Kiwi mum goes viral on TikTok for revealing why the cost of childcare means it's not worth going back to work

A stay-at-home Kiwi mum has shed light on why returning to work postpartum is not always a viable option amid the ongoing cost of living crisis, with her candid video on the realities of childcare costs going viral on social media.

Anna Catley, a 31-year-old mum-of-three from Napier, gave birth to her twin daughters 10 months ago and has recently been contemplating when - or whether - to return to work, having been in a sales and marketing role before heading on maternity leave.

With the cost of living continuing to rise, Catley calculated roughly how much childcare would cost for her daughters and two-year-old son per week if she were to reenter the workforce, as her husband, Stu, is already in a full-time job. 

In a video shared to TikTok, which has since amassed over 10,000 likes and almost 215,000 views, Catley broke down the minimum number of hours she'd need to work per week, and the amount of money she'd need to earn, in order to afford childcare alone. 

"Honestly, I don't think I could afford to go back to work because childcare is so expensive," she said in the video.

She then showed her calculations: $7 an hour for her son's in-home care and $11.70 per hour for her twins to attend a daycare centre.

"Basically I need to earn $26.70 per hour, before tax, just to pay for childcare," she explained. 

Catley then noted that if she earned $35 an hour over a 37.5-hour week, she'd only have $170 in hand after paying for 40 hours of childcare. 

"$170 - for the whole week. That would get me a tank of gas and a packet of nappies," she said.  "$170 to be away from my children and I still have to do all the housework, the washing, everything. No, thank you. I think I'll wait until the kids go to school - or I win Lotto."

Catley's video has seemingly resonated with a number of other mums, with many taking to the comments to share their own experiences and advice.

"Definitely worth staying at home! I have two kids aged four and nine months and I pay $500 per week for five days a week [of childcare] for both, it's insane," one said. 

"You're lucky you would have $170 left and not zero like my family does - we live paycheck to paycheck," said another, with a third adding: "I 100 percent feel you on this! Not to mention the amount of time your kids spend sick at home with bugs they caught in care."

"Not worth it, every second week they get sick, you need to take time off. Then boss is like 'too much sick leave'," another agreed, with a fifth weighing in: "Same here. I have two under three and a student loan to pay back, KiwiSaver, tax - I'd be earning $50 a week."

Speaking to AM on Wednesday morning, Catley reiterated that the cost of childcare means it's currently "not worth" her returning to work full-time.

"I wouldn't go back to that [sales and marketing] role, it doesn't really suit our lifestyle. But if I was to find something else, looking at the childcare costs, it's just not worth it," she told AM co-host Melissa Chan-Green. 

"When you think of all the stress of working a full-time week, and then the cooking, cleaning, housework, organising the kids, getting them out the door in the morning and drop-offs, I just think it would be really stressful and not worth it for us."

In New Zealand, depending on how much you earn and how old your children are, you may be able to get help with the cost of childcare. If you have a dependant child who's under five, you may be eligible for a subsidy that helps with the cost of pre-school childcare. The child must be attending an approved early childhood programme for three or more hours a week, such as childcare centres, playcentres or approved home-based care,

All three, four and five-year-olds can get up to 20 hours of early childhood education (ECE) fully funded by the Ministry of Education. 

Despite the Government spending about NZ$2.3 billion annually through subsidies and payments to the sector, childcare in Aotearoa is among the most expensive in the world

With many parents having no other choice but to fork out on childcare, plenty of New Zealand families will be feeling the financial pinch amid the rising cost of living and inflation. On Monday, Statistics NZ unveiled the latest food price index, which showed a year-on-year increase of 12.1 percent and a monthly spike of 0.5 percent. With food prices possibly at their peak - plus childcare, bills, and rent or mortgage payments - for many there is little left in the pot at the end of the week. 

"It's an issue that's very real for a lot of families, so it was really relatable," Catley told AM. "It's crazy the time that we live in."

Following her viral video, Catley also shared a tongue-in-cheek clip of her meditating alongside the caption, "Manifesting the perfect mum-friendly job."

"Does the perfect mum-friendly job even exist? One that suits the whole family? With three under three the typical 8am-5pm job doesn't work for us because childcare costs would be through the roof," she added.

In the clip, Catley said she'd be interested in a flexible, part-time and at-home role, noting that she hopes she'll find a remote marketing job that will allow her to juggle both work and childcare.

This article was amended on April 21, 2023 to clarify information regarding childcare subsidies in New Zealand.