The crazy cost of daycare

I used to wonder why so many women (and a few men) disappeared from my workplace after having kids. Was parenting more satisfying than bringing home a paycheque? Did their partners make so much money that the second income wasn’t needed? Did they hate working with me?

The answers to these job-related baby questions came careering back at me the year we adopted Chloe and Carl returned to work after his parental leave ended. Since I now work from home, my freelance career took a huge hit because I was the parent doing the bulk of parenting.

daycare

To keep my customers happy and myself paid, I needed to get back to work. I needed daycare.

My first inkling that something was crazy with daycare in Canada was the serious lack of spots available. Wait lists for youngins’ were epic, with some licensed childcare centres boasting year-long estimates to mind your spawn. If you were lucky enough to win the daycare lottery by securing a spot earlier, then the second shock to your system would be the cost.

In rural British Columbia, where I first teethed on child care’s costly bite, the fee for my toddler at a licensed daycare centre was a flat rate of $930 per month. That’s about $44 per day, including statutory holidays. Yes, parents pay for stats even though daycares are closed and you may not get the paid vacation day to stay home with your kid. Chew on that cost for a bit.

Moving to Toronto made daycare so much more fun to afford since my daily rate is now set at $70 for a coveted spot. No more flat rate cheques for me — I now need an algorithmic approach to see the monthly budgetary damage. This is the math that makes working parents cry.

Toronto Childcare Cost:

Number of Weekdays X $70 = Total Monthly Daycare Cost

Monthly Cost: ~$1,517
Annual Cost: ~$18,200

Most months I pay around $1,517 for simple licensed childcare in Toronto — there’s nothing posh about this place, but it’s safe and clean and I like the staff. That’s around $18,200 per year, or all the after-tax money you thought you earned by working full time.

Have a mortgage or pay rent? Good luck putting food on the table, ’cause working for a living will cost you. Good thing I cut the landline, broke up with my cable company, have an unlocked cell phone with a cheap plan, sometimes shop at Value Village, and paid off my student debt eons ago because these average day-to-day childcare expenses can often sink the savings any couple working hard in their 30s might aspire to bank.

I’d like to have a glass of wine to numb the pain, but I’m living the unfancy lifestyle by soaking dried beans and cooking with a slow cooker to save money. Go me.

Turns out working for a living is the most expensive life decision I’ve ever made.

After doing the daycare math, I treated myself to a new bite guard to prevent the grinding cost of dental care, sucked on my own spit up, and contemplated not returning to work. No wonder so many women (and a few men) disappear from the workplace after having kids — the cost of childcare in Canada is financially crippling and unaffordable.

daycare center

I’m not the only parent to throw a toddler-sized tantrum over daycare costs. Seems a lot of parents want to go back to work, earn a living, and you know, pay those taxes the Canadian government loves to deduct from our paycheques before the money hits our bare bank accounts.

Screenwriter Trevor Finn voiced his grief to The Globe and Mail in We earn more than $100,000 a year. Why can’t we afford daycare?

I choked on my bite guard while reading the piece. I understand all too well when he asks: “Why aren’t the provincial or federal governments helping to lighten the load for our young families?”

In 2012 the maximum child care income tax deduction was $7,000, and deemed “out of touch with reality” by Tammy Schirle, an Associate Professor of Economics at Wilfrid Laurier University.

The monthly $100 Universal Child Care Benefit (UCCB) is adorable, really. I’m not shunning the C-Note — I’ve been known to stoop for smaller denominations — but if the UCCB is truly “designed to help Canadian families, as they try to balance work and family life, by supporting their child care choices through direct financial support” then it probably should aim to cover more than 1.4 days of daycare each month. Sorry, my math is too generous. The UCCB is taxable, you have to report it on your income taxes, so after tax it covers almost a single day of daycare in Toronto. Very helpful, thanks government guys.

It’s not like all Canadian provincial governments have ignored childcare costs. Families in Quebec pay $25 a day for private and $7 a day for public subsidized daycare. Makes having a second kid and going back to work a no-brainer, non?

Governments around the world seem to want families to grow and parents to prosper at work too. In Bringing Up Bébé: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting I learned of France’s public daycares, called crèches, costing around 50 cents a day.

The Netherlands and Denmark also boast affordable daycare options for working families, which makes me want to move where the grass is greener. Being able to afford lawn care and daycare would be lovely, really.

stroller

When squawkin’ about families and governments and countries around this planet we call Earth, it’s always fair (and mostly expected) to cite a study from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). So I shall. In Doing Better for Families the OECD says “Canada could step up its efforts to provide more support to parents with young children.”

