When you’ve got young kids, going out for the evening — or even just making some time for yourself, like with a trip to the gym — can be expensive enough. And that’s before adding the cost of a babysitter.
The average babysitter in the U.S. makes around $10 an hour, according to Care.com. That seems like fair pay for such important work, but will your budget agree?
Not necessarily. Not only do you have to pay for a babysitter, you still have to pay for whatever activity you plan on doing. Between a pair of $10 movie tickets, a $50 dinner, and $50 for five hours of childcare, even a modest date night can become a costly proposition.
Finding Free Babysitting
Fortunately, you don’t have to resign yourself to weekends at home for the next decade. In fact, if you look hard enough, you could probably find more than one source of free babysitting in your area.
But where should you look? Here are a few questions to ask yourself as you seek out the Holy Grail of parenting — free babysitting. It goes without saying that you should check references and make sure you feel comfortable before leaving your child with any caretaker, no matter how reputable.
Does Your Gym Offer Free Babysitting?
Have you had trouble sticking to your workout regimen in the past? Try having kids. Unless you have a partner or older child to help, getting out the door and to the gym can be one huge, expensive hassle. But if you look around, you might find that getting your workout in is easier than you think.
Although some gyms offer kid centers that you can pay for, some gyms and family centers – including many YMCAs – offer free babysitting services for members during certain hours each day. For example, the YMCA of Greater Boston offers free babysitting for members from 9 a.m.-noon Monday through Saturday and 5-7:45 p.m. Monday through Thursday.
So check with your local gym before giving up on that Zumba class altogether. Free babysitting might just be available; you may just have to ask about it.
Does Your Church Do Date Night?
Some church nurseries will keep an eye on your kids while you attend services, but what about weekends and evenings? Many churches across the country offer occasional and ongoing babysitting programs aimed at offering a date night for mom and dad.
Most of the time, these offers are for special events like Christmas shopping season, Valentine’s Day, or even tax season, although some might be random or even year-round. It all depends on your church.
If your church doesn’t offer free babysitting, you could always suggest the idea. In fact, you could even offer to cover a few of the sessions. What goes around, comes around, right? And you never know — like-minded parents might just embrace the idea.
Free Babysitting on Vacation
Anyone who has traveled with little kids knows just how exhausting it can be. Fortunately, a handful or hotels and resorts have begun catering to the family crowd and offering free babysitting as a perk.
For example, Beaches Resorts offer a free Kids Camp staffed with certified nannies and brimming with daily activities aimed to keep any child busy and content. Typical hours are 9 a.m.-9 p.m., which leaves you with plenty of flexibility to pencil in some activities for the kids and give yourself a bit of a break.
Another option: Almost all Club Med locations offer kid’s clubs that include supervised activities and free babysitting, and some locations even offer baby-friendly vacation packages geared to babies ages 4-23 months.
Some cruise lines also offer free babysitting or supervised kid’s clubs at certain hours and for certain ages. For example, Carnival Cruise Lines offers Camp Carnival, a supervised children’s area with planned activities and meals for kids ages 2 to 11.
Have You Considered a Sitter Swap?
Most of your friends might shy away from the idea of babysitting for free, but what if you offered to return the favor? In other words, a sitter swap might be in order if you know a few couples in the same predicament. But how should you get started?
Start by checking with local moms in your area to see if such a co-op exists. And if not, start your own. The “Today” show recently profiled several families who take advantage of a co-op or sitter swap and found they employ several methods.
First, some groups (usually smaller ones) simply find another three or four other families and take turns taking all the kids every Friday or Saturday night. Meanwhile, others use a complex “point system” that ensures no family is bearing more than their share of the burden (for example, if one family only has one child and another family has five). Either way, everyone wins, since each family gives a weekend night and gets one or more in return.
If you need a break and can’t always afford to pay a sitter, make sure to think outside the box. Free babysitting may not be as elusive as you think; you just need to know where to look.
Have you ever taken advantage of free babysitting?