The Real Cost Of Being A Single Working Parent


NB: I know it’s not entirely the ‘done’ thing to talk about money, because OMG we’re British and when it comes to our wallets we keep our mouths closed, but this is something I can’t stop thinking about. And therefore something I wanted to write about. So there. 

Raising kids is an expensive business. We all know that.

But how expensive is it to be a working (single) mum? Or single women who want to have children? That’s what I’ve been wondering.

When I accepted my job I didn’t really work out how much it would cost me. I had a basic idea in my head – Hux would need to go to nursery 3 days a week and I was already paying pre-school fees for him and a few extra hours over my free 15 for Elfie – but surely because I’d be, you know, earning a salary, working out how much it would cost me seemed a bit pointless.


Last night I sat down and calculated the figures involved in re-joining the workforce. And honestly? I was totally shocked. No wonder so many women can’t afford to return to work! I’m lucky in that I currently rely on my mum for some of my childcare – as a personal choice I didn’t want my kids to be in a ‘formal’ childcare setting full-time – so they get to have fun at Gagi and Papa’s house as well as their pre-school and nursery. And I’m fortunate to not have to pay for two lots of full time fees… but if I had to (as so many women do!) this is what I’d be looking at:

£1850  Nursery fees for two children – luckily Elfie’s at pre-school now (15 hours free, with a couple of extra sessions on top) and Hux only needs half the week at nursery and at paid for pre-school sessions (THANKS MUM!)
£480    Monthly train travel in and out of London. Half the time the train’s delayed, the other half I have to sit on the floor. Therefore this is EXCELLENT value for money *eye roll*
£180    Parking and petrol
£200    Food – lunch and the occasional ready meal. OK, I know this is an unnecessary spend, but after 4.5 hours of commuting and a hard day’s work, once the kids get to bed at 8pm the last thing I want to do is cook a big dinner and make a packed lunch for the next day.
£120      Tube travel – always standing up, always sweaty.

That’s a grand total of £2,830. You’d have to be earning a pretty good salary to cover that, right?

But that’s not all.

I’ve worked out that to cover my rent, basic bills and council tax in addition to the fees I pay out to work I’d have to bring in £3,850. After tax. That’s a salary of over £65,000… but I haven’t even bought any food yet. Or visited ASOS. How crazy is that figure?

Ok, so I’m kind of overreacting here when it comes to my particular situation – I get 15 hours free childcare for Elfie now, my mum looks after Hux for part of the week and my ex-husband helps a little financially. But if I had two children under three and no support from grandparents nearby or the ex this would be my reality. And that’s before I consider the fact that I can’t actually get home in time for the nursery closing, or the feelings I have about putting my children in a childcare environment for that amount of time.

The fact of the matter is that our country really isn’t geared towards both parents in a family working, or single parents working full-time. It’s terrifying that we’re supposed to make ends meet with very little support, bar childcare vouchers (which I’m not eligible for as I work freelance) and tax credits (again, not eligible as I now earn ‘too much’).

I’d be really interested to know what your thoughts are on this subject: is it this tough for you? How could our country make it easier for single or both parents to work full-time?

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  1. Wow thats alarmingly extortionate. I think nursery fees seem to be sky high for reasons I can’t fathom. I’m really lucky wit my parents and in laws else I think I’d be slightly stuffed and probably wouldn’t work. Or I’d have to carve out a career as an investment banker really really quickly.

    Posted 7.1.14 Reply
    • alice wrote:

      I have a fabulous image now of myself trying to learn how to be an investment banker. If you find out how let me know ;)

      Posted 7.1.14 Reply
  2. Jenna wrote:

    So true! I have been looking ahead to the best way to manage things in the future and it’s tough. Like you I don’t want to put children in full time childcare and am lucky enough to have the help of parents…I cannot begin to think what we would do if we didn’t.
    I’m lucky my husband and I share the burden but with an added complication that both our jobs start at 7am….which isn’t optional…and daytime childcare starting that early is (a) seemingly non existent and (b) plain cruel. It looks like there are going to be a lot of sleepovers for our little boy next year.
    I want to work, am and only just starting out in my new career so it’s looking like I’m going to have to become some kind of childcare planning wizard in the next few months before I’m back to full time working and studying.

    Still on the upside, while it is long shift work, I’m outside London so am lucky not to be adding hideous stuffy commute time too!

    Thanks for sharing Alice.

    Jenna x

    (Have just started up a blog myself…would live to know what you think?!)

    Posted 7.1.14 Reply
    • alice wrote:

      7am starts? Wow!

      God bless lovely grandparents and their sleepovers ;)

      Off to look at your blog now! x

      Posted 7.1.14 Reply
  3. Stephanie wrote:

    I praise you for your honesty here! I dont have kids and cannot believe how much it costs. Luckily for my mum, my nanny retired when we were school age so we went to her when we were not in proper education otherwise i think it would have been more cost effective for her to stay at home. Companies should be welcoming staff back to the workplace and helping them not hindering them from having the best of both worlds but unfortunatly our world revolves around money!

    Posted 7.1.14 Reply
    • alice wrote:

      Thanks Stephanie!

      I had no idea how much this would all cost before I had kids – I assumed that I’d stay home with them until they went to school. So many women end up stuck between a rock and a hard place when it comes to affordable childcare.

      Posted 7.2.14 Reply
  4. miriam khamis wrote:

    Its is just depressingly expensive , my mortgage is £1200 and nursery fees are £750. I do not earn £65,000 a year! Being a single parent is tough going. The only family i have is my mum and she lives the polar opposite side of london. I try not to think about it too much, that is my ex had not left I could afford lots of extra things for lulu, it makes me very sad.

    Posted 7.1.14 Reply
  5. Louise wrote:

    Wow, that’s shocking! I can barely look after myself on my salary, let alone consider how I would afford to look after children (or even a cat)! I’m not sure what the situation in Australia is, but I can imagine it’s not dissimilar. You seem like you’re doing an excellent job of raising those gorgeous kids though!

