How to Save Money » Frugal Living

Babysitting – practically free options

Is the cost of babysitting preventing you from going out, on your own, with friends, or with your spouse? Do you end up just staying home, instead of paying those costs?

It’s important to have a break from your kids sometimes. The key is to find a quality, economical babysitting options for guilt-free time away.

Babysitting – practically free options

Babysitting Free Options

Swapping childcare

Perhaps the easiest solution to saving money on babysitting is to swap childcare with a trusted friend. One night they could watch your children and the next week you could watch theirs. If the children get along well, this could quickly become a highlight for the whole family.

Splitting childcare

You might also consider sharing the childcare costs with a friend. Perhaps you could hire a teenager (just starting out, so not that costly) to watch both sets of children and split the bill.

Ask family

This is probably the most obvious option if you’re blessed to have family close by. I honestly don’t know what I would do without my parents’ help. The challenge is to never take advantage of the kindness of relatives, and hopefully, be able to pay them back in different ways.

Grandparents Babysitting


Do you have any skills that you could trade for childcare? Bartering is an often-overlooked solution where two people can exchange an equal value of services without exchanging cash. Here a few examples of how bartering could work:

  • My sister took graduation pictures of a grade 12 student in exchange for 6 hours of babysitting.
  • I have helped students study for their exams in exchange for childcare.
  • Perhaps you have an in-home salon that you could use to barter with a trusted client.

Go shopping (strange, but true)

IKEA is the most kid-friendly shopping venue I have ever visited. With 50 cent hot dogs (I know, I know – but this isn’t a healthy living post!) and $1 ice cream cones, it’s a treat for the whole family. They offer change stations with extra diapers if you run out, and sell jars of baby food in the restaurant.

And let’s not forget the play area – it’s sheer brilliance. If your children are tall enough to be left (and potty trained), but not too tall, you can sign them in for free for one hour. Don’t forget socks or there will be tears. Yours. Theirs. But browsing IKEA for an hour, child-free, is priceless!

Ikea Babysitting

Babysitting co-op

Craig Ford, from Wise Bread, explains how his church started a babysitting co-op:

Parents could leave their kids at the church while two of the other parents stayed and did the babysitting. Each child brought something to eat for dinner and the babysitters selected a kid-friendly movie for the kids to watch. The only rule was that if you left your kids, you needed to be sure to take a turn babysitting in the future.

If there are six to eight couples in an evening, all but one of them were able to go on a date without an extra expense for babysitting. And the kids looked forward to it as much as the parents did.

High school volunteers

In Ontario, high school students are required to log in forty hours of volunteer time in order to graduate. You could explore if this would be a viable option for a teenager you know. I hired our grade 9 babysitter to help with our baby this summer.

We’re also chatting about getting creative for her to do some volunteer hours; she might research activities for 18 month-olds, and take full charge of him for the occasional morning.

Gym childcare

Many gyms include childcare in their membership as a draw for parents. I obviously don’t recommend joining a gym just for the childcare, but it’s certainly a lovely perk if you were going to join anyway.

Gym Childcare

Too often we look to the most obvious solutions for receiving quality childcare.

However, if you can find a win-win situation to budget-friendly babysitting, this could make that time away much more affordable.

What are your favorite solutions for affordable babysitting?


  1. Bps

    Getting a high school student and not paying them to babysit is borderline slavery. It is taking advantage of someone to do work which would be paid if it were done by anyone else. The volunteer hours are better spent at a co-op or church group, where ppl can leave their kids- this way the babysitter is contributing to the community, and not just a cheap parent.

  2. Tania

    I don’t have kid (not yet!!) but a colleague of mine was actually asking me this morning how much he should pay his babysitter. He doesn’t usually need one, since his parents usually babysit his kids for free so he’s not sure what the rates are nowadays. I remember when I was younger, I babysat for $3/hour but I’m sure it has increased by now. He has three young daughters. How much do you guys think he should pay his babysitter? Thanks in advance for your help!

