Sitters too pricey? Try a babysitting exchange

By swapping babysitting services with another family, you save a hefty amount of money and build strong relationships to boot.

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    Hamm argues that trading babysitting with families you know and trust is an inexpensive alternative to paying for a sitter.
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Within walking distance of our home lives another couple that’s about our age. They have two children, both of which are in the age range of our own children, and the older ones have become friends due to interacting at the same preschool.

Over time, we’ve developed something of a babysitting exchange with them. Once every few months, we watch their children so they can do something together for an evening, and then they reciprocate. In an emergency (like a recent medical one), we also have a very convenient place to leave our children.

There’s no cost to either of us for this. It’s just convenient. It’s with people that we’ve built a relationship with, so we feel secure leaving our children there. It’s a win in almost every way.

Naturally, the idea of such an exchange will raise a few questions.

First, how does one start such an exchange? The best route is to talk to the parents of friends of your children, particularly those that live nearby. Invite them over to dinner and get to know them a little. In most cases, they’ll eventually reciprocate, which will give you a better glimpse of their home life.

If you seem to have an ideal partner in this, suggest a monthly babysitting exchange. One evening a month, you watch their kids. One evening a month, they watch your kids. You can set up additional guidelines however you like (the kids have to be picked up by 8, for example).

Another useful tactic is to get multiple exchanges going. If you have two or three potential eligible families for this, start exchanges with all of them. You’ll have double the kids two or three nights a month, but you’ll also have two or three nights a month without children – and there’s no cost to it.

There are also a lot of little things you can do to keep an exchange going. So often, it’s the small things that make all the difference in making something like this work.

Be flexible and expect that things won’t always work out perfectly – after all, you’re dealing with busy schedules and busy parents and kids that sometimes get sick or have other concerns. If they have to cancel once or twice, don’t get angry about it. It only means that you shouldn’t feel bad if you need to cancel.

Give plenty of notice. Check on potential dates at least a week in advance. Don’t show up at the door of your exchange partner one night and hand them your kids or you’ll find the exchange ending quickly. Also, if you know there’s going to be a change, let your exchange partner know as soon as you can.

Treat the children you’re watching in the same way you’d want your children to be treated when they’re away. It’s a great idea to plan an interesting kids’ activity for the day when you’re watching those other children. The last time we watched children in our exchange, we had a do-it-yourself pizza night and worked on multiple art projects, for example. It kept both their children and our children entertained and focused and they all had a great deal of fun, meaning that the children were really looking forward to the next time we could do this.

If you’re a parent and would love to have an evening or two a month free without having to pay for a babysitter, a babysitting exchange or two is pretty much perfect. It gives parents a free evening, both in the financial sense and the “not worrying about kids” sense.

This post is part of a yearlong series called “365 Ways to Live Cheap (Revisited),” in which I’m revisiting the entries from my book “365 Ways to Live Cheap,” which is available at Amazon and at bookstores everywhere. Images courtesy of Brittany Lynne Photography, the proprietor of which is my “photography intern” for this project.

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