Since each of my children were just ten weeks old, they have spent the bulk of their weekday hours at a daycare or preschool. When I was at my old job, I dropped them off around 8:00 a.m. and picked them up at 5:15. This was extremely hard on them and also hard on me, but it was even worse for our budget. When we had two kids in full-time care, our daycare costs were insane!

Still, I have always felt like paying for daycare – and working – was worth it. Whether I missed out on some milestones or not, I have never wanted to be a stay-at-home mom. Even though I hated leaving my kids, I was dying to head back to work both times. And both times, this decision cost me dearly.

With that said, the money I spent was well worth it. If I had stayed home instead of building my career, I wouldn’t be able to provide for my children the way I can today. Plus, my kids learned a lot and made tons of friends at the various centers they frequented.

Would I change anything? I think not. With any decision like this, there are trade-offs to be made. And in my eyes, I made a smart trade that will leave us better off in the long run.

Related: The Daycare Dilemma: Why I’m Not a Stay-at-Home-Mom

The Day I Quit Paying for Daycare

And now, really, the whole argument over working or “staying home” is over. As of August 1st, I have a kindergartener and a second grader!

At this point in my life, I’m so glad I worked all these years. If I hadn’t, I would probably feel pretty lost. As an added bonus, their first day at school was my first day not paying for daycare in seven years! 

It’s a bittersweet feeling for sure. On one hand, I’m sad my babies are growing up. It seems like I was changing their diapers and helping them walk just yesterday. Now, they’re off to school! On the other hand, not paying for daycare has been a dream of mine for a while. From the beginning, I’ve paid anywhere from $500 to $1,200 per month depending on our daycare situation.

So, in some ways, we just scored a $500 – $1,200 monthly raise!

What We’re Doing with Our Daycare “Raise”

We quit paying for daycare! Yay!Normally, I include our monthly daycare bill in our zero-sum budget. This month, I kept the category alive but entered a big fat zero. And, oh-my-gerd, it felt so good.

Still, my work here isn’t over! If I have learned anything, it’s that you need to have a plan for both expenses and windfalls. Here’s what we plan to do differently from here on out:

We’re resisting lifestyle inflation.

Before we started using a zero-sum budget, any “extra” money we had would disappear into thin air. We spent whatever was in our checking account and paid bills based on when they arrived in the mail. Looking back, we realize not having a written budget was the worst strategy ever! Obviously, our situation is all fixed now.

Related: How to Budget: A Step-by-Step Guide that Actually Works

Now that we’re on the straight and narrow, we use a zero-sum budget to plan our spending every month. With this type of budget, we pay ourselves a salary that covers our bills and spending needs for the entire month. So instead of blowing an extra $500 or $1,200 on who-knows-what, we’re planning our spending based on our actual needs.

Look at those cheesy grins!

We’re paying ourselves a little less.

Since we use a zero-sum budget, resisting lifestyle inflation means paying ourselves less every month. Instead of the $4,000 in bills we normally budget for, we’re creating a budget based on out post-daycare life now. In reality, that means we’re taking a little pay cut. On the flip side, however, we’re keeping more of our cash in savings every month. Over the long haul, this will leave us a lot better off!

We’re boosting the amount we contribute to our children’s 529 savings plans every month.

I have been totes-serious about paying for my kid’s college since they were born. As a result, I have saved money for each of them in a 529 plan for years. When we were poorer, I contributed just $25 per month. The last few years, however, I have saved around $5,000 a year due to our state’s generous tax credit for 529 plans.

Related: Why I Save for My Children’s College Education

Now that I’m not paying for daycare, it only seems natural to throw a little more money towards their 529 plans every month. Since I lost a huge expense, I won’t notice it much at all. Plus, saving more money now will make paying for college that much easier down the road.

Final Thoughts

The fact that both of my kids are in school full-time means many different things for us as a family. First and foremost, it means my children are on their way to becoming contributing members of society! Second, it means they are no longer my little babies. Lastly, it means I shouldn’t have to pay for daycare again outside of our eight-week summer break.

Life is weird sometimes. Just when you get something figured out, everything changes. And just when you make your peace with a huge expense, it goes away for good.

At the end of the day, all any of us can do is roll with the punches and plan the best we can. And when you get a huge raise, make it count.

How have your daycare expenses changed over the years?  Did you ever get the huge “daycare raise?” If so, how did your spending habits change?