The study by the Family and Childcare Trust – the new name for the Daycare Trust and Family and Parenting Institute – aimed to see how families were faring under economic pressure.
The research found that childcare bills were a major drain on family budgets and meant that some parents could not work as much as they wanted to, a problem compounded by a lack of access to flexible working arrangements.
While the families regarded car ownership as essential to lives, the study found that cars also came with a high risk of financial shocks due to breakdowns and fuel costs.
Families were found to be reliant on credit to get them through unexpected budget shocks.
In addition, an Ipsos MORI survey of 1,009 parents for the charity found that 79 per cent were concerned about their ability to pay for unexpected expenses in the future.
Sixty per cent said they had experienced increased levels of stress and anxiety due to changes in their financial circumstances, and 33 per cent said these had strained relations with their family and friends.
Anand Shukla, chief executive of the Family and Childcare Trust, said: “This research is a wake-up call, reminding us that we cannot afford to rely on the resilience of families indefinitely.
“Despite their best efforts to adapt to austerity, we see that family life, good parenting and childcare become uphill struggles when financial strains build up.”
The trust said employers should offer more flexible working, while the government should relink benefit increases to inflation and widen families’ access to sources of affordable credit.
Peter Grigg, director of policy, research and communications at the trust, added: "This research displays precisely why families need an integrated response across a range of policy areas.
"Families don't operate in a vacuum or organise their lives by government departments. We need to relieve the overall pressure felt so acutely by the majority of parents, so they can get on with doing the best they can for their children and families."