5 Reasons Why You Should Join a Babysitting Coop (Instead of Hiring a Babysitter)

It’s a dilemma every parent is familiar with: how to find a good babysitter? Most parents search for babysitters online or through town bulletin boards, hoping to find a sitter they like. But that’s just one part of the problem. Even when you have a go-to sitter, there is the issue of scheduling. And, as all parents know, there are no guarantees that your sitter will be around on any given night.

What most parents don’t know is that there is an alternative to hiring a babysitter: joining a babysitting coop. For a large number of families, babysitting coops solve the childcare problem in ways regular sitters cannot. Because of this, coops are sweeping the country! Is a coop right for you? Read some of the benefits below to find out!

1. Save lots of money. In a babysitting coop, you trade free childcare with other parents. Aside from your membership fee (usually around $25 per year), you never pay a dime for using the coop. Whether you go out once a week or once a year, your babysitting is essentially free.

2. Have a sitter available when needed. If you’re in a babysitting coop with 15 other families, you have 15 potential babysitters. Imagine you need a sitter on a Saturday afternoon. What are the odds someone is available? All but guaranteed. And because your one sit request goes to everyone in your coop, there’s no need to worry about calling or emailing around. Simple.

3. Get higher quality care. Who knows how to look after kids better than another parent? Babysitters can be great, but usually those babysitters are teenagers or twenty-something’s with limited experience – doesn’t compare to someone who already does the job 24 hours a day.

4. Create fun for your kids. My son used to call our coop the “Friends Come Over and Play Club” and with good reason. Whenever we were sitting for another coop family, he treated it like a play date. And when I told him he was having a coop sitter (aka another mom or dad), he clapped with excitement because it meant he got to go to another child’s house to play.

5. Build community. A babysitting coop is an amazing way to get plugged in. You get to know the other families in your coop quite well and in essence, create an extended support network. As new families join your coop, this network continues to grow, providing support and friendship beyond babysitting.

Think a coop is right for you? Browse our SittingAround Coop Directory to find out if there’s a coop in your neighborhood. Or, grab a few friends and start your own!


Babysitting Coops: Night Sits

One of the topics I get asked about most frequently is how to handle nighttime sits. Night sits seem like a tricky situation at first glance (whose house do they happen at? do you bring your own kids along, too?) but with a little planning, night sits can be just as easy and convenient as day sits.

We put together this handy chart to help you navigate night sits in your coop:

SittingAround Guide to Night Sits.

Do you agree with our recommendations? What has worked well for your coop?

SittingAround: The Complete Guide to Starting Your Own Babysitting Coop

I’m excited to announce that SittingAround has just published a brand new guide book on how to start your own babysitting coop. The book contains tons of valuable information on how to build the best coop possible and is available for download in the Amazon Kindle store.

It’s a great read, especially if your coop is just starting out. Topics covered include: coop benefits, structuring point rules, admitting new members, resolving disputes… and much more.

After you’ve read the book, I’d love to hear what you think!

Lessons in Coop Cooperation


It’s an established truth amongst those in the know (a group growing every day) that coops help makes parents lives better. They save families money, build community, and help parents achieve that illusive “balance” we all seem to be chasing in our lives. But like in any group, especially one in which a number of different households are involved, there are going to be hurdles to overcome. Adam Rabiner, a member of the Prospect Heights Babysitting Coop, was kind enough to write about some challenges that his coop battles, how they are facing them, and the lessons they have learned in the process:

Coop Waffle Party
Courtesy of Andrea Kaplan

My Brooklyn baby-sitting coop formed six and a half years ago, about the time my first child was born.  With eleven active members, those who post for a sitter have a strong chance of getting one.  Our principal challenge over the years has been to increase those odds even further and to create a coop where every single member goes out and sits at least periodically.  Members have voiced concern that it is difficult for prospective new members to feel comfortable coming into a group with a sizable number of inactive members who they may never meet.  Coops are based on trust and ongoing, dynamic, relationship building, and it may hard to build up trust in this situation.  Achieving full, active participation, though, has been elusive, and in fact may be unrealistic.


Our group has pursued several strategies to encourage maximum use.  One is simply moral suasion.  At business meetings we’ve had frequent conversations about the benefits and necessity of a fully engaged membership.  We’ve also created both positive and negative incentives to encourage use.  For example, we instituted a new rule that families who do not go out at least once in a given calendar year will be penalized and those who go out the most will be rewarded.  With four months remaining in 2011 and seven families sit-less this year, the verdict is still out on how effective this reward system will prove to be.  Our latest effort is to have the Membership Chairs reach out to these families and speak to them about the reasons they are not using the coop in order to explore ways to better address their needs.


