Can you 'crowdsource' childcare? How tech is helping parents save.

Tips on how to find and fund childcare

5 minutes

Cheap or free childcare is the holy grail for many parents.

Despite 30 free hours for three-year-olds, tax-free benefits and flexible working, most families still struggle to find cost-effective childcare. So what options are out there, and is technology opening new possibilities? 

  • Babysitting circles and really useful tech
  • Helping the in-laws help out
  • Could a crèche be the answer?

Most families still struggle to find cost-effective childcare

Writing for LV= life insurance, Shannon Kyle (@ShannonDotKyle) talks to mums and bloggers about some of the novel ways you could find, and fund, childcare.

Setting up a babysitting circle

A report last year revealed that the cost of childcare in the school holidays rose four times faster than wages between 2008 and 2016 – so, despite the funding options available, parents are always on the lookout to find alternative safe childcare options that could cut costs.  [1]

Writer and PR guru Lottie Daley is mum to three girls aged six months, four and six years old. Over the years, she has relied on babysitting circles to help her look after her girls. 

‘I suppose it’s a form of crowdsourcing: finding a group of friends, with kids of similar ages, who you like and trust to help care for each others’ kids,’ she explains. ‘If you form a strong, tight-knit group, you are able to use it ad-hoc or regularly.’

Some babysitting circles operate a ‘points system’ depending on the number of hours you babysit to keep a tally, while a growing number of friends use apps to organise a timetable.

For parents interested in forming a group of trusted friends, try downloading Sitster, an app for your mobile which organises friends to make it quick and easy to find out who is available and who can help.

Childcare? There’s an app for that

For longer childcare solutions,  try network company Student Nannies, set up by working parents, for working parents. Student Nannies connects local students and families to offer term time and school holiday cover. They are not a nanny agency, but help parents find a match and don’t charge commission. 

‘We set this up as there is a real need for flexible, affordable options for parents,’ reveals  Mum Tracey Blake, founder of Student Nannies (@studentnannies). ‘I only needed an hour or two extra childcare a day after school and couldn’t find anything.
‘Students often need part-time work and this way parents can tailor-make childcare that works for them without breaking the bank. We also have students with so many skillsets, from linguistics to acting to even rocket scientists, and many are happy to share their knowledge in fun ways with the kids! Childcare shouldn’t be this hard to manage in the UK, so this is one solution we thought of.’ 

Parents who sign up to Student Nannies pay £15, organise fees themselves and can opt for a DBC checked Nanny, too.

‘Safety is always a top priority,’ Tracey adds. ‘But this way a community can benefit too as it can act like a skills swap, where we encourage parents to help find work placements for our students.’

Government help for grannies and grandads 

Half of Britain’s seven million working-age grandparents have a grandchild under the age of 16, and one in four families use grandparents for childcare. This means many could qualify for the government credits to top up income in retirement. 

Lottie is also keen for her girls’ grandparents to be involved in childcare.

‘It’s a win-win situation: the girls have close relationships with their grandparents and I save money on childcare. For others who are struggling, there are also government benefits for grandparents, which many families don’t know about.’ 

Grandparents caring for grandchildren under 12 could qualify for National Insurance,  which will improve their income after retirement.

Prepping your parental leave

Mum Emma Bradley (@MoneyWhisperer_), who runs The Money Whisperer personal finance and family blog, says there are many ways to save. 

‘With 14 weeks of school holidays and most parents getting six weeks’ maximum annual leave there is usually a gap to fill,’ she explains. ‘First of all, there is the tax-free childcare scheme where the government pays £2 for every £8 paid to the childcare provider via an online account – up to £500 saved per quarter.’ 

Emma also points out that parents are entitled to unpaid parental leave of 18 weeks per child if you have one year’s service with a company.

‘This might offer a solution for some families,’ says Emma. ‘You don’t have to  take the leave all at once.’

What are the alternative options?

If you’re looking for just a short break, some gyms offer free rel="noopener noreferrer" rel="noopener noreferrer" crèches, like Nuffield Health gyms, which offer free childcare for up to four hours for kids aged six weeks to three years, as long as you remain on site.

Due to funding cuts, free or reduced priced holiday clubs are a scarcity, but do check your local government website for details in case there are offers in your area. Sometimes, local volunteer groups offer special events or days out for kids for free. 

So will more childcare options appear in the future?

‘I think parents feel the need to be more creative with childcare,’ says Lottie. ‘As long as it’s safe and affordable, apps will only prove to become more popular. Traditional methods, such as having full-time nannies, child minders and nurseries, have become too expensive for many.’


[1] Trades Union Congress (TUC). Cost of childcare has risen four times faster than wages since 2008, Figures from the Labour Force Survey (LFS) and the Family and Childcare Trust (FCT),

[2] Tom Huskinson, Sylvie Hobden, Dominic Oliver, Jennifer Keyes, Mandy Littlewood, Julia Pye, and Sarah Tipping, 2016. Childcare and early years survey of parents: 2014 to 2015. GOV.UK, Department for Education