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The Child-care Calculation

  Does it pay for Mom and Dad to go off to work each day, leaving preschoolers in the care of others?

  Hundreds of dual-income couples across Kentucky struggle daily with the complex task of working outside the home and rearing children. Many families would like one spouse to remain at home to care for children. But both financial considerations and personal-fulfillment goals often persuade both husband and wife to work.

  Before you assume you and your spouse need to keep full-time jobs to keep your finances in order, it will pay to do a cost-benefit analysis.

  Once you analyze all the expenses that will be saved, you might not be so bad off financially if one parent stays home. If you narrow down the financial end of it, then the next question is the emotional well-being of rearing your children yourself. You need to figure out what that’s worth, too.

Child-care costs

  The biggest expense facing dual-income parents is child care for those age 5 or younger. A licensed, professional child-care provider can charge from $6,000 to $15,000 a year per child, depending on the locality.

  In addition to child-care costs, some dual-income parents pay activity fees and “late pick-up” charges, as well as food and school supplies.

  And then there is the backup care cost if Johnny or Suzy wakes up with an ear infection and can’t go to the center. That may run $15 to $18 an hour.

  To determine if you can afford for one parent to stay at home, estimate your yearly child-care costs and similar expenses and compare that amount to your annual pay.

Hidden costs

  A list of common extra expenses dual-income couples incur, with some cost estimates, as suggested by Investor’s Business Daily:

· Food. If both parents work, there’s less time to cook. That means buying more prepared foods and take-out meals or dining at restaurants. $100 a week.

· Clothes and dry cleaning. A corporate job requires new suits, or dresses and accessories, now and then as well as dry-cleaning them. $50 a week.

· Maid service. Many working parents hire a cleaning service. $50 a week.

· Sick time. Many parents find that their children get sicker if they are in child care every day, where they are exposed to other sick youngsters. This often leads to more visits to the doctor and lost time from work, which may result in a parent’s needing to take unpaid leave. $500 a year.

· Cars. If one less person is commuting a long way to work, less money is spent on gasoline, car maintenance, and insurance. $50 a week.

· Tax issues. Some companies allow employees to set up accounts and use pretax dollars from wages to cover qualified child-care costs. In most cases, you cannot tap both this benefit and the federal dependent-care tax credit.

  Regardless of tax issues or financial stress, the bottom line is to do what’s best for your family.

Safety skills for at-home children 

  “Latchkey” children are those who come home to an empty house while their parents are at work, so it is critical to teach them about personal safety.

  “A simple starting guideline is run, yell, tell,” says Diana Jones, author of Run, Yell, Tell: Safe Choices, Safe Children. “If your child is confronted by a stranger, the best plan is to run away, yell for help, and immediately tell a parent.”

  Parents should discuss with children how to respond to potentially dangerous situations, such as:

· Phone callers asking the child the whereabouts of his or her parents.

· A visitor at the door who is unknown to them.

· Doors unlocked or open when they come home from school.

  The FBI reports that up to 90 percent of missing-persons cases involve teenagers and children. That’s 800,000 cases a year, or 2,200 a day. The total includes missing children, runaways, and abducted kids.

  Parents can protect their children by keeping fingerprints, recent photos, and videos; they also should know how to get a child’s dental X-rays and medical records.

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