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Join a Babysitting Co-op
Babysitters typically charge $10 or more an hour, making it tough to justify a date night when you're pinching pennies, but babysitting co-ops are free.

"You use [the co-op] as much as you want or as little as you want, but I would say you'll save easily $100 a month," says Gary Meyer, author of Smart Mom's Baby-Sitting Co-op. According to Gary, babysitting co-ops are usually an organized group of women from the same neighborhood, church or circle of friends who take turns watching each other's children free of charge.

When Gary's wife joined a local babysitting co-op in the late '90s, his family of five felt financial relief immediately. His wife, a full-time mom, also started to feel better emotionally and was able to make thriftier choices while running errands because she didn't always have three kids in tow. "It's one thing to have the convenience of babysitting co-ops, so that you can have dates and dine out and don't have to pay $50 bucks for the sitter, but it is another thing to have peace of mind and plan your errands out [so you can] shop wisely," Gary says. Here are some tips from Gary on starting a babysitting co-op:

  • Start small. You can start a co-op with just two or three friends or neighbors who live within a driving distance of 15 minutes or less, then later grow to a group of 10 to 20.
  • Be selective. Try to find women who have a similar parenting style as you, and make sure their homes are safe and clean.
  • Use the point system. Most co-ops work because they run on a point system. Every time you sit for someone, you earn points. When someone sits for you, you lose points.
  • Dads can join too. Co-ops aren't just for moms. As long as everyone in the group approves, dads can be part of a babysitting co-op too.
  • Set day and night rules. If you request a sitter during daytime hours, you should drop your children off at the sitter's house. If you request a sitter in the evening, you should expect the sitter to come to your house so your kids can be put to sleep in their own beds. You will be charged more points for an evening sitter.
  • It isn't daycare. Most babysitting sessions last just two to five hours, long enough to run errands, meet up with friends or go on a date. Babysitting co-ops are not replacements for daycare.
  • Learn more. If you are interested in starting a co-op, you can download a free startup kit from Gary's website, BabysittingCoop.com.
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