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How to organise childcare without blowing the budget

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When you return to work after having a baby you need quality, reliable childcare.

If you are lucky enough to have family support the cost will be minimal. Expect to pay an average $78.50 a day for formal childcare.

This varies depending on what sort of care you choose and where you live, according to a survey of 200 parents last year by consumer group Choice.

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Consider all options. As well as long day care there are family day care centres and nannies.

Long day care costs around $80 on average while family day care - where small groups of children are minded in the carer's home - costs an average $57 a day, says Choice.

Family day care, which currently has around 116,000 children, fared better than long day care on quality, with 74% of parents "very satisfied".

Both long and family day care are approved for government assistance. The child care rebate is not means-tested and refunds 50% of your childcare costs up to $7500 per child per year.

The child care benefit is means-tested. The maximum amount is available if you receive a Centrelink pension or have a family income of less than $41,026. It reduces the more you earn and cuts out at $147, 594 if you have two children.

The childcare rebate does not cover nannies, making them too expensive for many parents. Choice says nannies cost from $88 to $250 a day.

One way around this is to share a nanny with a friend. Or if there are a couple of kids under five, it can be cheaper to have a nanny than to pay for day care.

It can be more affordable to have a live-in nanny than a 9-to-5 nanny.

For a live-in nanny, you need a spare bedroom and must provide food. If you are happy to employ a beginner, the cost is lower than for a nanny with educational qualifications and years of experience.

You don't pay the beginner an hourly rate, as with a 9-to-5 nanny, but a weekly amount.

One of my work colleagues crunched the childcare numbers and realised it was more affordable to use a young live-in nanny for her two boys for $250 a week plus food, board and taxes.

She was employed for 40 hours a week and as well as looking after the boys she did some cooking, organised the washing and took them to playschool.

She was paid extra if she baby-sat them at night. A more experienced live-in nanny can cost up to $1000 a week. There are plenty of nanny agencies.

Cost is only one factor to consider when choosing childcare.

You want your child to be nurtured, happy and safe. The best may not be the cheapest. One way to select your care is to talk to other new parents, friends and relatives in your area.

With childcare in high demand, it is a good idea to put your child's name down at a number of centres as soon as you can and visit them early with a list of questions.

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Susan has been a finance journalist for more than 30 years, beginning at the Australian Financial Review before moving to the Sydney Morning Herald. She edited a superannuation magazine, Superfunds, for the Association of Superannuation Funds of Australia, and writes regularly on superannuation and managed funds. She's also author of the best-selling book Women and Money.
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