for her son. After her daughter Malia was born three years ago, she decided to go back to school and was able to qualify for child-care assistance while she worked part time and studied. Now that she is about to graduate with her associate degree and return to working full time, Ivy expects that she will no longer qualify for the financial help.
But she hopes to be able to land a better-paying job that can make it easier for her to afford the costs, which she estimates will start at about $350 a week but drop to about $150 a week after her son starts kindergarten in the fall.