“Affordability and quality in childcare overall in Canada is an issue. For example, after childcare costs in a typical family with two working parents who earn a total of 200% of average household earning with two young children in Ontario, just below 40% of gross earnings is effectively available for consumption; for a similar typical OECD family
this just below 50%.” — OECD

I’m not asking for a handout, but I’d high five any proposed (and passed) CRA income tax update that reflects the realities of families today. Thanks, government guys.

So where am I going with this?

Not far from my work desk, obviously. After bathing Chloe and putting her to bed I’ll spend the rest of my evening writing a pithy financial article to sell. I may gnaw on my bite guard and debate my choice to earn a living, but I’ll probably pour a shallow glass of wine to serve as a needed pallet cleanser.

Now excuse me while I get back to work, I need to pay for daycare.

Love,
Kerry

Your two cents:

  1. Andrew August 27th, 2013

    You meant “palate” right? We were lucky, our kids came 7 years apart so for the few years they each did need child care there was only 1 to pay for at a time. Another plus was that my schedule was never 9-5 mon to fri, so often I was home to look after them while my wife toiled at her mon-fri job. Of course, that meant I was often absent for family dinnertime, kiddie bath time, etc. Another reason for being lucky was that with both kids we found individuals in the neighbourhood who were willing to look after them in their home for some $ (but less than the cost of licensed daycare). No, these were not licensed daycares, but we knew them through the community and trusted in their abilities. Finally, yes we did make use of licensed facilities a bit too. We live in Quebec and all of this happened before government mandated cheap daycare! BTW, have you asked any Quebec parents how easy/difficult it is to find government-subsidized daycare? There is far more demand than spaces available. And finally, oh-oh, what about elder care? Maybe time for a post on those costs too! Thank-you Kerry for a stimulating discussion!

  2. anexactinglife September 2nd, 2013

    The current federal tax structure gives a small deduction for childcare expenses, and a small credit for all parents, which can be used for either childcare or other children’s expenses. A deliberate choice was made to emphasize the Child Benefit rather than increasing daycare deductions. It’s probably not much of a stretch to say that the current administration would like to see more mothers at home and out of the work force.

  3. Andrew September 7th, 2013

    My wife and I know and understand this whole issue all to well. After our first child was born and she went back to work until # 2 was born, my wife worked at a licenced daycare facility. For her to work there and have our child there, she would wind up in a negative income ( no staff discount ). For those of you out there that think childcare is well paid, think again. For 8 hours work she earned only $95 a day. Thankfully her mother and sister in law stepped up to help us out. Now with child # 2 here there was no way to return to work. Our decision was for her to stay home and run a small 4 day a week daycare service. She runs it as if it were licenced, has a maximum of 4 children, keeps up with her annual training and licencing and charges $ 45 / day for 3 and over and $ 55/day for 1 to 3y.o. Now we have her income, she stays home with our kids, we have a fantastic and loyal group of parents and a tax write off to boot.

  4. Jim October 22nd, 2013

    I have thoroughly enjoyed reading this article and many of the comments. I understand the difficulty in making the difficult decision between work and daycare. However, I am dismayed at the amount of people who are insisting the Government should be paying the costs. To me, that means you want your friends and neighbours to pay for your daycare through taxes. I cannot believe how selfish people are.

  5. hotcommodity October 22nd, 2013

    If you don’t like taxes, you won’t like Denmark. The whole reason they have all that free / cheap childcare (‘bjornhavn’ – child harbour) is because the average income tax is 50%. The upper range is topped out around 63% I think. So either way, you’re paying for it. When you factor in the extremely high cost of living – Copenhagen is the seventh most expensive place to live in the world and Toronto is not even on that list – you would likely reconsider how ‘affordable’ child care is there. Plus the weather is shite. Oh, and if your child is any other color than the palest of whites, they are sure to be segregated with all the other ooga-boogas (people of non-danish ethnicity). Anyways, just wanted to break through that whole ‘everything is so much better, easier, and less expensive in Scandinavia!!!’ Myth. Sweden, Norway, and Finland are about the same.

  6. sam October 22nd, 2013

    Apologies if this is a duplicate on tax deductions. One of the little shockeroos CRA deals some patents is that daycare costs can only be deducted by the parent with the lower income. We have one child. I net about $5,000/month, which barely covers our costs living in Toronto. My wife was in an apprectice program last year netting $1,500/month (she’s a struggling freelancer now). We were doing ok, but not great. Come tax time, I thought I’d have a nice fat daycare deduction, but nope. Only my wife could claim it and she didn’t need it, so instead of a deduction, I took a hit on tax that we could I’ll afford to pay. Thanks to CRA for supporting families!

