Taking the pain out of childcare costs

Wednesday 11 March 2015, 12:30 AM

Sam Barratt
Financial Journalist , Freelance

Whether it's baby's first travel system, the mountain of clothes they'll get through, or the repair bill after they're left alone with your laptop and a glass of milk, every parent knows that children are expensive.

According to the latest research by insurers LV=, it now costs on average £229,251 to raise a child to age 21. While this figure includes chunky bills for food (£19,517) and holidays (£16,675), one of the largest expenses is childcare, coming in at a whopping £67,586.

Childcare costs

Much of this childcare bill is racked up before they start school. Figures from the Family and Childcare Trust show that the average weekly cost for a part-time place (25 hours) at nursery is £115.45 for under-twos, and £109.83 for those aged two-plus.  Childminders work out slightly cheaper, averaging £104.06 a week for under-twos and £103.04 for older kids, but this can still be a significant slice of your family income.

There's some relief on the childcare cost front when they get a bit bigger. Fifteen hours of after-school club will set you back on average £48.14 a week, while a childminder after-school pick-up comes in at £64.65 a week.

Hiring a nanny

Taking the nanny approach and hiring your own Mary Poppins is another option. This means getting to grips with all the legal obligations of being an employer, but it can be worth considering if you have a large family or you can nanny-share with a friend. 

It's not cheap though. The average weekly net pay for a live-in nanny is £359 in Greater London and the Home Counties according to a survey by Nannytax, with the rest of the UK paying an average of £302 a week. Plump for a live-out nanny and the figures increase to £458 and £405 respectively. 

Cutting the cost

Thankfully there are ways to take some of the pain out of childcare costs. These include:

* Childcare tax credits

These are available from the government if you're working at least 16 hours a week. How much you'll receive is dependent on your income and how often you use childcare, but the maximum is 70% of your childcare costs, subject to a cap of £122.50 a week for one child, or £210 for two or more.

* Childcare vouchers

Your employer might also be able to help. Childcare vouchers are exempt from tax and national insurance so £100 of vouchers will only cost you £68 if you're a basic-rate taxpayer.

Be careful though as these vouchers can affect your entitlement to tax credits. This calculator can help you work out the best option. (https://www.gov.uk/childcare-vouchers-better-off-calculator

* Flexible working

Adjusting your hours can make it easier to juggle work and childcare without necessarily reducing your income. Speak to your employer - all employees have a legal right to ask for flexible working. 

* Free at three

All three and four-year-olds in England (and some two-year-olds) are entitled to 570 hours of free early education or childcare a year. This works out at 15 hours a week for 38 weeks of the year and can include nursery schools, childminders and some playgroups and pre-school. Your local council will have more information. 

*Shop around

The cost of childcare can vary hugely, so do plenty of research. Do it early too as the best places get snapped up quickly. You could also consider cheaper options such as an au pair if you have older children, or sharing childcare with another family. 

*Covering the cost

Whatever your plans when it comes to your child's care, don't leave this expense to someone else. Taking out life assurance will ensure that, if the unexpected does happen, the cost of childcare and all the other expenses associated with bringing up a family will be covered.