If you are looking for an alternative to traditional daycare centers but can't afford a nanny, and hosting an au-pair isn't right for your family, try looking into a family daycare or home day care. A family day care is a daycare that is run in the provider's home and she often cares for her client's children along with her own. Some benefits to using a home daycare provider are:
Many times a family daycare is less expensive than an institution style daycare center (but not always - check a few different providers in your area).
Children are cared for in a warm, relaxed, home-like environment.
Day trips are more like family outings than traditional "field trips."
Often providers will offer snacks and home cooked meals for a small fee so parents have less to worry about when trying to get out the door.
Some family daycare providers have very flexible hours. A few will even provide services occasionally for overnights and on weekends.
Family daycares are not without their drawbacks. For instance, if your provider gets sick and can't care for your child for a day or two, you may need to miss work as most of them don't have back up providers. Also, if the provider owns and operates her family day care herself, then nobody else oversees or observes her actions. Another drawback is that many home daycare providers have little or no early childhood education.
As always, no matter what type of child care provider you choose, get at least three references, and check them! Keep your standards high - your children are worth it!