    Posted 7.1.14 Reply
  6. Mummytobande wrote:

    I can totally relate.
    Once upon a time you might be able to get tax credit or child allowance – but now if you were earning £65k a year you would not qualify – even though your sums show that you are hardly rolling in caviar and champagne!
    I thought it would get better when they went to school – but actually it just gets worse! There are fewer options for just before and after school care, and holidays become a minefield.
    I feel the cost and availability of childcare is the single biggest factor in preventing women progressing in their careers – its all very well to talk about ‘Leaning In’ but if you are leaning as much as you bloody can and you essentially only earn a Sainsburys shop after all the costs have been taken away, no wonder you think its all too much like hard work sometimes!

    Posted 7.1.14 Reply
    • alice wrote:

      I’m dreading the logistical nightmare of working around school hours and school holidays!

      You’re right – the cost & availability is so prohibitive to women who don’t have a partner/family member who can pick up the childcare slack.

      Posted 7.1.14 Reply
  7. Lucy wrote:

    At the risk of putting the cat amongst the pigeons, I really wish there was a greater emphasis on appreciating the important role of a stay at home parent in the early years. Both government and society seem hell bent on encouraging us all back to work as quickly as possible with scant regard or understanding of the role played by a stay at home parent. I wish it were possible to attach greater importance to this in everyone’s minds so it is understood to be a worthwhile way to spend a few years.

    Having said that, I agree that the cost of working when you have children is prohibitive, especially when you are a singleton and is just another thing to worry about…

    Please do not misundertand me, I am not intending to be critical of anyone’s decision to return to work, whether through choice or necessity, but I don’t think we are good at valueing primary carers in any field.

    Posted 7.1.14 Reply
    • alice wrote:

      Please don’t apologise! I was in fact just discussing this today with a friend: I really really wish I was the sort of woman who felt happy and fulfilled in a role as primary caregiver to my children. I tried it but it just leaves me unhappy. This might sound harsh but I’m not a natural educator or naturally maternal and though I love my children to the ends of the earth I know in my heart of hearts that I’m a better mum to them because I work. The time I have with them is treasured rather than feared (I used to dread the long expanses of Monday-Friday) when I work :)

      I’m almost glad childcare is so expensive: quality costs and I want the people looking after my family to feel valued and paid well. Some help for the government would be great, though!

      As always great to hear all different opinions.

      Posted 7.1.14 Reply
    • Sam wrote:

      Hear! Hear! Although my husband works, I am feeling the pressure to go back to work but I am finding obstacles at every turn. It’s not because I’m lazy or workshy it’s because I can’t find a job that pays much more than the cost of using a childminder for two primary age kids and also covers full time child care in the school holidays.

      I feel guilty at staying at home when they are full time now (in primary) and yet it would be so expensive to find a job that after travel and childcare, actually puts any money in the bank. Home working jobs are very thin on the ground and pay peanuts, believe me I’ve tried.

      Let’s face it, mothers can’t win.

      Posted 7.2.14 Reply
  8. Chloe wrote:

    Cheaper childcare and better financial incentives to return to work are the only way forward. The government needs to really step up with this. Another worrying factor is that because we are living and working for longer (and many women starting up careers later in life after kids, like my mum, who is a full-time working single parent), the availability of grandparents to look after the children whilst parents go back to work is going to decline.

    Posted 7.1.14 Reply
    • alice wrote:

      You’re absolutely right – I have friends who are in the position of having parents nearby but they’re unable to help with childcare because they have their own careers to focus on. Which is totally their right (of course!) but is a definite shift in generational terms.

      Posted 7.2.14 Reply
  9. Jess wrote:

    This is literally sickening, there should be some way of balancing how much free child care you’re entitled to against your working hours or your salary, surely!? No wonder mums find it so hard to get back into work. Good on you for making it work, and massive kudos to your mum for helping out :)

    Posted 7.1.14 Reply
    • alice wrote:

      It’s very frustrating that you’re only entitled to 15 hours free after the age of 3, grr! They’re introducing this for 2yr olds as well in September but – guess what – I won’t be eligible :(

      Posted 7.2.14 Reply
  10. Laura wrote:

    Wowzers! This just sums up everything I’ve been ranting on about to anyone that will listen since my son Jacob was born in 2011. My rent plus bills is around £1500. If Jacob was to go into full time child care it would cost me around 1200, plus food, phone bills, transport,entertainment I’d need to be earning anything up to £3000 a month. Instead I’ve worked almost every evening (I’m a hospitality manager) for nearly a year. I’m tired, disillusioned and facing the fact that I will most probably have to move to the middle of nowhere very soon to save on rent. And everyone asks me when I’m going to have a second child! Hah! Love your blog x

    Posted 7.1.14 Reply
    • alice wrote:

      It’s totally bonkers isn’t it! x

      Posted 7.2.14 Reply
  11. OMG WHAT? You’re not eligible for childcare vouchers if you’re freelance??!? I was not aware of this. My husband and I are both freelance so looks like we’ll be doing a bit of childcare juggling when the time comes then because there’s no way we make enough to send Hux to nursery without the vouchers!

    Posted 7.1.14 Reply
    • Emma T wrote:

      Self employed people can’t get childcare vouchers at the moment as they’re only available through employers – so I get them, but my OH doesn’t. The new system coming in 2015 will be open to all , self employed or employed as won’t go via an employer. But won’t be necessarily better for everyone than the existing system.

      Posted 7.2.14 Reply
      • alice wrote:

        I’m interested to read more about the new scheme.. though both of my children will probably be at school by that time!

        Posted 7.2.14 Reply
    • alice wrote:

      As Emma says there’s a scheme coming in 2015 that’ll make it slightly different (maybe not easier ;) – I believe the government will pay 20p for every 80p of childcare you pay for (i.e. make it up to £1).

