Looking at ways to keep costs down has always been important in childminding, but with the advent of the 30 hours, many childminders are feeling more financial pressure than ever. I asked other childminders to share how they save costs in their settings and received lots of ideas including some really original ones you may not have thought of:
Replace cooked meals with packed lunches
One obvious way to cut costs is to abandon hot lunches and replace them with packed lunches brought from home. One childminder wrote, “I stopped doing main meals but still charge the same – best thing I ever did.”
I feel sad about this because studies have shown that packed lunches are rarely as healthy as hot meals and often contain low quality food and junk food. Childminders are generally more informed about nutrition than the average parent and are in a position to help give children the best start in life by offering them healthy, nutritious meals. Childminder Jan Bartram writes, “I really don’t encourage packed lunches. A lot of them are packed with cheap processed food full of sugar and salt.” I do feel that offering children a hot lunch is the best option. If you can.
According to an article in Nursery World (18th Sept 2017), which addressed the problem of settings cutting costs by offering hot meals as an optional extra rather than a default, “children from the poorest families are likely to be the worst affected”. This is because faced with the choice of paying extra for the hot meal, or bringing their own meal from home, many parents will choose to send their own. Poor children are exactly the ones who benefit the most from that hot healthy meal at lunch time, and will be the most likely to miss out.
From a childminding business sense, cutting out hot lunches can be a major cost savings for your setting and therefore it makes perfect sense. If your business is struggling then you should consider it. However, before you go down that line, there are several great suggestions from childminders who continue to make and provide hot lunches for children that I want you to consider first:
Cost saving ideas for childminders who provide meals
Lots of childminders suggest batch cooking and then freezing meals into portions. For this you need to have a big freezer to store things in individual plastic bags or Tupperware. Generally, if you cost it out, it works out cheaper if you are cooking a bolognaise to buy the ingredients to cook a big batch of it and freeze it, than to cook it one meal at a time. It is also considerably less work that way for you!
Pay attention to portion sizes and don’t put too much on children’s plates at once. One childminder wrote, “I will often have 3 little ones share a two slice of bread sandwich (along with fruit, cheese, veg sticks etc). Some days they eat it all and want more so I would make more; other days they aren’t that hungry, so then it doesn’t go to waste.”
Understanding portion sizes is also important so that you don’t accidentally overfeed small children. This link shows you what portion sizes should look like for toddlers for many common items and may surprise many people.
Buying the ingredients for the food you cook for the children when it is on sale, or buying it wholesale is another suggestion one childminder makes. “We have also found that the local butchers, fishmongers etc are willing to open an account for us as a business which allows you to get trade prices which is often cheaper than supermarkets and the meat/ fish is locally sourced.”
Another suggestion is to use your local market. Jan Bartram writes: “We buy fruit on the afternoon school run at our Thursday market. By then there are always bargains to be had. In June I took 3 schoolies and two toddlers and we bought 3 punnets of strawberries (large ones) for £1.50.”
Childminder Kay Hartburn provides all meals and snacks for her families. She writes: “I bulk cook so I can freeze some for other days. Although I don’t cook vegetarian meals I do 50% meat and 50% lentils and vegetables. Not only is it healthier it helps make the meals much cheaper. I actually love lentils and all the children eat everything I make and they love the different texture the lentils give the meals. If I have any vegetables left over I make soup or use them in stocks. Fruit is used to make other desserts like toffee apple cake or smoothie or banana bread. I do like to cook and enjoy thinking about how to use left overs in new and interesting ways the children will eat. It saves a massive amount of money.”
Whatever you do regarding providing hot meals at your setting, it is important to be honest with yourself and parents about how much the meals are costing you. You need to really sit down and do the maths, as the costs of feeding extra little mouths add up fairly quickly over the course of a week/month/year. Be especially careful with older after school children – as they can eat an awful lot more – and if you’re not careful, you will find that food costs really add up.
Snack time savings
The most obvious way to save money at snack time is to get parents to bring snacks from home in the same way that they send in packed lunches. However, like with the packed lunches, many parents’ ideas about healthy snacks and what a snack should be, will not measure up to what you could offer. With that in mind, here are some other suggestions for snack time savings:
Childminder Helen Qureshi asks parents to each bring a piece of fruit or something to share at snack time that day. She writes, “I started this a few months ago and it’s working very well. The children enjoy handing it over and parents are absolutely fine. One parent kept on forgetting but as we said to bring fruit or pay 50p per day they started to bring fruit. We did say it was either that or putting our fees up, so they were more than happy.”
