From daycare centers to nannies, childcare can be extremely expensive. Thankfully, affordable childcare alternatives do exist—especially for part-time daycare or occasional babysitting. Here are Circle of Moms members' favorite low-cost and free childcare options.
1. Babysitting Cooperatives
Babysitting cooperatives can be very affordable compared to private daycare centers, as mother of two Andrea C. confirmed: "My youngest goes to a co-op nursery school...The cost is one-quarter of the cost at the local daycare." Can't find a babysitting co-op in your neighborhood? Network with local moms (tip: try filtering by "Local Groups" on Circle of Moms' Communities page) and organize your own.
2. Babysitting Exchange
Whether you want to run errands solo, power through work at home uninterrupted, or enjoy a rare date night, swapping babysitting hours with a local parent can be an affordable solution for occasional babysitting needs. Sherry S. in San Francisco shares: "I trade baby-sitting hours with another mom. We even exchange overnights sometimes."
3. Shared Babysitting ("Sharecare")
"Consider sharing a babysitter," suggests Rachael M., a mother of one. Coordinating babysitting hours with another mom can help you both save on occasional childcare. The rate for sharecare is higher than for the care of a single child, but with two families splitting the cost, it's less expensive than two separate babysitters.
4. In-Home Daycare
In-home daycare can be an affordable alternative to traditional daycare child centers, as Lauren M. confirms: "The price is wonderful. I pay about half of what I would pay to send two kids to a regular daycare." In addition to the affordability, in-home care can offer a more relaxed environment, more one-on-one care, and fewer germs. Yet as Toronto mother Sylvia H. noted, cons include having to find backup care at short notice: "If the provider gets sick one day, or her kids do, you're on your own." It's also important to ask in-home daycare providers if they are licensed and if they've been cited for any violations of your state's codes. As Ontario mom Nicole K. cautions, "not all home childcares are licensed," so standards can vary widely between providers.
5. Non-Profit Centers
Drop-in programs offered through churches and YMCAs are also affordable childcare alternatives. Michelle E., a mother of a school-aged child, finds the YMCA is perfect for backup daycare when schools are closed: "Our cost is $20/day for residents…They have tons of activities for the kids to participate in."
6. School-Sponsored Childcare
As mother of four Hilje J. explains, you may be eligible for discounted daycare if you currently attend school. "Some community colleges have on-site childcare with drop in-programs if you are registered in a class." If you're heading back to school yourself, you may want to look for a program that provides this benefit to students who are parents.
7. Close Friends and Relatives
Go ahead and ask family and friends to babysit occasionally—you'd do the same for them, right? Depending on your personal situation, family members may or may not wish to receive payment. Many Circle of Moms members recommend at least offering to pay relatives for regular help.
Need additional advice on affordable childcare alternatives? Got a great tip we missed?