Cheap childcare

3 Jun

I confess, the idea of putting my toddler in daycare really does not appeal. I have a couple of close friends who are early childhood teachers, and I mean no disrespect to their wonderful profession. I hope that my son benefits from early childhood education when he is older. But it is simple, as far as I can see. No one except family is going to give your baby the loving and focused care you do. Although there are good things about daycare, it is just not for me while my son is under two years old.

But sometimes I need a break, sometimes I need to work, sometimes I need to get things done. So how do you get quality childcare when you have no spare moolah? Cheap childcare doesn’t have to mean bad childcare. Here are some positive ideas for single and two parent families:

Babysitting co-op

Say you have a few friends who are keen to swap some evening babysitting. For those on low budgets, having to pay a babysitter can make the difference between being able to go out once in a while, and having to stay at home all the time. I remember babysitting for $10 for a whole evening; these days the going rate is more like $15 per hour.

So you all get together and agree on some basic rules. Safety, screen time, food, etc. Whatever is important to you. I like the idea of buttons or poker chips, or some other ‘babysitting currency’. Each member of the group gets 10 buttons. Each button represents half an hour of babysitting. This means that you don’t have to do a direct swap. You ‘pay’ your friend to babysit, and receive buttons when you babysit for them. No money needs to be spent, and you can all be sure that your child is being cared for by someone you know and trust.

This one is a bit more difficult for single parents, because you can’t necessarily leave your child at home with the other parent. But they could sleep where you are if that works for both parties. And if it’s during the day they can easily come and play with the other children. Also, a word of caution to Dads. I have a friend who was part of a babysitting co-op who eventually got fed up of doing all the babysitting while her husband did none and still got the benefit of a cheaper night out. You can have as many members as you like in this co-op. The more you have, the more likely it is you will have someone who can be available when you need them. Just make sure all members know and trust each other.

Childcare swap

This involves one friend, and a direct swap. For example, my friend Jess and I have toddlers two weeks apart in age. We look after each other’s child, along with our own, one afternoon a week each. The day and time changes according to our schedules. We both trust each other and because our kids are close in age they are on the same level. I can imagine it would be harder with an 18 month old and a 6 month old, for example. Although still possible of course! We work it so that the babysitter goes to the child’s house. We figured that it would be more relaxing for the child whose parent wasn’t there to be at their own home.

Private creche

This is a bit like a cross between the swap and the co-op. Say one morning a week, you have an extra two children at your house. It helps if the children are similiar ages and get along. In return, your child goes to the other children’s houses on another two mornings a week. So you get two free mornings in return for one morning looking after two other children. You already have the toys and a childproofed home for your own little one; chances are it will be even more exciting when he or she has a couple of friends to play with.

As the children will be awake (as is unlikely with the evening babysitting co-op – although there’s no reason the co-op can’t be operated during the daytime) it’s important to agree on things like safety and discipline. The other parents can drop off their children with nappies and snacks, or you can agree to provide snacks for all the children on your duty day.


This isn’t childcare, exactly, but it is amazing how relaxing it can be to just sit down and have a cup of tea while your child plays with another. I have found that when we are out and about my son is far too absorbed in what’s going on to get grumpy about anything, and having a whole new set of toys to play with, as well as another little person, really stimulates him. No cost, no pressure, just hanging out. I kinda feel like I’m having a break, even though I’m still on call for nappy changes and feeding. It’s hard work entertaining a 14 month old boy, so it eases that aspect of parenting for a couple of hours.


Wish I had some of these around. Having someone look after your child who does it for the pure joy of it is priceless in more than one way. My brother is a really helpful and loving babysitter which is wonderful, but he does expect some fiscal compensation.

Au pairs

This option is well out of my budget and unnecessary for me. But if I had a few kids, a spare room, and worked full time, or at least more part time, I would totally hire an au pair. Part of their cost is offset in board, and in my opinion, being exposed to a different culture and language is brilliant for children.

And last but not least…

WINZ childcare subsidy

If I were to put my son in an approved daycare, I would receive a subsidy of $3.84 per hour. Currently my work commitments don’t require me to put him in daycare but it’s possible that in another 6 – 12 months I may need to have him in care one day a week or something like that and the subsidy would certainly help. If you are in NZ, it’s definitely worth investigating the childcare subsidy – even if you’re not on the DPB.

Community currency

If you’re a hairdresser or you have some spare honey from your beehives, consider joining a community currency programme like LETS, Green Dollars, or other. You could ‘trade’ your skills in return for childcare. (Obviously hairdressing and honey aren’t the only useful things you can trade.) I haven’t yet found out what my local community currency is or who to contact to join it, but you can be sure I will!


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