Childcare costs are wrecking families' budgets

It's no secret that childcare can be expensive, but the stress it puts on family budgets can be difficult to handle. A recent NPR poll indicated that nearly a third of parents who pay for childcare say that the costs put a financial burden on their family. Seventy-one percent of those parents say the cost of childcare is a "very" or "somewhat" serious problem for their financial health.

With an average annual cost comparable to in-state college tuition, it's clear that the price of quality care for our children can have a major impact on whether a family can stick to a budget or spiral into debt.

Availability From State to State

The availability and cost of childcare varies significantly depending on where in the U.S. a family resides. Think tank New America released a new report showing that childcare was most available in the New England states of Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont. On the other hand, childcare was hardest to come by in Hawaii, Utah, Idaho, and South Dakota.

"Low availability" does not always equal low use. In fact, South Dakota, which had the lowest availability of care, also had the most working families of any state; all parents work in 82 percent of families with children.

"That suggests that working families are relying primarily on informal or 'gray market' care," the report authors write.

RELATED: Here are 8 tips to teach your kids about saving money:

Lessons that teach your kids to save money
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Lessons that teach your kids to save money

Play money-centered board games or games on apps, like Monopoly or Money Race.
It's an interactive and fun way for your kids to learn about basic financial practices without feeling like they're being lectured.

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Give them an allotted amount of cash to spend on lunch each week.
Your child will learn how to budget accordingly throughout the week, figuring out how to balance spending money on food some days vs bringing their own on other days (something that can be directly translated into the adult workplace).

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Have them write down or tell you their absolute dream toy.
Then, show them that it's possible to have that toy if they save x enough money for x amount of weeks.

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Give them an allowance.

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Stick to a set time and date each month for giving your child their allowance.
Practicing giving your children their allowance every other week or on certain dates of each month will help them prepare for set paydays in the working world--it will teach them to budget out and how to know when to save up in anticipation.

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Match your child's savings each month.
This will imitate a 401K and show your child ways in which saving can (literally) pay off.

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Have your kid organize their funds in to different jars to represent different accounts.
Examples could be "Saving", "Spending", "Charity", "Emergency", "College".

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Take your kids grocery shopping and explain certain choices you make with your purchases to them.
Your children will benefit from knowing what's best to purchase name brand vs. generic, why some snacks are better to buy in bulk, etc.

Photo credit: Getty


Costs Compared to Rent

Mortgages and rent are often the biggest regular expense for families, but how does childcare compare? At a national level, full-time care for children costs 85 percent of the monthly median rent.

In the states of Kentucky, Montana, Oregon, and Wisconsin, childcare is actually more expensive than the median rent. In 11 others — including Illinois, Minnesota, and Washington — it exceeds 90 percent of the median cost of rent.

Childcare and Work

When children get sick, they can't be cared for in their regular environment. This disproportionately affects mothers, who often bear the burden of taking sick days to care for family members. While who stays home is closely dependent on who has the most flexible work hours or is allowed to work from home by their employer, 16 percent of mothers say it is their role to stay home with the child.

Conversely, only 4 percent of fathers say it is primarily their role, in two-parent families. Over time, family life factoring into work decisions like this can influence a working mother's career potential and earnings significantly more than a father's. Comparing men and women with similar jobs, married women with children earn 4.2 percent less than married men with kids. Married women without children earn 1.6 percent less.

Tell Us What You Think

Has childcare been a cause of financial stress for you and your family? Does its expense exceed the price of rent or a mortgage in your budget? Share your experiences in the comments or join the discussion on Twitter.

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