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Dan White: Childcare costs may be crazy but you must not just settle for cheapest

Dan White answer your financial questions.

I will shortly be returning to work from maternity leave. As I work fulltime and have no relatives living nearby, I have no choice but to put my daughter into private childcare. How much can I expect to pay for childcare and have you any advice?

ABIGAIL

Childcare for young children is expensive, very expensive. A recent survey by the National Consumer Agency found that the average cost of full-time childcare for a six-month child varied between €205 and €233 per week in the greater Dublin area while the average cost of part-time, three days a week, childcare ranged from €155 to €175 per week. Even for someone on a good salary that's still a hefty chunk out of their after-tax income.

The NCA survey also found huge variations in the price of childcare within specific areas. While the average cost of full-time childcare in Swords was the most expensive in the greater Dublin area, at €233 a week, this disguised the fact that the cheapest creche in the area was charging €200 a week while the most expensive creche was a shocking €266 a week.

Charging

The variation in full-time childcare costs was even wider in Dublin city centre, with the cheapest creche charging €185 and the dearest €268 a week.

It was a similar story with part-time childcare, with the dearest creche in Dublin city centre charging €181 and the cheapest €120 a week.

The average price of childcare for older children, those aged 28 months or older, in Greater Dublin ranged from €220 in Dublin 6 to €216 in Dublin city centre with the average price being €217 in Swords.

However, once again these local averages concealed huge variations with the cheapest creche in Dublin city centre charging €185 per week while the most expensive was €63 dearer at €248.

For an older child, the average weekly cost of part-time care varied from €147 in Dublin city centre to €165 in Dublin 6, with the cheapest creche in Dublin 6 charging just €120 while the dearest was charging a massive €190.

For that price you could get full-time childcare at the cheapest creche in Dublin city centre.

The message is clear. Parents who need to put their children into childcare must do their homework and shop around. But making a decision on which creche to send your child to isn't one that can ever be motivated solely by cash considerations.

This is, after all, your child that you are entrusting to strangers. You want to be satisfied that your child will be safe and well-looked after. It's not like buying washing powder at Tesco.

I have been a UPC customer for many years. I read recently that RTE will be switching off the analogue signal at the end of next year. What will this mean for me and will I need to get a set-top box?

JIM

This month RTE launched a publicity campaign for its digital TV service Soarview. With the old-fashioned analogue TV signal due to be switched off throughout Europe at the end of 2012, only digital TV signal will be available from the beginning of 2013. That's less than two years away.

Those most affected by the change will be the 600,000 or so people who still receive their TV signal through an aerial. They will either have to invest in a set-top box or else by a new Soarview-enabled set. While there is no annual charge, these set-top boxes can be pricey, at €90 or more.

In practice, cable TV customers face no such deadline.

They will continue to receive their TV signal as before. So Jim can relax and enjoy the improved digital picture quality.