    • Bps

      Anyone working (exchanging service for pay) in canada is legally entitled to AT LEAST minimum wage. This varies between provinces (in Ontario it is around $10.50). A childcare provider is working for you and should be compensating accordingly.

    • Bps

      Anyone working (exchanging service for pay) in canada is legally entitled to AT LEAST minimum wage. This varies between provinces (in Ontario it is around $10.50). A childcare provider is working for you and should be compensated accordingly.

  3. anon

    Agree with Bps!
    Don’t cheap out on a high school student just because you want free childcare. Aren’t your kids worth paying someone who will take care of them properly? (Note: I’m NOT saying a high school student won’t – but the effort you get from someone of ANY age when you pay them should be higher than someone doing it for free.) That being said, I’m on a parent council at my child’s school and another parent brings her teenaged daughters to watch any of the younger kids who come – they are doing this for their volunteer hours, and it helps out the school because a few extra parents are able to be involved!
    But if you’re expecting someone to watch your kids, wouldn’t you rather pay someone and know the kids are happy and well cared for?

  4. Lori D

    I think having a high school student volunteer to babysit is a great experience for everyone. Not only do your kids love it and they usually get special treatment of lots of fun and games, the teenage gets some valuable experiene as a sitter. Whats wrong with helping kids get their volunteer hours. As a mom of two teenagers, we stuggled trying to get them. In addition its great for thier resume. And if its works for the family he/she can become the regular sitter and paid accordingly.

    It also lets them know just how hard kids are and hopefully encourage abstinence or safe sex. nothing say birth control like a room full of toddlers or changing diapers a few times.

    Sounds like a win win for everyone. Not just the “cheap parent”.

  5. Karen

    Thanks for the feedback and concern. To clarify, I hired the student to watch over my baby alongside of me all summer (a paid position, of course!). In terms of a co-op, I was referring to training her to create activities appropriate to his age. I am a teacher, so I wanted to invest time in helping her with her goal of being an Early Child Educator one day (ie. what are the milestones for this age, how can activities stimulate the child’s interest, and challenge them appropriately). I guess it would be more like bartering, where I would coach and train her in exchange for a few hours. Obviously that did not come across in the post – sorry.

    • Lori D

      Karen please do not apologize. You post suggested methods to save money on babysitting. All your ideas are great, and although may not be for everyone,there really is no need for others to knock it or call people cheap. I love how I save money every day by reading post by you, Cassie and other members of the Cassie team. Keep up the great work.

      • Karen

        Thank you for the encouragement, Lori 🙂

  6. karen

    The main problem of finding babysitters in my neighbourhood is having to claim the amount that you earn or spend. I had a hard time finding anyone even when I told them they didn’t have to claim the money. The solution was lowering the amount being paid and giving them either a gift card or bag of groceries or other items agreed upon.
    It is illegal in the eyes of Revenue Canada to barter your job skills to another person so be careful with that option. All qualifying volunteer hours in my area must be approved by the Board Of Education or the other government departments that you need hours for. Many people are finding out their reference is only a personal one and not what was originally stated.
    All babysitters and parents are held legally responsible for the child. The parents of the babysitter if underage are also legally responsible for the child.
    I tried swapping childcare but it didn’t work out well. My independent 7 year old doesn’t require the same amount of care as a baby or disabled child or multiple children so I always felt short changed and used.
    I also tried the church option but got really mad that I was babysitting for a paid babysitter who wanted to attend a women’s program at church.

  7. melody

    I have a teenager in high school who has to complete 40 hours to graduate. It is not “volunteer work” it is “community service work.” Big difference. It has to be giving back to the community not helping one individual. She completed her 40 hours this summer with the Heart and Stroke Foundation. I think it also teaches our children the importance of charity and giving back.

    Secondly I would never expect to have a teenager babysit for free. Believe me teenagers think differently and if they don’t receive any compensation for it I would worry about the attention your kids are getting.

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