The daycare vs stay-at-home parent debate is a touchy one. As you make your decision, consider these costs and consequences that aren't always obvious.

According to a study by Child Care Aware, daycare now costs more than college tuition in many states.

Yikes.

But many families can’t afford for one parent to stay home these days. Since my son was born last May, my husband and I have gone back and forth about whether I should stay home or stay at my job. There are pros and cons to both situations, and it’s hard for the mama in me to be away from my child every week day (spoiler alert: I still work outside the home full-time), but we’ve tried to make realistic decisions regarding the stay-at-home mom vs. working mom debate.

One thought that I keep coming back to: is my income really worth it considering all the time I’m missing with my son and the high cost we’re paying for childcare?

For now, with one child, it makes sense for our family for me to keep working. But with two or more kids in childcare? I’m not as sure. When considering the high cost of daycare, I try to factor in external costs as well — because they add up. Consider some of these examples below:

Commuting

Depending on where you live, commuting can be costly. If you have a long commute, the high cost of gas plus car maintenance is an expense to consider. Most insurance premiums decrease if you drive a lower number of miles annually. Your bus pass is another expense that a stay-at-home parent wouldn’t need. Of course, you’ll still need to get places if you’re staying home with kids, but it wouldn’t typically be a long, expensive daily commute.

Work appearance

Again, depending on where you work, it can be costly to keep up appearances. Work clothes and business suits can get expensive. Many business pieces are also dry clean only which is another regular cost to consider. If you’re staying home with your kids, you can wear the same spit-up covered t-shirt five days in a row and no one will care. This could be a major cost savings factor for some.

Meals and treats

Brown-bagging it is the healthier and more budget-friendly lunch option, but sometimes it’s tough for working parents to plan ahead for lunch all week. Or you may just enjoy gabbing with your co-workers at your favorite nearby restaurant for your mid-day break.

Either way, the cost of your meals may drop if you end up staying home with your little one(s) since you’ll likely be preparing more meals at home. It’s also important to include any regular coffee shop or bakery trips that factor into your regular workday routine.

On the flip side, my daycare provides an extraordinary amount of perks other than just keeping my son safe throughout the day. Many of these things would be quite costly for me to cover as a stay-at-home parent or their benefit can’t be weighed by numbers alone.

Educational opportunities

One could argue how much education a one-year old is actually receiving at childcare, but some of the activities my son has participated in are things he would likely have never experienced if he stayed home with me.

Some examples: a space day with an outside teacher complete with a simulated moonwalk experience, baby yoga with a licensed teacher, touch-a-truck with firefighters and more. Pretty cool stuff for the little ones! Plus, he has access to new and different toys and playground equipment compared to those at home. These benefits to the childcare environment become more important for older kids, which brings us to…

Socialization

One of my favorite aspects of daycare is the socialization, which, as parents, we all know how important it is for our kids to interact with other children. Granted, I might be eating my words when my son learns bad habits when he’s a little older, but, overall, socialization has been shown to be very important and very beneficial to all children.

Career advancement

One of the largest benefits for parents who continue to work is maintaining your career instead of taking leave to stay home for a number of years.

One expert stated that a parent can lose as much as $1 million in potential income when they choose to stay home with their children.

This could be considered a selfish perk, but try considering the long-term benefits of your career for your children. Your child will see you as a role model in your career, you can save more for their college and higher education, and you can afford luxuries such as regular vacations and extra activities. Plus, many parents enjoy the fulfillment of an engaging career. A happy parent is a good parent!

Of course, if you’re like me, you want the best for your child, no matter the cost. So much factors into a childcare situation other than just the financial aspect. I hope if you’re making the extremely tough decision of whether to continue working or stay home, these points will help you with your decision.

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About the author

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Amber Gilstrap is a twenty-something CPA from Kansas City, Missouri who loves writing, working out, and---of course---finding fresh ideas for saving money.