      Posted 7.2.14 Reply
  12. Emma wrote:

    I’m not even a parent and I feel your pain! You have to go where the jobs are but the cost just to get to work is insane. Sending love and good vibes! Great post, people need to understand these situations more X

    Posted 7.1.14 Reply
  13. Annieh wrote:

    This suns up the conundrum felt by so many and there doesn’t seem to be an easy solution.

    Sadly child care workers are not well paid, bar nannies, so it is the companies who profit from the parental need. I would love nurseries to pay their staff a greater wage recognising the important role that they play. However this would need to be done in a way that doesn’t increase costs further.

    Posted 7.1.14 Reply
  14. Liane wrote:

    I’m a stay at home Mum so I’ve never sat down and worked the figures out but what you’ve posted here is shocking! The government are pushing for people to go back to work after having children, especially single mothers once their kids reach a certain age, but with figures like that who could afford it without help from family!

    Posted 7.1.14 Reply
  15. It’s tricky. We have one doing two days a week, with a third day spent with Grandad. He’s currently on his free fifteen hours a week with a little top up (not all of his hours qualify for the free bits, including lunch and the last hour of the day).

    We have a second on the way and when eldest (D) is at school and I return after maternity leave, I have very real worries about how those two days for #2 and three days before and after school care for D will cost. Not to mention finding a childminder that’s flexible enough…

    Posted 7.1.14 Reply
  16. That’s crazy money! We live in the South too and it really is insane how much everything costs. At the moment we mostly rely on my Other Half’s salary as we’d be out of pocket if I worked full-time – I would be utterly screwed if it was just me as I freelance. We’re going to be moving up to Yorkshire in the near future as it’s so much cheaper up there and we’ll have more space etc. Will be sad to leave the South but rent, house prices and cost of living are too much now xx

    Posted 7.1.14 Reply
  17. Em wrote:

    Re childcare vouchers – they are being phased out now and in their place is a new scheme which you will be eligible for as freelance. The basics of it are that for every 80p you put into a special account which is used to pay childcare the government will put in 20p (so basically you get the basic rate tax back). Worth looking into. However that is just a side point – i’m also shocked at how much childcare costs!

    Posted 7.1.14 Reply
  18. Hannah wrote:

    It really is rather depressing when at the end of the month after working 3 days a week and after just child care is paid for I am left with £50! We rely pretty much on one wage for everything else and now with number 2 here it’s just going to get more complicated… What do you do in school holidays and what if you want to be the one waiting on the playground? The answer would be to stay at home full-time, but I need the interaction I get from work and S has thrived from being in a nursery… You can’t win!

    Posted 7.1.14 Reply
  19. Fromfuntomum wrote:

    Despite being 2 of us with only one child, I had to wait ages to go back to work too. Living in London we have short and cheap commute (yet a stupid mortgage and a shoebox for a home) but no family whatsoever means that we have no free childcare ever. Not even one hour a week! With that in mind, we only had the nanny option which gives us the flexibility we need, but which is a tricky issue once G is in school as she can’t live on less hours, but how on earth can I work around school hours (9-3:30) with tons of school holidays to cover for. I have no solution yet, but, yes, you’re right, the situation is fucked!!

    Posted 7.2.14 Reply
  20. Gemma wrote:

    It’s scary isn’t it? Especially when you look at Europe and see how much support families get over there.
    I had to quit my old job when my youngest came along as I would have been working to pay childcare…pointless!
    I now work 3 evenings a week til midnight, so no childcare apart from daddy and sometimes a bit of stres if he gets caught in traffic!
    Loving the honest post, as always.

    Posted 7.2.14 Reply
  21. This is a really interesting post, even from a married perspective. We’ve been discussing finances a lot lately and wondering how on earth we’d cope having a baby- even talking about a three month maternity leave so that we aren’t left struggling for too long. I don’t know how people can afford to live- to a reasonable standard- work and support a family these days. And I have the up most respect for people who are doing it by themselves and still choosing to work- but you can see why people opt for the benefits option. My friends and I were shocked to learn a while back that a girl from our school had a three bedroom new build, three kids, childcare and college paid for because she was a single mum and hadn’t worked a day since leaving school, whereas the rest of us were still at home saving for a home of our own and £20k in debt from uni. But that’s a whole other debate….! Great post…and hats off to you X

    Posted 7.2.14 Reply
  22. Babooshka wrote:

    Alice, thank you for this post and for highlighting those absolutely SHOCKING figures! Plainly stated as you’ve done on your blog, it’s clear you’d have to be of the Arianna Huffington calibre to make being a single working-mum financially worthwhile! Yep, money and finances are a constant lurk in the back of my mind these days, our DS goes to nursery mid-week Tues/Weds/Fri (under 3 so no govt allowance) and he is looked after by my parents on Fridays. I have reduced my hours to 4 days a week & don’t work Mondays so I have a long weekend with him and thankfully this reduces nursery costs. In that sense we are really really lucky. Hubby has a decent salary, I have a bit of a measly one (all my money seems to go on tube travel and grocery shopping these days) but all in all we both work and can provide. The problem we are facing is that we are also ‘accidental landlords’ and a huge chunk of our salaries goes on paying 2 mortgages as well as the nursery fees each month. We are considering having a second child and as such I would like to look into working half of the Monday so that I have more of a maternity package if I go on maternity leave but I honestly don’t know how our finances would cope with an extra half-day’s childcare and then the reduction in salary if/when we have a second bubba. It’s crazy putting your family life on hold because of money but I know I’m only one of thousands of women faced with this worry.

    Posted 7.2.14 Reply
  23. Alexandra Mercer (Life of mummy) wrote:

    My mum was a single parent, working in London. My mum, sister and I lived in a two bed flat in London and we always had an au pair to look after us. My mum gave up her room for the au pair and slept on a sofa bed. This was a very cheap form of childcare and meant my mum could always go out in the evenings too.

    Posted 7.2.14 Reply
  24. “The fact of the matter is that our country really isn’t geared towards both parents in a family working, or single parents working full-time.” You’re totally right. It’s pretty scary too.

