I've been thinking a lot lately about how to save money. I'm not about to start rinsing out sandwich bags to save a few cents, but I do have my ways of stretching the budget. My favorite way of saving money is my babysitting co-op. My friend formed it 4 years ago . The great thing about it is that the kids play with their friends while we are out at an appointment, Christmas shopping or having a date night with the hubby.
This is how it works. We pay in coupons. Each coupon equals one half hour of babysitting time. There is a discount for multiple children so you only have to pay 3 coupons per hour for 2 children. There is a maximum of 20 families in the group so that everyone is familiar with each other. Whenever you need a sitter, you e-mail the group and whoever is available can answer your request. Some people prefer to sit during the daytime; others are willing to come over to your house so the kids can go to bed. There are also opensits. This is when you babysit even though there is no appointment scheduled. If I have an opensit, other mothers can work on a project, go to the store or go to the gym while their kids have a playdate without Mom.
The best thing about the co-op is that there is no guilt. You don't feel like you are taking advantage of a friend by asking for a favor. You don't have to feel bad about how much money you need to pay a teenager while you go to a movie or dinner. If you aren't available to help out a friend, you know that there are other members in the group to answer the call. When I joined I had envisioned occasionally using the co-op for that yearly OBGYN visit without the children in tow. Now I use it for date nights, car shopping, and anything that is more easily done without the children present like getting the taxes filed. The children really enjoy being with their friends. I always thought the little ones would cry if we went out without them. When I told my husband a friend was having an opensit to earn coupons one night, my 3-year-old cut out a restaurant coupon and told us we needed to go to dinner so he could have dinner at his friends' house. It turned out to be a very nice recommendation and a relaxing night out.