Courtesy of Mark Jaffe

I’m hopeful that this last strategy makes a positive difference – but my sense is that families choose to use or not to use a baby-sitting coop for various reasons, some of which may be beyond the control of the group.  Members may move away from the neighborhood, remaining with the coop out of loyalty and friendships, but find using it impractical.  They may find alternative care arrangements for their kids.  They may need to take a hiatus due to having another child, unusual family living arrangements, or life circumstances.  They may simply enjoy attending a coop’s social activities and remain members for that reason alone.


Ultimately, it would be grand if every single family that joins a coop chooses to use it several times a year.  That’s a gold standard and I’d be happy to see it realized in my Brooklyn neighborhood.  I’m waiting to see if our latest efforts to spur greater usage bear fruit.  If they do not, I remain comfortable knowing that a coop can be functional, even vibrant and healthy, with a dozen or so committed members.

A big thanks to Adam for sharing his wisdom and experience. We will be eager to hear about Prospect Heights’s progress towards their goal of 100% participation!

Finding a Babysitter: A Five Year-Old’s Perpsective

Last week, I was working on a SittingAround flyer that could be distributed easily to coops around the country, making it easier to find and recruit new families. Putting flyers in places families frequent (coffee shops, playgrounds, community centers, etc.) is a great way to gain visibility in your neighborhood and let other families know there is a coop nearby!

My five year old son, Gavin, saw me hard at work and asked what I was doing. “I’m designing flyers for SittingAround,” I told him.

“I can help,” he said and ran off.

An hour or so later, he emerged with 15 flyers that he had made himself, advertising SittingAround. My heart nearly broke with how sweet they were. I took a few pictures to share the work of my budding entrepreneur and wonderful little guy:

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

The real flyers arrived a few days ago, and I was worried he would be hurt I didn’t mass produce his version. Instead, he kept saying how much he loved the flyers and wanted to help put them up. So we went coffee shop to pizza place, eating our way across town and putting up flyers as we went.

I’m super lucky to have such a wonderful little helper :).


Babysitting Coops Already Saving Families Over $100,000 Per Year

We opened SittingAround.com to the public less than a month ago, and already families using our site are saving over $100,000 a year.

There are over 500 families participating in over 100 coops on SittingAround.com today. Based on the use we’ve seen so far, families who are participating in coops will save between $100 and $500 per year, with an average savings of around $250 per year. Multiply $250 by 500 families and we get an annual savings of $125,000 per year!

While we’re very happy with the growth of coops so far, we’re just getting started. We want to bring coops to as many families across the globe as possible and change the way families think about childcare. Our goal is to have 100,000 families and 10,000 cooperatives by the end of 2012.

Coops save families money by eliminating the need for paid babysitters. Instead, families receive free babysitting from other parents in exchange for returning the favor. While coops have existed for many years, until recently they have been difficult to coordinate and manage. SittingAround makes coops easy and, in doing so, helps families across the world save on the cost of childcare.

SittingAround is Open (and Free Before 6/30!)

I’m happy to announce that SittingAround is now open to everyone! We opened the site up earlier this month (we had been invitation-only for a while) and are so excited to have so many new coops using our service! To celebrate our launch, all accounts created before June 30, 2011 will be free for life!

Here’s our recent press release:

For Immediate Release
June 2, 2011

SittingAround.com Launches Innovative Babysitting Site

SEATTLE, WA — June 2, 2011 —SittingAround.com, an innovative new option for childcare, launched to the public on Wednesday, June 1st. By making a well-run babysitting cooperative accessible to anyone with an internet connection, SittingAround will dramatically improve the way Americans consume childcare and save the average family $500 per year.

To celebrate its launch, SittingAround is waiving its $15 annual subscription fee for everyone who signs up prior to June 30th and giving those users free site access for the life of their account.

What’s A Coop?
Babysitting coops (pronounced co-ops) are small groups of parents in a neighborhood who trade babysitting, taking turns watching each other’s children. Often, coops are comprised of parents whose children go to the same daycare or school. Because each coop chooses who may join, parents only trade sitting with other parents they know and trust.

“For most parents, this is a brand-new concept,” says Erica Zidel, Founder and CEO. “Less than a quarter of parents are familiar with coops, 1 but when you tell them that there is a way to get free, easy to coordinate, high quality babysitting, their eyes light up. We want to tell as many parents as possible that coops are a great option for childcare.”

