Creative Ways to Save Money on Sitters
You and your spouse have finally agreed on a movie you want to see and found an open weekend night on your calendar. You call up your qualified, reliable, affordable babysitter. Wait. Qualified, reliable and affordable? If you’re anything like Lori Huffman, a mother of four, you know, “It’s hard to find a good, experienced babysitter who’s old enough to trust and not too expensive.” If the headache of finding a sitter keeps you from getting out more often, you might benefit from one of these four types of babysitting exchanges.
1. The one-on-one exchange
In this simplest type of exchange, you trade babysitting with another parent. Ask a neighbor if your kids can play at her house while you run to an appointment. Reciprocate when she’s in need.
Two stay-at-home moms might take turns watching each other’s kids one morning per week so each gets a morning to herself.
It gets easier to schedule date nights when you trade babysitting with another couple twice a month. Or two single moms could trade babysitting one week- end a month. One mom could keep the other mom’s kids from Friday evening to Saturday afternoon, and the next month they would switch.
2. The four-family date swap
In this swap, four families schedule one babysitting night a month in their calendars. The families rotate houses, and two couples stay with the children while the other two enjoy their night of free babysitting. The rules are straight- forward: the kids have to be fed before they are dropped off, and the parents have to be prompt in picking them up.
Everyone follows a simple schedule so the kids (and parents) know what to expect each time: free play, make a craft, have a snack and watch a movie.
This swap could easily be adapted for fewer families or for a group of stay-at- home moms who need babysitting but also want to benefit from time with friends.
See page 2 for more babysitting exchange ideas.
3. The three-week group exchange
Stephanie Trenaman and her husband Mason organized a three-week babysitting exchange at their church for 15 young families last summer. An arrangement like this works best for large groups who prefer using a central location for child care, instead of individual homes. Each couple works one week as sitters and, in exchange, they can use the free babysitting the other two weeks.
To organize a similar program, pick three dates and recruit families by e-mail or through an announcement in an organization newsletter. Divide the group into three and ask each committed couple to babysit one of the dates. Break the time into 30-minute segments and pick fun activities for each block of time: games, free play, storytime, music, a short movie or a craft.
Trenaman suggests beginning your evening with high-energy activities that transition into slower-paced activities as bedtime gets closer.
4. The ongoing babysitting co-op
New to town, with a husband who traveled frequently, Janie Werner felt blessed by the quality, affordable childcare she received during the years she participated in a babysitting co-op. In a co-op, parents earn points based on the hours they watch other members’ children, and they redeem points when others babysit for them. Some groups appoint a secretary who keeps track of each member’s hours, while others trade co-op coupons or poker chips.
Janie believes geography is a key to success for co-ops: if members live within a well-defined area, they are more likely to use each other’s services. She suggests capping the babysitting hours a person can use before working them off so no one takes advantage of the system.
With these four types of exchanges in your toolbox, you are well on your way to finding truly reliable and affordable babysitters.
Sandi Haustein is a freelance writer and a mom of four children.