"Gas is going up again, and groceries have gone up, so it's almost always a matter of trying to make ends meet," said Carterby.
She stopped serving packaged food and cut back on the "extras."
The calls for new enrollment have stopped coming in, as parents reevaluate their budgets. Carterby says some households are now keeping one parent home to look after the kids.
"The outside world seems to be in a lot of flux, and that makes parents very nervous," said Carterby.
Daycare referral specialist Suzanne Suyama's worries go a step further, when she sees young children left home alone or to care for even younger siblings.
"It's very scary, it's very frightening," said Suyama. "They're not at the age where they're capable of making those decisions that they need to be making when they're left at home alone."
Local daycare have seen a drop in business by about a quarter over the last five years, despite the growth in population. Those numbers could jump, as more parents see daycare as a luxury they can't afford.
For most families, it's the biggest expenditure after housing, costing up to $300 a week for two children in the Tri-Cities. Infant care remains the most difficult to find and the most expensive.
Suyama says the people struggling most are those who fall just short of state and federal subsidy qualifications, sometimes by just a few dollars.
Washington's proposed budget for next year will cut almost half the funding for childcare, which raises co-pays for parents who do qualify for subsidies.
Carterby and her staff are still fully operational, despite the belt-tightening.
"The economy is of course a giant challenge, but there were always be people at work," said Carterby. " We will always be here. It's just a matter of how we'll make it through this."
To learn more about daycare in the Tri-Cities, visit the Child Care Resource and Referral at (509) 545-4042.