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How To Start and Manage a Babysitting Co-op

Finding and financing the right childcare can be tricky. If full-time daycare is more than you need and your schedule is unpredictable (maybe you work from home, are looking for work or just need a break once in a while), the problem is even stickier. One solution that's becoming popular among parents facing lean budgets: the babysitting co-op.

Frustrated and broke, more and more families in need of flexible arrangements are going the route of cooperative childcare, joining with like-minded parents to take turns watching each other’s children for free. The co-op structure varies: some are for once-in-a-while daytime or evening sitting; others are regular part-time playgroups, with a rotation of two or three moms watching maybe six children for a few hours each week (some groups opt to split the costs of hiring one or two sitters to assist the mom on duty); and there are all kinds of arrangements in between.

Setting up a co-op takes a little time and energy, but bear in mind that babysitting is just the beginning of the benefits you'll reap. According to Keri Fitzgerald, Los Angeles mom and creator of co-opagogo.com, a site offering free co-op building tools, “Once a co-op gets started, it becomes a tool for communicating and a catalyst for growing a strong, vital community." Maybe you're setting up a group for occasional sitting; in a couple of years, when your babies are toddlers and ready for a part-time playgroup, you can grow your co-op to accommodate preschool needs. And don't forget - it’s free!

Interested? Here are some tips for getting started and creating clear guidelines that will help make your co-op a success.

Next: Finding Your Co-op Buddies