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New Mexico Expands Free Child Care — Here Are 4 Ways to Trim Your Costs

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New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham expanded free child care in the state effective May 1, 2022, allowing families who earn up to 400% of the federal poverty level to qualify.

And it’s not the only state toying with the idea of free child care: According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 18 states have pending child care subsidy and quality legislation. Considering that the average U.S. worker with a child younger than 5 spends as much as 29% of their income on child care, this is especially important.

Below, we’ll look more closely at New Mexico’s free child care move, along with ways to trim child care costs.

More New Mexico families eligible for free child care

New Mexico’s new child care policy doubles the qualifying income limit for free child care, raising the bar from 200% of the federal poverty level ($55,500 for a family of four) to 400% ($111,000 for a family of four).

According to the governor’s office, this should impact more than 30,000 families in the state. At the same time, Gov. Lujan Grisham pledged $10 million to help ​​expand child care availability where it’s most needed and announced a stipend aimed at early childhood workers who are seeking advanced degrees.

For context, it costs about $17,250 a year to raise a child in New Mexico, including day care. But while this is relatively low compared to other states, according to a recent LendingTree study, it still takes 19% of the average worker’s wages to pay for in-center care for infants and toddlers in New Mexico, and 17% for 4-year-olds.

Although other states are looking at child care subsidies and quality, according to a statement from Gov. Lujan Grisham’s office, “No other state has enacted a child care support program that provides free early education and care to such a broad economic demographic.”

4 ways to trim your child care costs

Still, not everyone lives in a state with a child care policy as generous as New Mexico’s — and finding ways to pay for it can feel overwhelming.

“Child care is so expensive, but there are some things you can do to help control costs,” says Matt Schulz, LendingTree chief credit analyst.

Here are some tips to get you started.

No. 1: Look into government programs

Many government programs can help manage costs, and provides a robust list of options across the U.S. Potential examples include Head Start and Early Head Start services for kids 5 and younger, prekindergarten programs provided by your state and local assistance or scholarships.

No. 2: Look at your employer’s offerings

Some employers may offer perks like child care cost reimbursement to help minimize costs, so it’s worth asking your HR representative what’s available. If that’s not an option and you’re in a bind, you could look for a job that offers free or reduced child care.

No. 3: Shop around

“It’s worth considering shopping around, though it’s also important to understand that much more goes into choosing child care than just cost,” says Schulz. “Things like location, fit and even the overall feel you get from a place matter. That means that changing child care providers is definitely not something that should be entered into lightly.”

Because you have to consider so many factors, look as early as possible. That way, you’ll be able to look at a wider selection of child care options and find one that suits your family’s needs and wants without settling. If you have more than one kid in need of child care, you may also find providers that offer a sibling discount, which could lower your costs.

No. 4: Look into side gigs

“Sometimes parents are forced to make really difficult choices,” Schulz says. “The cost of child care compared to what they’d earn in their job is such that they would simply be working to pay for child care. Thankfully, the growth of remote work and side hustles means that these folks have more options than they might have had in the past to bring in some income. But it still can be a decision they’d rather not make.”

If you’re willing and able to look at a remote job or side gig, try to leverage unique skills and connections to find a job that pays well.


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