  7. Larry C October 22nd, 2013

    Daycare is expensive because it is labour extensive. And that labour isn’t paid very well, so it isn’t going to get any cheaper.

    If the government of your province introduces a Quebec style daycare subsidy, it doesn’t get any cheaper. In fact, it probably increases the cost, but the cost is shared by all the taxpayers of your province.

    Your province needs to decide whether that’s an important way to spend its money. In Ontario, kindergarten is full days and starts at age 4 (when fully implemented) so new parents will have to pay for 3 years of daycare only.

    I suppose there are pros and cons to subsidized daycare and it’s good that people are talking about it. Hopefully, we can reach some middle ground that helps parents because I’m pretty sure we want to encourage people to have children.

  8. Brad October 22nd, 2013

    Kids are costly to raise. Are would be parents ready for this? Seems a romantic dream to raise a couple of kids, have a nice car, house, save some money for retirement, etc. I am 43. My wife and I did it. We raised a son, put him through college so, he has not debt. We earned about 85,000.00 a year averaged out over his lifetime. I had a side gig which was not fance but, allowed us to put some extra money in our pockets. We did not take fancy vacations, we drove older vehicles. We did it. Everyone has a choice. Day care has a cost. Sometimes, it is a large cost. For many of us, we can’t have our kids and a fancy car, extravagant home, and a vacation each year too. At one point, our son did not need day care anymore. Our pennies freed up a bit. We could breathe. Anyone suggesting that the government pay for daycare or heavily subsidize it is asking for me and those without children or those who raised theirs already to pay for it. Having children is a decision not to be taken lightly. I have paid my share already.

  9. Jerry October 22nd, 2013

    Yes, this debate always pits families with a stay at home parent versus others. It shouldn’t because the facts are objectively clear.

    Income tax payers are allowed to deduct expenses to earn an income. The limitations of the child care deduction from income tax is a scandal. That is clear discrimination against one group of people. The application to the lower income rather than the average is also wrong and discriminatory.

    I can’t understand how this is allowed to continue. Voter apathy? Too many people not paying income tax or low income tax? Too many voters not having childcare years children

    If this is a case of minority discrimination by the majority, why are we not attacking the child care deduction in court?

  10. Ela October 22nd, 2013

    The one thing that could change without subsidies is WORKING HOURS so that you get off at 3:30pm like in the Norway and other nordic european countries – they start a little earlier but end much earlier so it’s easier on families. You don’t pay for 30 minutes of aftercare – they have sports/arts classes at school. Also the high schools get out earlier so they can help pick up the younger kids from schools.

    We were so broke when we had all 3 kids in childcare. We were short for cash every month and physically exhausted.

    Now it’s eased up now that they are in school.

    The reason this is an issue is not just because people like to whine but because it’s NEW territory – for people to pay $2600 a month for childcare is not a long standing tradition that we have been raised to expect from past generations.

    The thing is most people can afford one kid in daycare and scrimp to get by. But THEN you may see that you want another for the good of the family. So then you are winging it and going into debt. Maybe it’s stupid and it’s very hard but it’s worth it. When people are working really hard at home and work, they need encouragement – it’s more than tiring to never get sleep over a decade.

    Most people I know live modestly and are afraid to live on one income in this economic climate. They want to help with university fees and be able to retire one day.

  11. Bill October 22nd, 2013

    I am at home during the day looking after my almost 2Yr old boy. I work evenings and my girlfriend works days. I dont think anyone is calculating the real damage caused by the poor standard of care/choices in canada . When people are away from their careers for extended periods one might consider their career gone. Who is going to pay for the lost years of pension contributions perhaps leaving people to suffer even more. Im not going to harp about whats taking place in this country. All of you are responsible for allowing
    The government to take away your rights and abilities stop
    Talking here and start writing in multiple all of the politicians
    And start petitions.. Flood them with petitions snd demand an end to unfettered immigration that allows the undermining
    Of decent wages for people that are not as skilled because our governments didnt want to fund training programs before the demands arose. Demand tax cuts across the board because that is where money can be had where its being wasted. Anyways im probably wasting my breath… And the little guy is crying

  12. Rob October 23rd, 2013

    As a person who’s decided not to have children – why am I expected to subsidize everyone else? Do I get any tax break for not having a child in this overpopulated planet – NO. I calculate Because I’ve owned my own home I’ve forked over 50K+ in my lifetime to support school boards that I’ve never sent a child to. Now you want to get another government hand out that I have to pay for so you can get a free ride.

