Saving Money on a Daycare Budget

Just as parents look for ways to save on school supplies, fees and parties for their children, child care providers are always looking for tips to stretch their limited supply dollars as far as possible. For many providers, it's a balancing act between whether to charge a supply fee, build it into the weekly or monthly charge, or to charge on a "per-activity" basis. But regardless of the choice a provider makes, finding ways to save and extend the supply budget as far as it will go may take some creativity and smart shopping.

A provider on the Child Care Forum posted to ask for Daycare Budget Tips. Providers have shared the following ideas for enhancing those dollars and finding ways for rewarding and enriching activities for children without spending a fortune.

Here are provider-provided tips:
  • Buy supplies in bulk (non-perishable foods, cleaning supplies, etc.).
  • Ask parents or even businesses for donations (toys, books, art supplies, extra clothing, bottles, even some furniture). Just be sure it is safe and in good condition.
  • Plan activities early and set a specific dollar amount that can be used--and DO NOT go over it.
  • Find a great children's consignment store, and rotate items and trade them in. A provider wrote: "Our units are theme based, so I box up things from one theme, keep the very best and trade in the ones the children were not really interested in or that I won't ave trouble finding the next year. It's also a great way to rotate books and puzzles. Those items are usually really inexpensive at consignments!"
  • Buy in bulk, especially during all the school sales, and hit the dollar stores for items like baskets and bins.
  • Consider making certain items mandatory for parents to bring. Schools require certain supplies, and it is not unreasonable to have some expectations at daycare, in-home care, pre-school and other child care settings.
  • Frequent garage sales for daycare supplies. Says one family provider from New Jersey: "I get most of my toys, outside play equipment, books, etc., from garage sales. I got a book the other day for free. She was charging 10 cents and she said enjoy both books for free. Usually they are 25 cents. Usually, everything is usually under $15. Last summer we got a toddler pool for free. it was at the end of the garage sale and she was dumping it. A lot of times people just want to get rid of stuff. The 99-cent store is a great place to pick up art and crafts stuff."
Parents also have shared ideas as well. Here are some parent suggestions:
  • Consider setting up a $5 a month fund to help pay for snacks.
  • Ask parents to rotate snacks or implement a take-home "snack basket." The concept is that the basket goes home on a Friday, the parent and perhaps child "shop" for some acceptable snacks that provide the occasional opportunity for a child to bring personal favorites to all, and then the basket is brought in filled on Monday. My provider let's the child whose family furnished the snack basket to distribute the snacks and serve as the official "helper." Parents are typically quite willing to assist with snacks, and child care providers can even offer suggestions or create a list of snacks on the "do's" and "don't's" list. (i.e. some may not allow peanut products if a child has an allergy or no chocolate).
  • My provider has instituted a "special" month for each child. Since I use an in-home setting, my child gets two "special months" each calendar year with her so-called Nanny. The provider privately asks parents to help support a special activity that is outside of her standard fee/budget, and parents can help create a memory or plan something special for all. Activities have been as simple as ordering pizza or purchasing Happy Meals, attending the zoo, going to a $1 movie, making a special craft (supplies provided by the parent), or even renting a special video.
  • Consider a "helping hands" request. At daycare, the teachers periodically post hands with above-and-beyond supplies that are being requested (such as glitter--certainly not a necessity but kids love it on their crafts). There is no pressure; parents can opt to pick up a "hand" and return the item on their own schedule. Since providers don't plan on these items, they can continue without them; if someone brings something in, such as the glitter, it will be quite obvious with the bring-home craft project.
  • Don't wait--just ASK! Everyone wants the best for their child, and if an additional enrichment activity, supply, or snack is possible because of spending a little extra, it is well worth it.
  • Take photos of children and ask for parents to take turns developing the film. Request scrapbooking materials as well. Explain that it is for an end-of-the-year memory book of their child, and parents will eat it up. It's good PR for the provider too! This is what my provider did for her "kids" last year and it is my daughter's favorite treasure.