    We’re in the position now where my partner is looking to return to work to ensure we don’t have to survive on one salary for much longer. We sat down last night looking at the implications of this and it just left me feeling spaced out.

    Other than the obvious long-term career progression, there’s no REAL immediate incentive for mums to return to work – not in our situation, anyway. We’d actually be better off if my OH went back part time…. but she doesn’t want to do this as it will have an impact on the maternity leave/pay she receives when our family grows.

    It looks like we have to take the initial hit and spend more on childcare. I know how skilled and professional people working within childcare are – but there must be something the Government can do to make this more affordable for parents.

    Anyway, I ramble on! Great post and very thought provoking. Keep posting about this; break the British way of keeping our wallets closed!

    Posted 7.2.14 Reply
  25. Emma T wrote:

    It’s so hard. This is one of the reasons why we only have one child, as pre getting 15 hours free now he’s 3, I was paying around £1k a month for 5 days – 3 days at day nursery, 2 days at nursery school and 1 childminder on on afternoon after nursery school. I’m lucky in that my current job is only 10 minutes drive away and that they’re very flexible about working hours. I pay for nursery, OH pays the mortgage. I earn an above average salary but it’s workable now.

    I’m dreading school as although he’ll be fine for holiday care (the day nursery does holiday club for school age kids in the tree house classroom/forest school, there’s no wrap round care (and my OH may as well not be there for helping on out childcare even though he works at home on the farm) and no childminder that picks up from that school.

    As for a solution – without the government subsidising childcare further (because you can’t drop costs anymore otherwise people won’t be able to afford to work in the industry, and unlikely due to increasing taxes to do it), I think it comes down to businesses having more creches and onsite nurseries and having those subsidised. You’d probably have fewer people having to work flexible hours or part time because they wouldn’t have to do nursery runs, and if you had businesses group together on a site to create them, that might help reduce the need to all the extra space.

    Posted 7.2.14 Reply
    • Ash. wrote:

      I think this a really good solution and one that I have previously thought of – I would be interested to know if this could work and what businesses think of this.

      Posted 7.2.14 Reply
  26. I sat and did this calculation before returning to work after number 2. After years of uni, training and experience I have a pretty good job, but take off nursery, after school club and my train fare and my take home pay for a month is the same as it was when I was 16 and had a Saturday job in Sainsbury’s.

    Posted 7.2.14 Reply
  27. Conny wrote:

    Why is nobody mentioning childminders? I always used them and they are MUCH cheaper than your sums. Also, your travel costs can be deducted from you tax, so you’ll be paying 20 to 40% less depending on you tax band. Finally, you have not mentioned dad – surely he is meant to contribute in some way (unless he has passed away – but even then he should hopefully have had some life insurance) .

    You really painted the worst case scenario and exaggerated at every turn. (Sorry for not joining the chorus of moaning but I think somebody should put some reality into this)

    Posted 7.2.14 Reply
    • alice wrote:

      At the moment childminders aren’t an option for us – because my hours fluctuate and change all the time I just can’t commit hours to a minder, as much as I’d like to. You’re right in that travel costs can be offset against tax but it’s still a struggle to pay these out each month AND save to pay that inevitable tax bill. Dad does contribute but obviously a lot less than he would have done were we living together as family.

      Yes – this is a worst-case scenario but I object to the statement that I’ve exaggerated at every turn. This is reality. I’d love to hear your experiences if they are wildly different to the one I’ve laid out…

      Posted 7.2.14 Reply
    • EB wrote:

      Conny, that’s a pretty harsh reply from someone who clearly hasn’t even read the post properly. Alice clearly states that her ex is making a financial contribution so I’m not sure why you’d feel the need to ask for clarification about whether he was dead or alive. And by the way, my child goes to a nursery rather than a childminder because I found there to be very little difference in the cost. Childminders may well be massively cheaper where you live but that isn’t the case for everyone.

      Posted 7.4.14 Reply
  28. Joy wrote:

    This is my reality and i am not even single. As a mother of two i am really struggling to find suitable jobs. My oldest is at school till 3.30 but if i was to work, i’d have to sort out someone to pick her up. My youngest is under one and nursery around here is terrible so i’d have tp travel a bit for a good nursey but that means more money. I swear it feels like the system is set up for people not to be able to work. madness

    Posted 7.2.14 Reply
  29. Ash. wrote:

    Great post Alice, thank you for bringing it up!

    Before I had my daughter I worked in schools as a learning assistant and whilst studying met many people who worked in nurseries. It’s such a crazy catch-22. I have so many thoughts on this and could talk for hours.

    The government recognises the importance of early learning and wants people to go back to work, yet fees are extortionate and staff salaries in this sector aren’t the best – I was earning under £10k a year in my last job – less than I did when I worked a part time job in a supermarket at 16!!!

    I wish I had a solution for this – it’s something I think about frequently; we want the best people caring for and educating our children and we need the costs to be affordable. The staff need to be able to earn enough to be able to live, else how else will they make ends meet and keep improving their practice and so the care and education that our children receive?! ARGH!

    It doesn’t seem to be any better if you are a working or stay at home mum. It’s just a sorry state of affairs.

    As ever, a very thought-provoking post Alice, thank you. As I stand on the edge of a relationship looking out into a rather foggy and unknown future I have no idea how I am going to make things work for my daughter and I, especially with my parents living abroad.

    It’s very inspiring to have been able to read about your journey and it gives me strength to know that in the end everything will work out.

