United In Care assists providers in establishing fiscal planning to create a more sustainable business
Stacey Cummins, owner of Little Wonders Child Care and Learning Center in Warren County, was hands-off in doing the books for her business. She was afraid of the “B” word.
“I didn’t want to say or hear the word: budget,” she says. “It always seemed like such a vast and daunting concept that I couldn’t even wrap my head around.”
As director and a trained child care provider, Stacey is focused on making sure her program delivers high quality educationally driven care. The idea of managing a budget was too overwhelming. Even though she took business management classes, she relied on her husband to manage the finances.
Stacey’s center, Little Wonders, serves as one of four center hubs for United Way of Northern New Jersey’s pilot program, United In Care. The mission is to increase the affordability and the quality of child care and early learning for New Jersey families known as ALICE (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed) and families in poverty. The program also aims to bolster the sustainability of both the child care sector and the child care worker, many of whom are ALICE themselves.
United In Care operates four networks in Warren County, Morris County, Gloucester County and Jersey City. The networks are comprised of an established child care center serving as the hub and a compilation of five to 10 family child care providers.
As part of the program’s business support, Stacey received a budget template and additional coaching on utilizing the data to get a better sense of Little Wonder’s financial situation. She now understands budgetary pain-points and can identify areas to reduce costs and implement strategies to build toward greater sustainability.
“With United In Care’s coaching and budget template, I can easily plug in the numbers and see a snapshot of my monthly expenses. This template made all the difference,” Stacey says. “What seemed like a mountain was just a hill that United In Care helped me overcome.”
Turning Knowledge Into Action
Part of the program’s focus is to ensure that both the family child care providers and the hub centers have the knowledge and tools to establish and implement strong financial practices to improve business sustainability.
“United In Care provides training and access to resources to improve their program’s quality while also strengthening business acumen,” says Michelle Roers, Senior Vice President of Strategies for ALICE. “Ultimately, we’re working together to ensure providers have the knowledge and tools to deliver high quality child care that is not only affordable to the families they serve, but that their businesses can survive and thrive. This means that the child care providers are earning salaries to support their own families. Our economy needs these businesses to succeed.”
Turning knowledge into action doesn’t happen overnight. For the past three years, providers from all four networks, led by United In Care’s Child Care Specialist, Amanda Krause DiScala, meet weekly for virtual network wide calls.
Each week, Amanda and the team offer insight into every aspect of the industry, from teaching high-level early childhood educational practices to comprehensive business coaching. Through the United In Care Academy, the program team helps providers access a wide array of professional development. This includes access to in-depth training resources like All Our Kin’s Business Training series. Once they have a good understanding of the basic principles, the actual budget creation process can begin.
“We focus on big picture thinking, as well as specific skill building. This includes how to evaluate their programs and financially prepare for the future of their business,” Amanda says. “We help them create a foundation of sound financial principles that support a strong and sustainable child care business. This includes creating effective financial policies, analyzing enrollment capabilities, determining the cost per child, setting rates accordingly and collecting them in full.”
Building Financial Security
When United In Care launched in 2021, data showed that only 28 percent of the program’s family child care providers were generating enough income to cover their salary. Now, after two years of training and support, 52 percent of the FCC providers are properly compensated with a salary to support their household. The others see a pathway to building their own financial security.
Angelica Largacha Sanchez, who owns and operates Angelica’s Family Child Care in Morris County says she did not have a budget before joining United In Care. She found herself barely breaking even at the end of each month and not really knowing where the money was going.
After going through training, Angelica learned how to establish an effective financial budget. She is now conscientious of her program’s monthly food budget of $700 in addition to the $200 - $300 needed for classroom materials and supplies. Budgeting has helped her realize other expenses she wasn’t considering. She now diligently tracks her revenues against her expenses.
“United Way showed me a budget process that was amazing. The budget list covered things I didn’t really think about, like gas,” she says. “I take trips to the store for my business, and I drive the kids around during the day sometimes. I didn’t think about the mileage or the gas. Now I know how much I spend on gas every month.”
By getting her budget in order and more closely monitoring her business financials, Angelica has notably been able to draw down a salary from her business. In addition, for the first time since she opened her child care business, she has enough money in her account to cover one month’s worth of expenses. Furthermore, she is starting to put money away in savings with the intention to invest in her business and even purchase a home.
As for Stacey, the budgeting process allowed her to concretely see that staff salaries are her biggest expense, which is typical for a child care center. However, now she can better plan for minimum wage increases and staff salary increases into future budgets.
“I need to make sure we have the money for staff salaries, so we have to look at adjusting other parts of our budget or program to accommodate the expenses,” she says.
Creating a budget and learning financial strategies isn’t just about saving money. Whether it’s about reducing the amount of time spent filing taxes or allowing them to feel just a little less stressed, a budget gives these business owners some well-deserved peace of mind and a much better chance for financial sustainability.
“I don’t like spending time in my office, and it used to take me forever to compile all the different financial information I needed. Having a budget simplified the process,” Stacey says. “It’s been a game changer because it’s saves me so much time, which is huge. Then I can spend it where I really want to be... which is in the classroom.”
Getting her arms around her budget has allowed Angelica to keep an assistant teacher on her payroll. This has given her back some much-deserved personal time to spend with her own family and has made her a much happier child care provider.
“I can go to my doctor appointments. I can go to school meetings for my daughter and go to her events, and I know I’m not compromising my business” she says. “It’s a wonderful thing because I feel like I have my life back.”