I’ve been a freelancer for most of my adult career, and “you know what hit the fan” when my first child was born.
I suddenly had no idea how to get myself dressed each day, let alone take care of a baby and actually work. I ended up scaling back on my freelance writing, but I still had to scramble to get anything done. Ultimately I relied on not sleeping much, my parents help, and husband’s flexible schedule to get me through it.
And I decided to be okay with my house looking like squatters were living there. At some point, it’s a clean house or a freelance paycheck.
But as she grew older, and I had my second, it was time to come up with a plan. And that plan had to be cheap or free. My husband and I are both self-employed, and while we pull down a healthy living, cash flow is always an issue. Estimated taxes, health insurance and housing eat up over half of our income. So figuring out how to earn more as a freelance writer meant having more inexpensive child care help.
Here are five ways that work for me:
Start a Babysitting Co-op
My friend and I have an informal babysitting co-op where her daughter comes to play for a few hours while Mom gets work done. Our girls are beset buds and love playing together, and my 1 1/2 year old thinks he’s a part of things. It actually makes my life easier when she’s over and rarely have to intervene except when toys aren’t shared.
But I’m incredibly lucky my friend enjoys playing with my baby and will take both of my kids in when it’s my turn to work. She doesn’t seem to mind, and I frequently remind her she can add on extra hours or days with me to keep things balanced. You can also set-up a formal babysitting swap with software like Times Free.
Look into Creative Day Care & Activities
In Atlanta, our preschools typically run 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. My son doesn’t mind napping in the morning while his sister is at school, and I scramble to do a lot of my work in an epic two-hour chunk of productivity. The fear of missing deadlines keeps me focused like nothing else can. And don’t forget that even preschool and summer camps generally qualify for the child and dependent care credit. (Disclaimer: I am nowhere near an accountant, so ask a seasoned pro for advice).
Depending on the age of your child, you can look into half-day preschool, morning day out or after school programs. Our local elementary school has activities from LEGO robotics to soccer come to them. Parents pay extra for it, but there’s no more shuffling kids around to different activities.
Our area also has YMCAs and churches that sponsor parents night out and afternoon outs that are around $20 for 4-hours. My son is too young to join, but the events are usually at night or during his nap time anyway. That gives my husband and I a few hours to focus on getting our work done.
Leverage Library Time
There are plenty of free classes, storytimes and sing-alongs at most local libraries. You can’t exactly drop your kids and run, but you can sit nearby and fire up your laptop. Use the time while they’re entertained to answer emails or set-up new client calls. There’s always a half-hour of administrative work to be done as a freelancer from outreach emails to invoicing.
Juggle Nap Time
This is a no-brainer, but I find most people don’t utilize nap time properly. You should create a schedule around your child’s nap and focus on easy wrap-up work to clear your plate for meatier work later. But it can be tricky. My daughter stopped napping regularly at 18-months-old. EIGHTEEN. MONTHS. I was in denial for a long time that it was just a phase, but it wasn’t. She simply doesn’t require a lot of sleep. But until she was nearly 3, she would lay down with some milk and look at books, and I used every minute to get a little work done.
Now that I have my son, it’s a little more complicated. On weekends, we ultimately structure work time around his nap. We eat breakfast and play as a family, I put him down for a nap, my daughter watches a little TV or does some art, and we get work done. When he’s up, we all go out to play in our neighborhood or take a trip to the Botanical Gardens.
Strategize Media Time
This is a controversial one, but is also a realistic option that most parents secretly employ. We’re flexible on media and TV in our house. But we do it mindfully and with caution.
Vegging out in front of the TV is unhealthy and can lead to poor habits. But a half hour to an hour treat gives a chance for kids to unwind while getting a little work done. I’ve found on days my daughter seems exceptionally tired and wants a movie, my son only watches 15-minutes before going to play or look at books. I sneak in enough time to get an article outlined or sneak in a quick call to a client so I’m free to focus later.
Finding child care, or at least something to entertain your child, doesn’t have to cost a fortune. It just has to buy you a little time to focus on work. But be realistic about your expectations and learn to prioritize. I save all my lengthier articles for when my daughter is at preschool, and do quick work and admin during 15 to 30-minute increments when they’re engaged.
Got any other ideas on how to find cheap and free child care? I would love to hear them! Leave a comment below.
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