    Posted 7.2.14 Reply
  30. Laura wrote:

    Dear Alice,
    I love your blog and this is a great post… But I think it’s giving a very misleading and unfair picture of your ex-husband. I presume you don’t meet all these costs yourself? Does he not contribute enough financially? If that’s the case, I feel for you and think you should take action to make sure he gives more. But if he does do his fair share financially, you should recognise that. Obviously pulling his weight in non-financial ways is a whole other thing, but I think it’s important to distinguish the two. X

    Posted 7.2.14 Reply
  31. This is a really interesting post and you have been very open about figures and the like. I used to be a single parent and it was tough. I think the free 15 hours should be more flexible, personally. I think it is out dated and needs a shake up – if I had my choice I would use those 15 free hours for my kids to be in nursery two full days instead of half days – I only have to pay extra childcare anyway when I do it that way. It’s complicated. But childcare costs aren’t forever are they. x :) x

    Posted 7.2.14 Reply
  32. Sarah-Jane wrote:

    Being a single working mum has been the most depressing part of my life. When I worked out the cost of everything I had a little over £150 a month (after rent, council tax, travel, bills etc) to pay food and get gas/electric top ups. I was semi lucky in that Agent M was at school when I started so I had that as daytime childcare but my shifts were so all over the place I ended up paying his dad to watch him so I could continue to work (dont even get me started on that and no hes never paid a penny towards Agent M) but its not just the financial cost. For the two years I worked full time I missed school plays, parents nights, sports days. I was scheduled to work a Christmas shift which was 8am till 8pm so I missed him opening his prezzies and he spent the day with my mum (she lives in England so I only get to see her Christmas and a week in the summer). I was miserable and felt like I was the worst mum in the world cause I didnt have time to be there for the silly things like taking him to the park or making forts under the kitchen table.

    Being a single mum is a full time job in of itself and anything above it, you have to be wonder woman. I have nothing but admiration for all the mummies (and single daddies too) that can make it work xxx

    Posted 7.2.14 Reply
    • EB wrote:

      Your post choked me up a little! That sounds really difficult but I’m sure that you are doing an amazing job – don’t be too hard on yourself. Never underestimate the example you are setting for your child by being a hard worker. And as for your ex, well he sounds like an absolute douche, so you have my sympathies there too.

      Posted 7.4.14 Reply
  33. I am a single working mum, but my kids are older now -11 and 13 – and it makes a huge difference in terms of childcare costs. Obviously they’re at school most of the time; they can walk home from school and let themselves in if I’m not there; and the clubs they go to in the holidays are a fraction of the price they were when they were little.

    I agree with all the comments and I’m wondering if the only answer is huge Government investment, either to the nurseries directly, so that they charge much less, or to the working parents to give them a much larger tax subsidy – just to get them through those initial pre-school years.

    Thanks for the post, Alice!

    Posted 7.2.14 Reply
  34. Emma wrote:

    I had to take a lower paid, part time, admin job so I was still eligible for tax credits and a free place for my 2 year old. If I had taken a full time role at the level I am qualified and experience too do I wouldn’t have been able to ‘afford’ to work! It makes no sense what so ever. As it turns out I love my job and have a great flexible boss, which as a single mum is priceless, so it’s working really well, but the systems really needs look at!

    Posted 7.2.14 Reply
  35. Laura Kirby wrote:

    It is crazy isn’t it although I admit I was lucky. Back when my son was at nursery, between 2003-2007, in the South west, where I live, private nurseries charged between £35 to £50 per day. However, I used to work for the civil service and they had a nursery on site which was £14 for a full day. Once he got the free 15 hours it was even cheaper. Without that the cheap nursery, once I factored in all my other costs, I would have been worse off working than being on benefits.

    Posted 7.2.14 Reply
  36. Mummymarie wrote:

    This is exactly why I don’t work at all! My husband has a good job but we do still struggle if something extra is needed such as car repairs. However, with no family near by to help with childcare it just doesn’t make financial sense for me to work…despite the fact that I’d really like to in order to keep my skills (and sanity!) up! X

    Posted 7.2.14 Reply
  37. Carly wrote:

    This is why I trained and became a childminder ( much nicer than a nursery , more flexible to ;-) I get paid peanuts!
    But I don’t have to worry about the childcare side of things!
    I’m surprised you are not entitle to childcare tax credits?Which is 70% off your childcare bill..
    Also when I’ve worked out mine and partners money if I was at work we are no better off.. So I stay at home with my youngest and do part time childminding !
    But my final thoughts are that it doesn’t seem that you are aloud to get ahead if you are a hard worker or actually go to work ( it’s almost as if it doesn’t benefit you at all, didn’t me that’s for sure ! )

    Posted 7.2.14 Reply
  38. Joice wrote:

    I’m not a single mum but I am struggling indeed. Husband had a business that went down a year ago and has been working as sales man since. Earns just over 1k a month and I can only work when he’s off. Which is twice a week. No tax credits either and no grandparents to help. We are struggling so much that it doesn’t even look possible to ever have another baby :-(
    It would be nice if the government would offer some free nursery type of thing. Specially because my baby is under 3 so I don’t even get the 15 free hours as yet! :-(

    Posted 7.2.14 Reply
  39. Amelia wrote:

    I’m currently on maternity leave with my second child and am returning to work in September. As a single parent I will have one child full time at nursery and my other will be at pre school and after school club whilst I work luckily locally to both children. I do not have any family that can help as they all work full time. I have a very good job and a good career and there was no question of me not returning to work. However, I always assumed and it appears incorrectly that my ex husband would have to contribute equally to childcare costs but apparently that’s not the case. It’s my decision to return to work it’s my responsibility to pay the childcare costs as well as mortgage, bills, food etc.
    I was advised that I do not have to return to work there my choice but obviously without working I wouldn’t be able to pay the mortgage or anything else nor would I get help from the government as I have an asset in respect of my house.
    I think that the government should help those mothers single or not to return to work as usually childcare costs are more than a mortgage per month!

