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The Unexpected, Enormous Expense That Throws Retirement Planning Out the Window (Hint: It's Not Health Care)

When it comes to retirement planning, there's one maxim that's worth repeating a thousand times: The earlier you get started, the better. There's no amount of ink that can be spilled to truly capture the power of compounding returns over time.

Knowing how important that early start is, unexpected expenses early in one's working career can have ramifications that filter down for years to come. Shockingly, the one thing that young families across the nation spend the most money on every year comes as a complete surprise -- and it's not housing, food, college, or health care.

The culprit: finding someone to watch young children during the day while parents are off at work.

How much does this end up costing? As I've shown before, the costs vary wildly by both region of the United States, and whether you are in an urban or rural location. But a recent survey conducted by (NYSE: CRCM  ) says that the average family can expect to pay $18,000 per year in child care.

Let that sink in for a minute.

Chronically Underprepared
As a father of a 1-year old myself, I can sympathize with parents-to-be spending most of their mental energy on how great it's going to be to have a child, without thinking twice about the cost of child care. "We'll figure something out..." actually makes a lot of sense when you're in the nesting stage.

Apparently, I'm not alone, as 42% of families don't budget at all for child care, and 75% are "shocked" at the total costs, according to the survey. With the majority of households having no parents at home during the day, that means there's a serious reckoning happening across the country when maternity leaves end.

Check out the slideshow below to see how you can save money and help make sure that having a child doesn't mean retirement planning needs to be put off indefinitely.

A little-known tax "loophole" to help your retirement planning
While making smart decisions about child care, it also pays to pay attention to taxes.  With the right planning, you can take steps to take control of your taxes and potentially even lower your tax bill. In our brand-new special report "The IRS Is Daring You to Make This Investment Now!," you'll learn about the simple strategy to take advantage of a little-known IRS rule. Don't miss out on advice that could help you cut taxes for decades to come. Click here to learn more.

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Brian Stoffel

Brian Stoffel has been a Fool since 2008, and a financial journalist for the Motley Fool since 2010. He tends to follow the investment strategies of Fool-founder David Gardner, looking for the most innovative companies driving positive change for the future.

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