Of course newspapers love nothing better than a shock headline trumpeting stats such as ‘Each child costs you £100,000 over their lifetime’, or such like. But beyond the initial sharp intake of breath these figures leave me a bit cold – they are meaningless and too far removed from my weekly budget balancing. And after all, add any expenditure up over 18 years and it’s going to look alarming.
What we mums do notice, are the monthly bills and even a small rise in a regular household expenditure can soon have me weighing up the relative value of one purchase against another. For those of you my generation, The Jam’s lyrics come to mind: ‘to cut back on the beer or the kids’ new gear, it’s a big decision in a town called Malice’.
And now, as we’re grappling with increasing food and utility prices, more news of cost increases for parents comes in. The Daycare Trust estimates that the average monthly bill for childcare for parents of under five-year olds has gone up by almost £24. This is bad news for working parents, especially at a time when for most of us, pay rises are non-existent or uncomfortably below of the rate of inflation. This is going to affect plenty of parents: one in five pay for childcare be it childminders, nurseries or playgroups.
Before children start school the cost of childcare can be enormous – especially if you are paying for more than one child. So while we might be able to balance the books with one child, adding another to the fold can tip the balance so that working no longer makes financial sense. I’ve known mothers of twins for whom the double whammy of two under-twos has put the kibosh on them returning to work until their kids are school age.
"Now more than ever careful budgeting is needed to keep you and your family's heads above water."
And once your kids start school, although the juggle of finding appropriate childcare arrangements to cover the long holidays and short day can be a minefield, the cost is at least reduced. Indeed, parents with kids aged between six and ten years old saw a less dramatic rise of just under £4 a month on average in the Daycare Trust study.
Politicians love to talk about the ‘squeezed middle’ and while labels like this can be trite, where childcare costs are concerned it seems an accurate description. For those of us living in households with an income between £28k and £41k the increase has been most severe – up by more than £42 each month.
Finding affordable childcare is a headache. While every working mum wants the best for their babies and children – which you might think automatically equates to the most expensive – we all have a budget. We need to work knowing our kids are safe and well looked after, but we also need to work knowing at the end of the day we’ll be making a net contribution to the household income.
Working families are certainly feeling the force of austerity measures. As many of us are adjusting to life without Child Tax Credits, next year some will also face the loss of Child Benefit.
So now more than ever, careful budgeting and the monitoring of household expenses is needed to keep your family’s heads above water. And if you’re wondering where it all goes, a good tip is spend a couple of months writing down every single item you spend money on. It really puts into sharp focus where money is wasted. You might be amazed at how those odd corner-shop dashes add up or just how much cappuccinos can rack up.
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