Georgina Tattum does something similar. “I ask parents to send in snacks. I suggested they could either send in a few snacks each day or I would charge £1 per day for snacks to cover costs. They all send snacks in which is nice for the children as they get a variety. I still cook lunch and evening meals which the parents really like me doing and some parents would rather pay the £1 per day as they are busy and feel it’s easier for me to provide them.”
Cutting costs with craft supplies
The cost of all that paint, glue and art paper you need to look after childminded children can really add up, so it’s important to be honest about what those supplies are costing you and to keep good records. Many childminders told me that they cut costs on art supplies by simply waiting and buying things when they are sale. For example, if you know you are still going to be a childminder in December 2018, then I would be buying my little Christmas craft kits for next year this January when they are all heavily reduced and storing them in my shed for a year!
Childminder Rebecca Wilson suggested joining a “Scrapstore”. They re-use and recycle stuff for artistic and educational purposes. She writes, “Our council have membership so childminders get in free. I get the majority of my art and craft materials there, and they often have really interesting stuff that can be used in small-world, or home-corner type play. It saves money and is environmentally friendly.” Ask your council about membership or see if you and a few other childminders in your area can get together and join which is what lots of childminders do.
Second hand toys and equipment
An easy way to save money is to buy second hand toys and equipment. This is especially true if you are just setting up your childminding business and need to buy lots at once. There are lots of places you can buy second hand items online including Ebay and Gumtree. Facebook has a group especially for childminders to buy and sell items. They have everything from triple push chairs, to toys (I remember selling my own “Mr. Potato Head Set with one missing limb” on that site years ago!
However, many people prefer to pick things up and physically see them before buying second hand so if this is you as well as charity shops and car boot sales you may want to try your local NCT Nearly New Sale. When I was pregnant I got most of my baby supplies at one of these sales and it was really nice to open and close pushchairs, and test the latches on the baby gates, high chairs and travel cots etc. before parting with cash.
My advice if you go to these is if you have a particular item you want (like a double pushchair) to arrive early so you are first in the queue. Head straight for the item you want and grab hold of it. Bring your partner so they can hold the things you want, while you grab other items. Sharpen your elbows, wear trainers and remember that you can move much faster than a woman who is 8 months pregnant!!!
Sharing and borrowing resources
Lots of childminders share resources between them at childminder groups or toddler groups. For example, rather than each childminder making their own heuristic play set, many childminders all contribute some items and then pass the resource bag around. Your council or childminding group may be able to help you to get something like this started in your area.
If you have a local toy library, these are great thing to join. Our local library used to have a toy section which was great for borrowing jigsaws etc., but it closed down. In many toy libraries you pay a fee to join and then you can borrow what you like. Do a web search to see if you have a toy library in your area.
Free and discounted activities for childminders
Ask at your library about free and discounted activities run especially for childminders. Our local library runs a music group on a Wednesday that is just for childminders, only 50p per child. Compared to a private music club in our area which costs £4 per child, it is a total bargain. Libraries often have free arts classes as well as cooking and special activities around the holidays.
Always ask if places have special admission fees for childminders. One of our local soft play gyms has special childminder rates one morning a week – a great deal.
Apply for a childminding grant
Don’t pass up ‘free money’. Childminding grants exist for newly registered childminders in England. I got loads of brilliant toys with mine when I started that I would never have bought otherwise.
At the moment grants of up to £1000 are available to childminders who are planning to offer the 30 hours funded childcare. Check if you’re eligible and get more information here.
Childminding Best Practice Club – save 25% on my childminding resources
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Can you think of other ways to save money and cut costs that I’ve missed? Please leave me a comment.
About Kay Woods and Kids To Go
Kay Woods has been writing and selling childminding resources through her company Kids To Go since 2008. Her products include the Ultimate Childminding Checklist, the Learning Journey Plus for planning, observation and assessment and best practice resources promoting diversity, safety and childminding in the great outdoors (Forest Childcare). She is the author of the Start Learning book set published by Tarquin and she writes the free quarterly Childminding Best Practice Newsletter.
Lots of places offer help to childminders. I provide solutions.