Expensive Childcare: Is It Worth Working For Nothing?
Childcare is costly … is it worth returning to work if your net income will be almost zero? From a long-term economic point of view it’s well worth it, but that’s not the only thing to consider, writes Amy Hamilton Chadwick.
11 July 2023
You’ll be spending around $60 a day on childcare for each child, so with two kids under the age of five, your total might be around $600 a week. Your family pays for that with post-tax income, which means it takes roughly the first $40,000 of your salary, or 33 hours paid at minimum wage, to pay your childcare costs for two kids.
One mum of three calculated that if she worked 37.5 hours a week, she’d only earn $170 a week after paying childcare fees. “$170 to be away from my children, and I still have to do all the housework, the washing, everything? No thank you. I think I’ll wait until the kids go to school or I win Lotto.”
You’ll also need to consider the costs of returning to the workforce, which might mean new clothes, transport expenses and extra food costs. Finally, there are the costs that can’t be measured: time spent away from your children in their formative years and the stress of worrying about the quality of care they’re getting.
It’s easy to see why many Kiwi parents say it’s not worth going back to work, although hopefully the new childcare subsidy for two-year-olds will help make the costs of childcare slightly more bearable next year.
Despite these costs, from a purely economic perspective, going back to work is almost certainly going to provide huge long-term financial gains.
When you keep working, you maintain your skills and your employability. You stay on the career ladder and position yourself for further promotions and pay rises. For example, if you are 30, earn $65,000, and get a 3 per cent pay rise each year, by the time you’re 60 your salary will be just under $160,000. During those 30 years of work you’ll have earned a total of $3.25 million.
If you take a five-year break and re-enter the workforce at age 35 earning $60,000, a 3 per cent annual pay rise will mean by age 60 you’ll be earning $125,000. Your total earnings over those 25 years will be $2.3 million – you’re almost $1 million down.
Your KiwiSaver retirement balance also takes a hit with a five-year hiatus on contributions. Take the scenario above, assuming you start with a KiwiSaver balance of $50,000 and make an employer-matched 3 per cent contribution into a balanced fund. If you keep working you’ll reach age 65 with a balance of around $580,000 (not adjusted for inflation). With a five-year gap, your balance will be around $420,000 – a gap of $160,000.
The numbers are pretty startling, but life isn’t all about the money. If you enjoy your job and the intellectual challenges it brings, you’re probably looking forward to returning to work, particularly if you’re well paid. You may also appreciate the financial independence and the sense of autonomy.
On the other hand, if you hate your job, working for peanuts might feel like torture. Do you want to climb further up a ladder you don’t even want to be on? And who’s going to do the housework and cook the meals? Is there a compromise involving part-time work, weekend work or a more affordable childcare option?
Throw a partner and their career into the mix and the complexity just keeps multiplying.
A lively discussion on Mumsnet earlier this year provided real-life experiences, but each family will have to navigate their own circumstances. These are tough decisions, so it’s important to have the hard conversations – and make sure you review your choices every so often to check that you’re still on the best path for your family.
Photo: Cottonbro Studio
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