Save Money on Childcare by Starting a Babysitting Co-op


The cost of babysitting has drastically changed since I was a kid. We recently hired a babysitter to watch our two boys so we could go out for my birthday, and her hourly rate was in line with what other parents in our area are spending. When it was all said and done, the woman we hired cost almost as much as the dinner and movie we enjoyed sans kids. We were happy to have a few hours to ourselves, but it underscored the point that babysitting doesn’t cost $20 to $25 a night anymore, which I charged as a teenager back in the day. (Yay, inflation.)

For parents on a budget, there’s another option. A neighborhood babysitting co-op, a cost-free alternative to the high cost of babysitters, is exactly how it sounds: families in the community working together to share child-rearing duties. This arrangement provides parents with some much-needed peace of mind, knowing their kids are safely supervised by someone they trust, all while enjoying some quality time with your partner (or yourself) at no cost. 

Setting up a babysitting co-op has numerous benefits, from socializing opportunities for you and your kids to the assurance of emergency care. It’s a win-win situation, but forming a co-op requires careful planning. To assist you, we’ve compiled some tips on how to get started with your fellow parents. 

Make some ground rules

Once you find some parents to establish your neighborhood’s babysitting co-op, you will want to determine how it will work in the real world so there are no misunderstandings later. Here are some topics you should discuss:

Size

Parents love free, reliable babysitting, so once word gets out around the neighborhood that there’s a co-op, you may have more members than you originally intended. To ensure your group is manageable, cap the number of members your co-op will have so everyone knows who will care for their children. 

You’ll also want to decide if the co-op will be open to everyone or only to select parents you and your friends trust with your children. Feelings could get hurt, but the co-op won’t work if everyone is worried about your kids while you are out.

Who will be involved?

Tweens and teenagers looking for experience in childcare can help parents by assisting with caregiving or other duties, such as keeping the group’s record book (more on that below). However, your co-op should decide whether to hand off that responsibility to a non-parent.

Other items up for discussion

  • How often will you hold co-op meetings?

  • How will co-op duties be rotated, and how often?

  • Establishing a fair system (see below)

  • Can/should you discipline a child?

  • How will weekend babysitting be divided?

  • Can a member refuse services?

  • What if a sick child needs a babysitter?

  • How will you communicate with each other?

  • Will there be dues (for unexpected expenses and events)?

Establish a system that works for everyone

The idea behind any co-op is to help each other and not take advantage of anyone, so you and your fellow members must devise a system that allows everyone to reap the benefits your group offers. The Yes we can! Project, created by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, shared three examples that can assist your co-op in developing its system. 

30-point start secretary system

Whoever is designated secretary will award each co-op member a 30-point base. Points will be deducted for each hour of babysitting and awarded when members perform babysitting duties. 

Zero-point start secretary system

Like the previous system, points are earned when members babysit and deducted by the secretary when using a babysitter. However, everyone starts at zero points instead of starting with a base number. A scale should be established, with members earning or using points. The amount of points will depend on the time of day and length of care.

In both point systems, the secretary position is rotated every few months. They’ll be phoned when members need babysitting and to keep track of records. For their service, they will be compensated with points. 

30-card system

Instead of a point system, each member is given 30 cards, which a volunteer makes. The cards represent increments of time and are used as currency whenever babysitting is required. However, if a member has 15 cards, it’s probably time for them to babysit. Those with 60 or more cards should find others to share child care. In this system, the parents, instead of a secretary, keep up with how the cards are distributed. 

You can also use spreadsheets and apps to help keep your co-op in order. 

Hold a neighborhood event

To help you get to know the parents and children you might be caring for in the co-op, consider holding a gathering that will allow you and your fellow caregivers (and their kids) to get to know each other. Your event could be something as simple as a potluck or as elaborate as a block party. It can even be an optional playdate held every few months. You can even get the neighborhood involved to spread the word and recruit more members.

Spread the word

There are plenty of ways to let the community know about your co-op. You can try the old-fashioned way with flyers and word of mouth. However, thanks to social media and apps like Nextdoor, there are plenty of ways to spread online awareness of your group. You can also hold a block party (see above) or work with your HOA (if your neighborhood has one) to spread the word.

Childcare costs aren’t going down anytime soon, so don’t expect your co-op to be a secret for long.

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