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What A Child's Sniffle Costs

My younger daughter is sick and missing her first week of day care. While it breaks my heart to watch my 11-month-old suffer, I have to admit sympathy isn't the only emotion I'm feeling right now. I'm also starting to get anxious thinking about how many other sniffles my two kids will catch this year and how much it will end up costing me.

Anyone who regularly reads my posts knows that I'm a huge advocate of day care. I love that the children learn to socialize with other kids and that a good program can also second as nursery school.

But when I signed my daughter up I guess I forgot how difficult the first year of day care can be for parents as they try to juggle work and sick children. Beyond the headaches, I also failed to remember the associated expenses.

So what are the costs of having a sick child? Here's a cautionary list for those of us with small children:

Day Care
When you sign a child up for day care you typically pay by the month or make a financial commitment for the year. So if your child is sick, you still have to pay for the days that he's stuck at home watching Sesame Street and drinking Pedialyte.

Back-up Care
If you can't take the day off or have nearby family members who can lend a hand, you're going to have to pay for back-up child care. In New York, that costs me $15 an hour. If one of my regulars isn't available, a babysitting service will charge me even more. (Remember, the cheaper high school babysitters are all in school during the work day.)

Lost Income
If you're like me and work as a freelancer or you're part-time, then I'm betting you don't get any paid sick days. A day off from work is a day with no pay.

Future Promotions
If you work full-time and have a particularly sickly child -- or just your average infant -- you may find that your boss isn't too pleased when you take time off or work from home. Although you may not get fired, don't be surprised if your name doesn't get mentioned the next time promotions are handed out.

So what's a working parent to do? If you have family that's willing to step in and help out, you could move closer to them. Just don't go calling a Realtor until you have a firm commitment from Grandma in place.

You could also skip day care and hire a nanny instead. Just be prepared to pay more for your child care. In New York, a full-time caregiver costs roughly 25% more than day care.

Your third option is to quit working and focus on your family. Just remember that reentering the workforce once your kids are in school could prove difficult. You may also have to take a salary cut or demotion just to get your old cubicle back.

What's my plan going forward? I'm going to cross my fingers and hope for the best. In the meantime, I'll pick up the phone and beg my mother to help out as much as she can over the next year.

What do you do when the kids are sick?

Stacey Bradford is the author of The Wall Street Journal Financial Guidebook for New Parents.
Sick Child image courtesy of Flickr, CC 2.0.
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