How one couple is saving $19,338 a year on childcare

Sea change: Amber Joyce and her son Billy on the beach in Thirroul.
Sea change: Amber Joyce and her son Billy on the beach in Thirroul.

Buying a house in Sydney was looking prohibitive for Amber and Rowan Joyce, despite them both having good jobs. She works in a senior marketing role in a major bank and he is a project manager in construction.

They own a small investment property but the jump to something big enough for the family of four would have seriously strained the household finances.

"We would have been bound to a huge mortgage in a house that needed renovating 15 years ago and we'd have been maxed out and wouldn't have been able to spend a cent," Amber says. "I loved Manly and if money were no issue I'd love to live there. But we didn't want the stranglehold of a mortgage like that."

The trouble was they were outgrowing the two-bedroom apartment they had rented for almost three years and needed to move somewhere.

"We didn't know what to do next to get ahead," she says.

Rowan being assigned to a project in Wollongong, south of Sydney, set the wheels in motion for a sea change.

They visited the area to consider relocating and particularly liked the coastal suburb of Thirroul. Real estate is much cheaper than where they were living, but that wasn't the big saving.

"It was the price of childcare that clinched our decision to leave Sydney," Amber says.

The move will save them $19,338 a year in childcare fees.

While she was on maternity leave with their youngest son, Amber ran the figures for her planned return to work three days a week.

The cost of childcare, in nearby Fairlight, for their two sons was set to be $336 per day: $150 for their 3-year-old and $186 for their 1-year-old.

If the boys attended care three days a week, the childcare rebate would run out after 27 weeks for their youngest son and after 33 weeks for their eldest.

The out-of-pocket cost to them would be $15,900 for their eldest and $21,516 for their youngest, totalling $37,416 a year.

The figures were eye-watering. When they discovered the cost of childcare in Thirroul was $100 a day for both children, Amber quickly calculated the savings. The out-of-pocket cost is $16,200 a year - $19,338 less than what they were looking at.

"It feels like we are able to get ahead now," Amber says. "We are both able to contribute to the family income, as opposed to one salary almost all going on childcare."

Commuting one hour and 15 minutes to Sydney and back, three days a week, for work is a time cost Amber is more than happy to make.

"When I commuted from Manly to the city it would sometimes take up to an hour anyway," she says.

And in Thirroul, no one has to drive the kids to daycare, bring the car home, ride a bike to the ferry stop, catch the ferry to the city and then jump on a train or a bus to the office as they did when they were in Manly.

The childcare is five minutes from their new home, which is five minutes from Rowan's work.

The express trains leaves Thirroul for Sydney every 20 minutes and will deliver Amber to Town Hall where she can walk five minutes to her office. Getting from Wollongong to Barangaroo will cost between 50 cents and $1 more per day than it did to get from Manly each day.

"I will be doing slightly longer days because of the commute but I really don't mind," she says.

Her employer is supportive of flexibility and remote working in any case, and her manager is unfazed by the relocation.

Despite the substantial savings on childcare, the Joyces are forking out more for their home.

"We are spending $100 more a week on rent than we did in Manly but we have a four-bedroom house, a rumpus room and a double garage so we are getting a lot more. And we are a five minute walk to the train station and seven houses away from the beach," Amber explains.

"We could have got something cheaper but the trade off was being so close to the station and being near the beach. We want to enjoy it."

So far it's working a treat and they're still $14,000 ahead of where they would have been had they stayed in Manly.

Georgina Dent is a journalist, editor and TV commentator with a keen focus on women's empowerment and gender equality.

This story How one couple is saving $19,338 a year on childcare first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.