It’s hard to believe I’m at the point of enrolling my twins in preschool. It seemed like five seconds ago I was waking up at all hours of the night feeding them as infants, and now they have adorable tiny backpacks and new teachers to wonder about.
We’ve been talking a lot about school, and they’re so excited to go. I’ve been looking forward to this transition, too. It’s a big deal after being a work-from-home mom for three years. It marks a significant next step in their journey to becoming independent, self-sufficient adults one day.
The arrangement we ended up choosing was a combination of preschool and babysitting for the next year. The preschool definitely costs more than we’d hoped — $550 per month for just two mornings a week for both kids.
In the end, it was the personal aspect of the school that won out. The director of the school had 6-year-old twins, and after speaking with her, we felt very comfortable entrusting our children’s education to her.
So that I could continue to work full time, my husband and I decided to keep our current babysitter for three days a week. Rather than going to school every day, my kids will spend three days with their babysitter and two mornings a week at their preschool. This combination will still cost us around $1,800 a month. It’s a mind-blowing cost.
While the right preschool arrangement is different for every family, here are three things we learned during our preschool selection journey.
Focus on What Matters
Keep in mind that there are different kinds of preschools. There are communities that offer free preschool to children whose parents make under a certain income. There are those that follow a certain methodology, such as Montessori, traditional, progressive, Waldorf, and even Reggio Emilia schools. On the other end of the spectrum are home-based preschools, which are less formal and usually less expensive, but still meet all state requirements.
The number of choices can be overwhelming, and moms often feel pressured to settle for nothing less than the best for their kids. But studies have shown that what matters most for long-term learning is a rich, creative environment and teachers who engage in thoughtful conversation. Rather than being swayed by a school’s fancy curriculum, instead focus on how the preschool actually operates. You may find a thoroughly engaging classroom in a less exclusive — and less expensive — school.
Shore up Your Resources
When we found out I was pregnant with twins, we opened a separate savings account for childcare expenses. Saving a little bit every month during my pregnancy and the first few years of their lives eventually led to a sizable balance, which helped make preschool costs less daunting.
If this isn’t a doable option for you, be sure to take advantage of Flexible Savings Accounts offered through your employer. Families can set aside up to $5,000 per year, pre-tax, to use to pay for childcare. Just remember: Each year, it’s use it or lose it, so you can’t save too far in advance for school tuition.
Cut Back — Even on Kids’ Stuff
One key way we’ve been able to afford our arrangement is to reduce spending in other areas. This means sacrificing on other goodies for my kids, but for us, the long-term benefits are worth the short-term drawbacks.
For example, I buy them used clothes. (My favorite place is ThredUp.) Our family eats 95 percent of our meals at home, with the occasional ice cream treat from the store down the street. For date night, my husband and I like to crack open a bottle of wine and watch a movie on the couch. Also, call me crazy, but I’ve never thrown my kids a birthday party. They honestly don’t know the difference yet.
When it comes to managing your finances with children, there are always tradeoffs. It’s rare that a family will get to do everything on their wish list. It’s hard to travel, enroll your kids in private school, participate in numerous extracurricular activities, and dress them in designer duds.
I’m a huge advocate for choosing one thing to splurge on. For us, right now, it’s enrolling them in this pricey preschool. Down the road, it could be something else. Regardless of our changing priorities, we’ll strive for balance — and budgeting — when it comes to our child-related costs.