I mentioned in my cheap date post that one of the ways we cut down on expenses is to use the Babysitting Co-op. A couple of you asked for more info so I will explain the whole thing here. Then I will have an easy page to refer back to.
Three years ago I was in a Bible study with just two other ladies. The facilitator,T, was to become a good friend. Our daughters became friends in the preschoolers group while we were studying together upstairs. That friendship led to a playday. That led to an invitation for our family to join the babysitting co-op that T had started.
There are several families, the number fluctuates, but I think 6-10 is a great number. Each family gets 10 hours of tickets per child when they join. These tickets are good for babysitting for ANY reason. You have a need, you call someone in the co-op, and schedule the time. You drop the children off, then when you are done, pick them up and pay one ticket, per hour, per child to the watcher. You then get more tickets by watching other kids in the group. We have used the co-op for work, for dentist or doctor's appointments, dates, errands, or even a house-cleaning day. Once, I used the co-op so I could paint a bedroom. It has been such a blessing to our family. I don't take advantage of my mom, who lives just down the street and has her own committments and life. I don't feel guilty for calling a friend to watch the girls because I know I am paying for the time. I don't break the bank for these errands, or dates or whatever because I am paying with my own time at a future or previous date. If I have a last minute need, I don't feel bad about calling someone. I also don't get trapped at home, or have to drag the girls with me to the dentist. Shan and I can even do nicer dates because we save the money that a babysitter would cost. T got the idea from a similar group she was a part of in Minnesota, and so we have a set of guidelines for the system that help avoid misunderstandings and abuse. Basically, whenever I need someone to watch the girls, I have five people to call. If one can't do it, usually someone else can, and no one feels obligated to say yes all the time. We have meetings about once a month so we can get any dates we need covered, if we know of them in advance. This gives us all a chance to build relationships between the families, and for our children to get to know each other, and the homes they will spend time in.
Our co-op is mostly families that live relatively close together, and we are all Christians, but whatever group works for you is the best way to do this. Get a few friends with kids and put togther a system. If you would like to look at our guidelines, let me know and I can get you a copy.