I used to call child care our second mortgage. In fact, when we had a preschooler and toddler in day care centers, our bill was hundreds of dollars more than our mortgage. And we purposely waited to have a third kid until our eldest entered kindergarten because we couldn't afford two kids in child care at once.

It costs more for child care in Minnesota than in almost all other states. According to my colleague Jeremy Olson's story, it's hard to know why child care here is so costly. But one thing is for sure, Olson writes:

Minnesota now ranks No. 3 nationally by one measure of child care expenses. The average cost of full-time care for one infant in a licensed center reached $13,650 in 2009, exceeding 15 percent of household income for a two-parent family. Only New York and Massachusetts were higher, as a share of income. 

Because it's so spendy, families with kids often have to slam the brakes on retirement saving and find it's pretty tough to sock away money to replace the mini-van or afford the yearly health care deductible, not to mention college tuition (which actually costs less than day care in some instances). And when you're picking up a hungry kid from daycare, sometimes you fork over $25 for takeout, not cheaper, home-cooked meals.

But not working doesn't work for many families either. I know one family who loses money every month by having both parents working and the kids in day care. But they need mom's health insurance.

For us, the decision for both of us to work was many-faceted and complicated. And I honestly believe there is no right answer. I have friends who work and friends who don't. There are pros and cons to both situations and I shudder when I think about how judgmental people are about this issue. But I'll put myself out there anyway and will share with you the three financial reasons why we both decided to keep working:

  1. We're paid well enough that even though child care is expensive, we cleared more than the cost with both of us working. Plus we make almost identical salaries so one of us throwing in the towel means a big budget cut.
  2. There's the disability insurance and the retirement savings and other valuable benefits we were loathe to give up.
  3. If one of us had quit, our savings would suffer, making it tougher to afford college and other opportunities for our kids. And who knows how hard it would be to get back into the work force when the time comes.

I'm not sure what the solution is for the high cost, if there is one. I hand over my most precious assets for several hours a day to workers who are paid peanuts to care for them. So where does the money go? Insurance? Rent? Diapers? It's hard to say. But I can say for certain that I couldn't be sitting here writing this post if I didn't feel good about where my kids spend their days. I'll pay a pretty penny for peace of mind.

How about you? How do you afford child care expenses? Why do you think it's so expensive?