    Posted 7.2.14 Reply
  40. Lisa wrote:

    I’m sure your blog will help a lot of mums who currently think it’s just a case of getting a job and the rest will fall into place – it really isn’t that simple, as you have clearly demonstrated. I became self-employed working nights as a bouncer so that we could have our weekends free, and also attended college and university during the days once mine was full-time at school (age 5) so we had all of the school holidays together, and relied solely on help from willing (also single) grandparent, so I was very lucky in that respect. But I learned the risks of alternative help when mine went for a sleepover elsewhere on one occasion I worked, and the person in charge was later reported for issues involving minors, so I would never entrust a child of my own to carers outside of family, regardless of their professional position. As mine grew older and more independent, I was able to do work for NHS bank staffing, meaning I could work as and when convenient, and later returned to freelance self-employment and did IT support back to back with my ‘writing hobby’. I’ve never made a decent wage, but being a conscientious single parent was more important to me than building a career, all the time that I was needed ‘to be there’ as a mum. Parenting seems to involve a lot of guilt coming at you from all directions, and the main thing is to do what you know is right for your own and your children’s safety and sanity, and find a happy balance somewhere of time, income, activity, identity and responsibility. Good luck with everything x

    Posted 7.2.14 Reply
  41. Cath wrote:

    I am in the same position as you all. I work to pay the bills and the childcare. The months that I am in profit go towards the long summer holidays when childcare is extortionate! I have recently started as a distributor with Forever Living products and am following a plan that could see me earning in excess of £2000 per month with monthly bonuses and a car plan. I have been using the aloe Vera based products and they really do work, I lost 7.5lbs on the clean 9 cleansing programme. I will soon be in a position to give up my job and to work my Forever Business from home around my daughters school and her gymnastics training. I feel safe with Forever as they are a cash rich 36 year old global company operating in over 150 countries?
    If any of you want to join me so I can explain to you about our 5 steps to manager programme email me on

    Posted 7.2.14 Reply
  42. Great post! Childcare costs are one of the reasons why haven’t officially ‘gone back to work’ since having the kids, although iIve just set up my own business that I can crack on with once S starts preschool in the new year, and I focus on this in the evenings. We had 15 months between F & S, and the cost of putting them both through full time nursery, as you state above, would be ridiculous, and if I’m working to pay for childcare, i’d rather be at home with them and make the most of them being small! You’re damned if you do though, damned if you don’t. I do worry about the impact on my future career, so really hoping this new business venture pays off and can expand, plus throwing some freelance writing in the mix! I think it sucks to be a woman sometimes, we nearly always end up compromising on our careers somewhere down the line, and also future earning power and career stability, especially if things do ever go tits up in your relationship. Scary shit if you think about it too much (I try not to!). Compared to other European countries, the UK does bugger-all to help parents who want to work, despite banging on about how much they want parents back in the workforce. Also, like someone says above, there should be emphasis too on the good job parents who stay at home do, so not everyone feels pressure to go back to work if they don’t want to and earning a pittance after childcare has been deducted (as long as they can afford it). God that was a waffle!

    Posted 7.2.14 Reply
  43. jo wrote:

    It’s crazy. I’m at home with my 3 & 2 year old at the moment as I can’t afford to go to work unless I want to never see them as I’d have to get a job paying, well, a lot as you say, in London & as I am in recruitment it would mean late nights & early starts. This country needs a reality check. Businesses are missing out on so much talent because of their refusal to embrace flexibility (& the extortionate cost of living).

    Rant over.

    Ace blog.


    Posted 7.2.14 Reply
  44. Pip wrote:

    On the one hand it’s good to know there are others going through the same thing but on the other it’s just so damn wrong that we’re all struggling like this. Partner and I both work full time but have had to spend so much on childcare that the house is a pit and I’m deeply ashamed of it. We manage the odd holiday, a week away in the West Country every other year, if we’re lucky. Even with both kids at school, having them with the childminder after school and in the school holidays means our annual childcare bill is still around £10k. She wanted to put her rates up (not unreasonably) but just couldn’t make it all add up, least ways not if we wanted to eat and she kindly agreed to hold her rates. And don’t even get me started on child tax credits – they made a mistake and paid us too much so we’re having to repay on top of everything else. But they wouldn’t accept it was their mistake, after all how could their computer system be wrong. It’s not as if we spent the money on fast living it all went to the childminder as our bill with both kids in full time care was £16k a year. Our childminder has been fantastic and I couldn’t have wished for better but a little more support from the Government would have made such a difference to us.

    Posted 7.2.14 Reply
  45. Cil wrote:

    No-one has talked about how hard it is to get back into the workforce once you have had a break. I am a hospital pharmacist and have trained for 8 years. I spent 3 years working in the same job but on return to the UK, found it a nightmare to get back into the NHS. What would happen if I stopped work complete for 7 years? I have 2 small boys. The crazy thing is that my training has cost the NHS a lot. Yet, if my husband and I split up, I could not afford to work due to wrap around care before/after school and in the holidays. Thank you for your post, it’s was well written.

    Posted 7.2.14 Reply
  46. Jenny wrote:

    So true. I couldn’t agree with you more and the same questions. We are struggling with this too. As we can’t afford both my kids in nursery so I can go back to work. So whether I want to or not it’s cheaper for me to stay at home with them as I couldn’t make enough to even cover their nursery fees for both of them. That is just crazy. In hard times I would love to work get my career going and try to help my support family but I would have to get the job and pay check of a lifetime to afford to do it. Catch 22 isn’t it? You are doing amazing as a single parent. So proud of you for working for yourself and glad you have grandparent support. Every little helps.

    Posted 7.3.14 Reply
  47. Gosh, when added up it is all so so wrong.
    I am so lucky in so many ways. I am married, I moved away from London 10 years ago and our commute to our office costs less than a few quid in diesel everyday, with free parking and only 15 minutes from home. We don’t have family to help, but having our own business gives us lots of flexibility – so important once the kids start having concerts and plays and settling in sessions to school etc.
    When I decided to go back to work we looked at all of the local childcare possibilities, needing a pre-school for our 3 year old and a nursery for our 1 year old, not to mention breakfast clubs, afterschool clubs and holiday clubs for our preschooler. And then we were overcome with a genius idea! We hired a nanny!!
    It costs us the same amount a year to send our son to pre-school (which is free) and to hire a nanny as it would to enlist in all of the above. And, we have flexibility and best of all, our two little ones spend the holidays together.
    Yes, it’s still expensive and again I say, we are so very lucky – paying our nanny and the PAYE on top of her wage takes all of my wage, but with a family business working towards a greater future, it’s hopefully worth it in the long run. I always question (I dont take the little that we have for granted at all) how other people manage it. Not even those less well off financially but those who have to work long hours with long commutes and limited holidays.
    So sad that it is the families that are suffering.

