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MIAMI (CBSMiami) — The average American spends hundreds or even thousands of dollars a month in childcare costs forcing parents to choose between working or staying home to avoid losing money but you could be losing more than your paycheck.

First time mom Janet An is taking a break from her law career to raise 5-month-old Ellie and says the cost of daycare or a nanny will be a factor when she returns.

“If the cost of childcare is going to eat up my entire salary then it might make more sense for me to just continue to stay home with her,” said An.

Economist Michael Madowitz said that’s not always the best choice. Faced with the same decision after having two kids, Madowitz built a wage calculator to measure the impact of staying home to care for his children. He found the losses add up to more than just salary for moms and dads.

“It actually affects how fast your wages grow over time and has really significant effects on retirement savings,” said Madowitz.

The calculator takes factors such as age, gender, current salary and how long you take off. It also tallies how much you will potentially lose in wage growth, retirement benefits, stock options and salary over your lifetime.

Let’s take the example of a 30-year-old woman earning $50,000 dollars a year. She stands to lose more than $730,000 in benefits, raises and wages if she stays home from work for five years

“If you’re really low-income, it actually makes a big difference in what kind of social security benefits you qualify for. If you’re really high income, you’re going to lose a lot of money because you are going to make a lot of money,” said Madowitz.

Janet tried the calculator to see the cost of taking a year off from work.

“It’s more than I had anticipated especially the lost wage growth,” said An.

She says seeing the big picture will help her make the right decision for her family.

The calculator was designed as a resource for parents who will make their childcare decision based on the financial cost.  The calculator can be found by clicking here.

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