Our Childcare Journey

When I saw this article from the Missoula Chamber on Childcare Costs, it hit close to home. When my son was five, I calculated the amount of money we’d spent on childcare.

It was over $30,000. I was 26, and it blew me away.

When Collin was born, Jessica & I were going to school at the University of Montana. We didn’t want to put him in daycare for the first year and so we alternated which days we had classes. As students and being able to create flexible schedules, and bosses who were more than forgiving saved us money but more importantly gave us time together as a family.

Jessica, Nick & Collin
Jessica, Nick & Collin

After that, we had to get creative. Jessica and I were both working $9/hour jobs trying to make things work, sometimes by sheer force of will. We found friends of friends who were stay-at-home moms and paid them (a fraction of the market rate) to watch Collin too. We used Childcare Resources to learn about the different facilities in Missoula and we searched out the cheapest providers. This meant having to commute to East Missoula or deep into the South Hills to get to school and work. I remember one month we couldn’t afford gas, and we would get Collin to and from daycare in East Missoula in a bike trailer and a bike I got from Free Cycles.

The After School Years

I remember breathing such a sigh of relief when Collin started all-day kindergarten at Lowell school. After school, Collin went to the Camp Fire after-school program, located right at Lowell. He ate breakfast and lunch at school, and a snack at Camp Fire. Not having to commute for 30+ minutes both ways every day was amazing. Our childcare costs went from $650 a month to $180, not to mention our gas bill. Camp Fire was a life saver for us.

The next summer, we moved into the River Road Neighborhood and Collin transferred to Hawthorne Elementary. Camp Fire offered us a scholarship for Collin to be in their all-day program at a facility near our house.

Good summer opportunities aren’t hard to find in Missoula, but they are expensive, ranging from $300 to $500 a week. 

What can we do? 

The University of Montana has a unique opportunity to offer low-cost, educational summer camps. They have such an amazing facility, which goes underused all summer, and education students that need hands-on experiences. I believe there is a strong correlation between growing up attending campus-based programming and then ultimately attending the University. The city should work closely with the University to find creative ways to partner, helping each meet their goals.

We need to find ways to make childcare information more accessible. It may be that we need more education about existing assistance programs or incentives to make the current market more competitive. It may be both. I look forward to the outcomes this study provides and future studies so we can use data to make decisions and improve our community. We also need to encourage folks at the state level to support initiatives like preschool programs.