    Posted 7.3.14 Reply
  48. Callie G wrote:

    When reentering the workforce after 2 years as a single parent on a sole parent pension and child benefit my fortnightly income was $ 765- P/F . My weekly wage gave me a take home pay of $359- a week and I still received my child benefit of $389- P/FN ( this fluctuated depending on how much child support I received , I lost $65- for every $100- of Child support but I rarely was able to collect any) so my fortnightly income was $1107- as long as I did not have to take any days off for sick kids or myself. Rent was $310- F/N Utilities $120- other bills (insurance, registration etc) $45- Food/Groceries $400- long day care for 2 toddlers $260- after subsidies and Fuel $40- I was lucky to live close to work. So after all costs were paid, I was left with the princely sum of $36- a week which also had to cover clothes and shoes for all three of us, we always had 2nd hand clothes. Life was not easy, we had everything we needed but there were no extras or treats. Then disaster struck, child care fees skyrocketed and Govt subsidies changed in the way they were calculated, my child care fees went from $90- a week each to $190- each after subsidies. To keep my girls in care and for me to keep my job I had to take a 2nd job working at night filling shelves in a supermarket , I started at 9pm and finished at 1 am. My best friend and next door neighbor watched the kids , I left after they were in bed and got home before they got up, they never knew I had a 2nd job ( still don’t) but that took it’s toll, I was working 12 hours a day and was getting 4 hours sleep, I started falling asleep at my desk at work so my boss did me a favour and fired me, giving me 2 weeks pay in lieu of notice and being fired allowed me to go straight back on the sole parent pension without having to wait 6 weeks if I had quit.
    The astronomical cost of child care made it impossible for me to afford to work full time & I was never able to get a part time job so I stayed on the pension even though I didn’t want to.

    Posted 7.3.14 Reply
  49. caroline wrote:

    these responses are really upsetting. there’s something wrong in the system somewhere.

    I’m married with only one kid (and luckily no desire to have any more) so things are easier because they’re shared but as it is we pay £750 per month for 3 days a week childcare. One day with a brilliant childminder and two at an absolute shitshower of a private nursery who charge an extortionate £64 per day. (He is luckily moving soon to a much cheaper and better seeming local authority pre-school.) but £750 for THREE days. it’s insane.

    there’s something wrong when crappy nurseries with seemingly zero emphasis on nurturing your kids are allowed to charge an effing fortune. childcare shouldn’t be so expensive. and we are the lucky ones – I’ve managed to cobble together a career that means I can work flexibly and mainly at home, and my husband works pretty flexibly. (Thank god, I never have to leave my son in the nursery beyond 5pm, and he usually gets there around 9am.)

    And yeah, no childcare vouchers for me either, because I’m freelance. which is bullshit.

    Community creches, shared childminder schemes, employers allowing parents to work more flexibly, some kind of government subsidies to encourage people to work…. there has to be an answer! Why don’t the government provide nursery care –  they could surely run the nurseries cheaper than £64 per SODDING DAY and there’d be more accountability on standards…

    Posted 7.3.14 Reply
  50. Lauranne wrote:

    I am about to move into a new house by myself and I am terrified of not being able to afford it. I like to think I am very sensible with money, I have worked out my budget and will be cycling into and out of work to cut down on traffic. Yet I am so worried of making my money stretch. All my friends who are now either renting or starting out on the property ladder are in the same situation and it is just crazy!

    I have a friend who is a science teacher, which i believe we are crying out for, as is her husband. When she had her kids and looked at the cost she realised she could not afford to work and pay for child care and so left to raise the kids. Crazy!!

    Posted 7.4.14 Reply
  51. Gail wrote:

    Alice, it may be worth double checking if you are eligible for any tax credits. I’ve just done quick calculations, and if your child care costs are around £1200pm (I’m guessing a figure based on what you said about your children’s child care), then you’d have to be earning over £57k to not get any help at all.

    I think this issue isn’t just about child care costs, it’s the overall extortionate cost of living, and I think there’s a real North-South divide. I’m a single mother to two pre-school children. I work 4 days per week and they go to nursery 2 days and family on the other 2 days. We’re not living a life of luxury, but we’re doing well and I have about £200-300 per month free to put into savings/pay down the mortgage. I think the travel costs you’ve detailed are extortionate, as are the mortgage payments that people in the South seem to have. That all needs to be addressed too (God knows how!)

    Posted 7.4.14 Reply
  52. Emma w-b wrote:

    Fascinating post. I’ve calculated I’d be better off working full time but to the detriment (in my mind) of the children being in full time formal childcare. Instead I try to get creative and carve out my niche freelance/self-employed. I also think these challenges do help us women be much more entrepreneurial, creative and intelligent in our approach to work. Where we have the luxury of time that is. Those who don’t and need the money up front are in a lose-lose.

    Posted 7.4.14 Reply
  53. Kate wrote:

    Coincidentally I spent a while going through childcare costs today and worked out that if I go back to work after the birth of our first child, I will take home £45 per week after tax, NI, student loan, childcare and fuel. All bills etc will come from husband’s salary. Therefore it makes more sense for me to stay at home. I am a Primary School teacher so not earning a really terrible wage!

    I agree with one of the commenters above- there is stigma now on women who want to stay at home and bring their children up themselves. As others have said, everything is geared to having two parents both working, but as an Early Years teacher, I know I’d do a better job of raising my child than someone in a nursery with NVQ 3 in childcare. I’m sorry if that sounds harsh! However everyone who asks me what I’ll do after the baby is born gets all sanctimonious and says “OH so you DON’T WANT to work!” like I’m a terrible person!