A Website that Make Coops Easy
While the basic concept of coops is simple, there is a lot of administrative work required to run a coop successfully: tracking points, scheduling sits and meetings, vetting new members,
maintaining current member contact info, etc. “When you manage a coop on SittingAround.com, our software automates the administrative tasks for you,” says Zidel. “Our site lets parents enjoy the benefits of a well-run cooperative without the hassle.”

SittingAround.com makes it easy to start, manage, and grow babysitting cooperatives.

Biggest Threat to Family Finances? It’s Childcare.

Everyone knows childcare is expensive. But some may be shocked to learn just how expensive it is and the enormous threat it poses to the family finances.

According to a recent Washington University in St. Louis study, the cost of quality childcare is the greatest threat to families’ financial security. Childcare makes up the single greatest portion of the average family’s monthly expenses — families spend more each month on childcare than they do on housing!

“Childcare is so expensive that income needs for a one-parent family with two preschoolers are equivalent to those of a one-parent family with five teenagers,” states the report.

It’s no surprise that families are looking for ways to save on childcare costs without comprising the quality of care their kids receive. Savvy parents are seeking alternative arrangements, such as nanny shares during the week and babysitting coops at night and on the weekends.

What are your thoughts on the dramatic costs of childcare? Have these costs put your own finances at risk?

How much does the average family spend on babysitting?

Simple Question.

It seems like a simple question, doesn’t it?

But it’s Not.

If you want the results without a long story on why we did the research ourselves, scroll down to the fourth heading.

In 2010, when we wanted to figure out how much families could save by joining a coop, we went to trusty Google to try to get an answer to this question, fully expecting that it would be a 5 minute exercise and we could move on.

After about an hour of searching, the best answer we could find was a USDA report that lumped all childcare and education together – daycare + babysitting + private schools + college + SAT tutors. I didn’t think that we could justifiably say that joining a coop would reduce the cost of college, so we were at an impasse. We wanted to start a website to save families money on babysitting, but we couldn’t figure out how much families were actually spending.

After another three hours, I could confidently say that, on average, families were spending at least $1 and less than $5,000 per year on babysitters. I’m pretty good at working with bad data, triangulating, being creative to find a reasonable range, but there’s seriously nothing out there to work with. $1 to $5000 just isn’t specific enough to build a business case. I not so quietly gave up hope of finding out how many families are currently using coops, or even how many families were using babysitters.

The babysitter’s club is not doing their job as an industry association. Its like the entire industry is run by teenagers.

Ok, We’ll do the Research

Luckily, my co-founder has a bit of a background in statistical research. She pulled together a user friendly survey, a methodology that makes our results fairly valid given the limited budget ($0) we had to conduct the survey, and took to the mommy blogs to try to get an answer. (It helps that she has a mommy blog herself.)

The Results

What’s that? You wanted information on babysitting, not a long story about market research. You don’t find standard deviations and response biases fascinating? Really? Ok, ok, I’ll get to the results.

It turns out that the average American family spends about $500 per year on babysitters. The actual average in our survey was $462. Given sample size, methodology, sampling biases, etc we should really say that the average family spends about $462 on babysitting. To me that’s close enough to saying “about $500” that I go ahead and round it, but if that’s not your style feel free to mentally replace $462 everywhere I use $500.

The average family spends about $500 on babysitting. Alone, its a pretty interesting number: 5 hundred dollar bills, half of a thousand, more than my son gets in allowance each year. But, lets see if we can put that number into better perspective.

  1. The average family makes about $50,000 per year. That means they’re spending about 1% of their income on sitters. The average family saves 4% of their income each year – 1% isn’t a negligible amount.
  2. The average sitter costs around $10 an hour. So that means the average family consumes about 50 hours of babysitting a year. If the average night out is 4 hours, that means the average family has a night away from the kids about once a month.
  3. The more a family makes, the more they spend on sitters. The lowest income group in our survey reported an average spend of $350, the highest income group reported an average spend of $740.
  4. $500 per year in a college fund would be over $22,000 by the time your kid goes to college. (assumes you save $500 each year stopping when the child is 13, the child goes to college at 18, and an average annual rate of return of 10%)

Sitting Around in the New York Times

We were honored to be mentioned in a Fashion & Style piece in this Sunday’s New York Times!

Entrepreneurial culture requires a certain level of lackadaisical dress. As the article chides, “You can’t get VC funding if someone isn’t wearing sweat pants.”

Well, ladies and gents, I’ve got the sweat pants covered: Sitting Around in the NYT