Do You Charge Families Hourly, Or To Hold A Spot?

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Ask Melinda is a Playvolution HQ column offering thoughtful answers to family child care questions written by Melinda Marshall.

Your questions, comments, and answers are welcome in the comment section at the end of the post.

This week’s question:

Do You Charge Families Hourly, Or To Hold A Spot?


Families are charged for a SPOT because there is NO WAY to maintain our budgets if we charged any other way.

Our state law limits how many children we can legally care for in our program. For Group family programs in NY, that number is 12 (plus 4 school age before/after school).

Every business has expenses. Every business needs a budget. And I can guarantee childcare providers’ profits are slim.

(Last year, I made a profit of $4.40 an hour. That’s almost a THIRD of minimum wage.)

So, because we are limited by how many spaces we can fill, we’re limited by how much money we can ever make. Sometimes the only way to increase this money is by increasing our fees or cutting our expenses.

Let’s say our budget is 100 grand per year.

Sounds like A LOT, right?!

Hold on.

Payroll for assistants, self employment taxes, advertising, trainings, rent, utilities, insurance, healthy nutritious food, toys, art supplies, repairs and maintenance, the list goes on and on…all expenses…comes to a conservative $80,000. If you don’t think expenses are that high to run a QUALITY program, I welcome you to check out my tax return. LOL

That leaves a $20,000 profit. Most providers are working WAY more than 40 hours a week. Sometimes its 60 hours a week or more.

All for less than minimum wage.

So, that being said, if we’re allowed only 12 spots, and our budget is 100,000, that means each spot costs $8,335 a year to maintain. That’s roughly $695 a month, or $160 a week.

I realize this is a huge amount, even larger than tuition at our local state colleges.

Expenses don’t take sick days or vacation days. Most of these expenses are fixed costs and don’t go down just because attendance does. We don’t get discounts based on enrollment numbers.

People don’t get discounts on their mortgages if they go away for a week or a break on their car loan if their car sits in the garage for a few days. Childcare is no different.

Now, I can certainly change my policies and start charging an hourly fee per child, per attendance. Most “babysitters” and private nannies are getting $12-15 an hour around these parts.

If your child is in care an average of 50 hours a week, you’re looking at $600-$750 dollars a WEEK compared to the $160 a week to hold the spot.

If families would seriously like to consider paying an hourly wage for when your child is in attendance only, as opposed to a holding fee for the spot, I’d be all for it.

In order to fill 12 spaces that way, it will be first come first served, so not only would you be paying 4 times what you could have paid, your spot is also not guaranteed to be there each day.

Paying for a spot in our program guarantees that your child’s health, safety and well-being are the priority. It offers lots of outdoor time, fresh home cooked meals, and a developmentally appropriate curriculum that meets the needs of your child and keeps them fully engaged. It promises a day full of adventure and active play instead of just being plopped in front of a TV and fed junk food. It offers providers who are skilled, trained and experienced and who are constantly working on gaining new knowledge of current research and best practices. It guarantees we will always be there when you need us.

Paying for a spot in our program can be seen as an expense, or it can be seen as an investment in your child’s future.

Playvolution HQ has a whole section on self-care with over 100 links to original and curated articles related to self-care and change. Our ZOOM meeting platform is also available to groups of caregivers who want to connect via video or phone to talk about what’s going on. All you need to do is reach out and we can schedule something for your group.

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Owner at Mountaintop Family Child Care

Melinda lives in Upstate New York and is owner of her home based program, Mountaintop Family Childcare.

She has been a family child care provider for over 18 years and worked with children for over 27 years. Her program offers relationship based care that includes many aspects of farm life and nature/forest school with PLAY at the center of all they do. She firmly believes in slowing down childhood and allowing children to develop at their own pace.

Melinda believes family childcare programs offer unique settings that have much to offer to the early learning world. She strongly supports family providers in keeping a home like atmosphere in their programs. Backed by research, she continuously advocates for children's right to play.