    I think everyone should be able to choose the lifestyle that they want and the government should have schemes in place which allow this to happen. If I wanted to go back to work it would feel like I was doing it for absolutely nothing; only earning £45 a week and it would make me miserable.

    I hope that you can find a way to make all the finances balance out so that you can continue to do the job that you love! :)

    Posted 7.7.14 Reply
  54. Fiona wrote:

    I found this really interesting as we live in Germany and the situation couldn’t be any more different. I have two kids under four, both in full-time care and have a monthly childcare bill of 260 €. The cost of a full-time spot is around 800 €, but the government pays most of that and the parents pay an income-based contribution ranging from around 50 € to a maximum of 460 € per month. The quality of care is great, my little one goes to a childminder in her own home and my big boy to kindergarden. The hours are very flexible with both opening from 6 am (which luckily we never have to use!) so a 7 am start (not that unusual in Germany) would theoretically be possible. All in all it is a fantastic system for the little ones, the school system is less great and I believe the UK school system is much better, but for now we are very happy!

    Posted 7.19.14 Reply
    • alice wrote:

      6am!! That’s incredible. Your system sounds fantastic, in fact I’ve been reading here about motherhood in Germany today: I love the anecdote about as there aren’t as many births in Germany as in other countries the government works that little bit harder to encourage you to have children. It sounds like a great place to raise kids, though I have to admit I don’t know much about the school system.

      Posted 7.21.14 Reply
  55. Benjamin wrote:

    I am here to share my experience with the world on how i got my love back and saved my marriage… I was married for 6 years with 3 good lovely kids and we lived happily until things started getting ugly and we had a fights and arguments almost every time… it got worse at a point that she filed for divorce… I tried my best to make her change her mind & stay with me cause i loved her with all my heart and didn’t want to loose her but everything just didn’t work out… she moved out of the house and still went ahead to file for divorce… I pleaded and tried everything but still nothing worked.
    The breakthrough came when someone introduced me to this wonderful, great spell caster Dr. ADUWAWA who eventually helped me out… I have never been a fan of things like this but just decided to try reluctantly cause I was desperate and left with no choice… He did special prayers and cast a love spell on her. Within 3 days she called me and was sorry for all the emotional trauma she had cost me, moved back to the house and we continue to live happily, the kids are happy too and we are expecting our fourth child… I have introduced him to a lot of couples with problems across the world and they have had good news… Just thought I should share my experience cause I strongly believe someone out there needs it… You can email him at: ( aduwawaspiritualtemple@ yahoo . com ).

    Posted 9.30.14 Reply
  56. Pen wrote:

    Hi Alice,

    First, I am sorry for commenting on this post nearly a year later than everyone else. I have just discovered your blog am delving through.

    I am a newly single Mum. My son is 11 months old and I work full time, or rather I work compressed hours 10 days in 9, this means that I take one day off a fortnight to look after my boy and work late 2 nights a week to make up the hours. Baby’s Daddy, my ex fiance, with whom I occasionally manage to have a conversation where he doesn’t yell at me, does the same. My parents are superheroes and look after our son for two days a week. He is then at nursery two days. A logistical challenge and often I don’t know whether I am coming or going so baby must be totally confused.

    I really don’t know what I would do without my parents help, both emotionally or financially at the moment to be honest. I don’t get any benefits because like you I earn too much, but I do get childcare tax credits through work so I guess I am lucky.

    I really want to see more of my boy. What with sharing him at the weekends and him going to Daddy 1 or 2 nights a week and working full time I never see him. His Daddy is insistent on paying the absolute minimum because he ‘doesn’t want to fund my lifestyle’. I need to find an alternative career, or an additional career that allows me to work 3 days a week so I can spend 2 days with the boy and then work in the evenings. Anyway, moan over. It is tough being a single mum, but leaving my fiance was still the best decision I ever made (and I am only a couple of months in).

    See you soon. Off to read some more of your posts now.


    Posted 8.5.15 Reply
    • alice wrote:

      Big hugs to you, Pen. It’s literally impossible to work out the best way to live your life AND please the people you need to please AND pay the bills. Like you I have my parents help and it’s totally invaluable. I’m really lucky to have a supportive ex too who has always stepped up financially and for that I will be eternally grateful (or until he stops being so supportive ;)

      Logistical challenge – I hear you! Hux goes to two childminding settings – pre-school which is cheap but sessions are only 3 hours (impossible when you work full time in an office) and nursery which is more expensive but the sessions are longer. I’ve lost count the amount of times I’ve dropped him off at nursery when he should be at pre-school or vice versa! x

      Posted 8.5.15 Reply
  57. janet wrote:

    Hi there all you hard working mothers welldone for getting out and goin to work in the first place when we are allready so nackered from the joys of parenthood lol! especially the single ones like myself haveing to jugle everything else the world has to throw at us. well i wanted to share that i have recently gone back to work doing 16 hours a week monday to friday. All thow my 9month old starts nursery at 11am and i collect him at 4.00 the nursery still want paying for a full day at 44pounds a day. iam so woried as ive informed the childtax credits these ours and they said they can help pay 70% witch would be 100 of 132 a week for 3 full days. However have to work everyday 11.30 till 3.30. As the nursery have just let me know that they will be charging for full time days everyday iam soooo woried that the child care element towards childcare fees will not support this i would really like to get you guys opinion on this? as i dont think the nursery charging me for 5 full days when there not even haveing to provide my baby with his breakfast or tea.

    Posted 12.6.16 Reply
    • alice wrote:

      Hi Janet, I’m afraid I don’t have much knowledge on nursery charges – they always got me confused! I’d try contacting the Citizens Advice Bureau as a first place and they should either be able to help or tell you someone who can. Hope that’s helpful!

      Posted 12.10.16 Reply