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It Takes a Village: Finding and Budgeting for Backup Childcare

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By Lauren Coulston, Integration Manager, Women & Co.

Sick days, snow days, mysterious "teacher professional development" days off, and early school dismissal are all things that can cause a working mother's heart to skip a beat in panic. No matter how carefully crafted your childcare plan, you need to be prepared for those "just in case" circumstances. Take it from one who knows -- my daughter's schedule is so delicately pieced together that one sniffle can bring down the entire house of cards! The fact is, things happen such as a sick child who can't go to daycare or a babysitter who is snowed in so you need backup care for this type of thing. We've all heard the proverb, "it takes a village to raise a child." I couldn't agree more.

How do you go about crafting a backup babysitter strategy? Here are some tips to get started.

Place an Ad
One approach to finding a babysitter who can pinch hit is the old standby of placing a help wanted ad. There are many options - from posting a flyer on the bulletin board in your pediatrician's office to local websites like Craigslist or your neighborhood's e-bulletin board. You can also consider care-specific website such as SitterCity and Care.com. This type of website may provide reviews, references, and even do background checks for you. Keep in mind that you may need to pay a fee to place an ad on some websites.

Network
Another approach is to get the word out and tell everyone that you are looking for a back up babysitter. And I mean everyone! When I was looking, I contacted a grad student who occasionally babysat for us. While her class schedule didn't accommodate daytime babysitting, she sent an e-mail to her grad school study group and I received two immediate responses. A friend asked her child's gymnastics coach if she knew of anyone and it turned out that the coach was looking to fill some daytime hours. You never know who may be looking for work with a flexible schedule to meet your needs.

Consider Backup Daycare
Does your employer offer backup daycare? This can often be a lifesaver if your regular babysitter is sick or there's a snow day but you have to go into the office for a meeting. Backup daycare has saved me quite a few times. Many backup daycare services charge a minimal amount per day, similar to a co-pay at your doctor's office, and set a limit on how many days you can use the center per year. Check with your employer to get the details if this is an option for you.

Share a Sitter
Consider sharing a sitter with friends when you have advance notice, such as a random school holiday (Founder's Day, anyone?). This can be a cost-effective option, not to mention a fun-filled playdate for your child.

Budget for It
The hardest, yet most important part, is budgeting for the unexpected. Most of us have monthly childcare costs built into our budget but it's these random days that can throw a wrench into expenses. According to Katie Bugbee, managing editor of Care.com, you should budget for seven backup days if your child is in daycare and three days if you have a nanny. This Care.com article details what factors impact the rate you will pay a babysitter and this handy calculator can help you determine the going rate in your town.

Now that you know where to start, how extensive is this roster of pinch hitter babysitters? Katie Bugbee of Care.com recommends that because you will need the babysitters on an infrequent basis, it is best to have a list of 10 caregivers you like along with their availability. You may not need last-minute care for three months, so in the meantime try to keep up with your favorites with occasional babysitting jobs.

Arm yourself with a plan and try your best to prepare for the unexpected childcare curveballs that life will inevitably throw at you.

About the Author:
As Integration Manager, Lauren manages Women & Co.'s strategic partnerships to syndicate content and build integrated programs on websites frequented by women. Lauren brings over 15 years of financial services experience and a passion for helping women feel financially empowered. Lauren holds a B.S. in Finance from Tulane University's A.B. Freeman School of Business. In addition to her role at Women & Co., Lauren is Events Chair of the Citi Working Parents Network NYC and serves on the Citi International Women's Day Steering Committee.