    Rob
    Overtaxed Canadian.

  13. hotcommodity October 23rd, 2013

    Rob, you’re pathetic. If you think taxation is so horrible, maybe you’d like to privately subsidize the badly needed infrastructure that Canadian cities need from your own pocket. If you’ve ever walked on a sidewalk, driven on a road, been thankful for street lights, needed a doctor, or gone through school yourself (unlikely, based on your troll-like comment), then you should thank your lucky stars you live in a place that puts at least some of your taxes to use for public good.

  14. alison October 23rd, 2013

    When I went to my 10 year law school reunion I found that not one female attendee who had children was still in private practice – including myself. All were employed in government, part-time or not working at all. The other day I read an article profiling the top dozen female lawyers in Toronto. Once again, almost none had children. The costs of daycare, the brutal expectations of clients and employers and the general prejudice of Canadian society and policy against working women makes it almost impossible to be professionally successful and still have children.

  15. jj December 3rd, 2013

    Late to the conversation, but I wanted to bring up some tips/ideas that enabled my husband and I to afford kids on a lower middle class income in the Los Angeles area.
    1) We have nearby family who are willing and healthy enough to help care for our kids (thanks mom!) We know that not everyone is so fortunate. We have paid for p/t nanny help which is also expensive..
    2) My husband freelances, which means a lot of time at home with flexibility. For him, giving up a career was not an option.
    3) We don’t own a house! I know that rent isn’t cheap either, but if you factor in maintenance and property taxes (and renovations), it really adds up. I think all the money we would have used for a down payment are being funneled to the kids. I would love to own a home, but we wanted kids more.
    4) No plans to pay for college. We’ll save what we can but our kids won’t have much help in that area.

  16. Autumn Cabral March 5th, 2014

    In the US, we get no monthly stipend, even piddly ones to pay for our daycare. I pay, literally, HALF of my paycheck every two weeks to child care for two, but the fact is, we need that other half. At one time, when it was a relevant concern at my workplace, we calculated that if I got laid off, and qualified for “unemployment disbursements”, then took the children out of daycare, I would actually be making $200 extra a month. Sadly, I did not get laid off, and that is not a good long term solution anyway!

  17. Katrina June 3rd, 2014

    So, I had to quit my job recently because I can’t afford daycare anymore. Awesome! The government decided my common-law partner makes too much money for me to qualify for anything other than a measly $100/month. As it is, we barely get by between rent, bills and food. Despite the $500/month I was initially receiving in benefits, I was still just barely making money at the end of the month – and I was in a dayhome, not a big fancy daycare.

    So now, I’m being forced to be a stay-at-home mom while we (attempt) to buy a home here in the wonderfully expensive housing market of Calgary. What fun! Thanks, government. 🙂

  18. Michelle November 10th, 2014

    Daycare costs are outstanding. I don’t know how people can even afford to do it. It’s either you go to work because you can’t afford to be a stay at home mom, or you work and end up paying nearly half your salary for other people to watch your children.

  19. patty October 9th, 2015

    i really enjoyed reading your article. as a mother of 2 I can tell you that part of the problem with daycare is not just price but parents willing to go into huge amounts of debt and then trying to pay them off while raising children. when my husband and I got married, we bought a house that the mortgage could be paid with one income not both. we bought used cars, and stayed away from any credit card debt to keep our finances in check. by the time i had my son, i was able to stay home for first 2 years and work part-time up until they turned into teenagers. I find the problem today that prior to starting a family, couples go into huge amounts of debt and so it doesn’t allow either parent the freedom to stop working or go to part-time due to cost of daycare or just simply wanting to spend time with your child. there is no use in having an enormous overpriced mortgage, brand new BMW’s, and just alot of stuff we don’t need because the time we spend with our children will never be recouped. if you are a single parent then that is a different situation, but if your married, this is something to seriously consider prior to having children. i live in the US and just like americans, canadians have large amounts of debt always trying to keep up with the joneses. living within our means like our parents generations did, may be the awnser.

  20. Connie October 13th, 2015

    Here’s a story very much like yours; to show the skyrocketing cost of daycare from state to state in the US.
    http://www.ijreview.com/2015/10/439019-wonder-getting-harder-working-mom-take-one-look-map/

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