In my book, Money Smart Mom: Financially Fit Parenting, I wrote about how babysitting co-ops are a great alternative to paying for a babysitter (if you can even find a good sitter). I had looked into one in my city, but two things stopped me from signing up: 1) I didn’t seem to ever be home enough when I ran my own retail store, and 2) the idea of watching other people’s kids freaked me out.
After closing my store, I started looking into the local babysitting co-op and finally joined last summer. I had been paying $80 a day for two days a week for my two girls, to get work, errands, and the gym in, and that $640 a month was really eating into my earnings. Now I could simply utilize a full day if needed, but just an hour or two a couple times a week worked really well, too.
Though the group’s rulebook was intimidating initially, it really boiled down to a pretty simple system. Need a sit? Post it on the private Facebook group and someone would accept it. You pay in tokens, which are determined by a set schedule, depending on how many kids you/they have.
Instead of disliking having other kids over, I’ve found that I really look forward to having kids come over. I know I’m earning tokens that I can use for time at the gym, to work, or run errands, and caring for a few more kids is easier than caring for just my own! Plus, when my girls have friends over, they need far less of my attention. I don’t work while I care for someone else’s kids the way I do when I have just my kids, so I use the time to clean and tidy, while supervising their play.
If your community doesn’t have a babysitting co-op, they’re actually relatively easy to start and coordinate.
First, you need to get a core group of parents involved and establish your guidelines for sits. Will you use tokens or points as ‘payment’? What responsibilities are required on the part of the sitter, in terms of snacks and lunches? You’ll need to create rules around driving, cancellations, late or early pickups, the number and age of the children, discipline, etc. Most groups hold monthly meetings, where various issues are discussed and problems are resolved as a group.