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How childminders can cut costs and save money

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:

 

childminders cutting costs 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.”

portion size fishfingersUnderstanding 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

childminder food safetyThe 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!

nct nearly new saleHowever, 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

Childminding best practice club logoJoin the Childminding Best Practice Club for just £2.50 each month to receive monthly themed packs emailed to your inbox and 25% discount on all of my products for childminders. Great value for money on high quality products!

 

 

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 Kids To GoKay 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.

http://www.kidstogo.co.uk/childminders/childminding.html

Why childminders should consider limiting the choices they let parents and children make

An episode of Supermarket Secrets got me thinking about childminding businesses and my own business of making products for childminders. In the episode, a jam maker with a small market stall had about 20 different types of jam that customers could choose between. As an experiment, she was asked to remove most of the jams, leaving customers with a choice of only her 5 best-selling jams. To her surprise, she started selling MORE jams than ever before.

pot of jam The point of the experiment was to show that, while people like to have SOME choice, too much choice about things that don’t really matter (like flavour of jam) can cause people to get so overwhelmed that they decide it is easier not to buy any at all. By focussing the customers’ choices around just 5 flavours of jam, the customers still felt they had a choice, but without being overwhelmed by that choice.

The experiment fascinated me. I have never thought of this before! I always thought the more choice you give people the better. But I realised I needed to rethink things. The jam experiment can be applied to many businesses, from large supermarkets to childminding businesses and even to my own business with the packs I make for childminders.

 

Limiting children’s choices

I want to start by thinking about minded children who like and need to be given the opportunity to choose things. The more choices that you can give them, the better for building and promoting the characteristics that will make them into effective learners. But anybody who has ever asked a child ‘which toy would you like to play with?’ while staring at a cupboard full of toys, will recognise the vacant, drooling expression they will get as a response. Because the toy cupboard is too big, the decision is overwhelming, and there is too much choice.

childminding in small spaces toys bookSo one way to apply the jam experiment to childminded children is to focus their choices by giving them a between two or three toys. This way, they feel they have power but without being overwhelmed. The same applies to footwear (shoes or wellies), car seat strap (which arm first?), sandwich fillings (cheese or ham?), sandwich shape (square or triangle), colour of plate (red or green) and choice of fruit (apple or banana?). Giving choices, while limiting those choices to two things you are happy for a child to choose between, gives you all the power while the child has the illusion of feeling nicely in control of his life.

Where this can really be helpful is when you are trying to get a child to try new things or to do things they don’t really want to do. They don’t want to do potty training, but if you can offer them a choice of using the potty or the big toilet, they can feel they have some power over this awful thing they are being forced to do. They don’t want to go on a walk, but if they have the choice of the park at the end of your street or the playground at the common ground, then they feel more in control. If they never want to do the arts and crafts projects or other structured activities you set up for them, have you ever tried redirecting their attention from the task by giving them a choice about something completely irrelevant: like if they would like to stand up or sit down while they work? The illusion of choice gives all the power to you, empowers the child in a good way and makes everyone more happy.

 

Limiting parents’ choices

The second key group of people who badly need their choices limited are parents. Parents have really important decisions they have to make all the time. By the time they get their child to your house on a morning, they have already made a hundred decisions for their child, some important and many not. They are ready to hand their child across to you and have some of the pressure removed from them for a short while.

If you ask people if they like to have choices, everybody will say yes. But what the jam experiment shows us is that most people would really like to have a few important choices to make, but not have to spend too much time choosing things that don’t matter very much. You can help parents and help yourself if you get parents to focus on the one or two decisions you really need them to make, and then helping them further by making the rest of the minor decisions for them.  Here are some areas where I feel many childminders overcomplicate things for parents for giving them too much choice:

 

Outings

Suppose you run your business so that parents can decide which outings to send their children on. This is a common suggestion for childminders who are offering the funded hours, to give parents the ‘option’ to pay extra for outings. I disagree with this approach.

Feeding the goatsIf you charge extra for these outings and let parents decide whether to send their children on them or not, then every single outing is a decision for the parent they may not really want to make. They will think they want power over this decision, but truthfully, they will be happier if it is out of their hands. Can we afford the entrance money for the farm on top of the hourly rate? Maybe we should wait and take our precious little boy there ourselves at the weekend? What if I upset my childminder by saying I’d rather he didn’t go?  What if he feeds his first goat when I’m not there to take the photograph for Facebook? Parents don’t want to go through this stressful thought process for every little day trip you take to something with an entrance fee (music club, soft play etc).

When you offer parents choices about things like this that don’t really matter, then you are making them sweat and worry over choices they really don’t need to make. Giving parents choices about outings is also really annoying for you, as what will you do if one parent says no?  If you have in your contract right from the start that outings are included in your fees and you take them regularly, then you have removed from that parent one extra decision they simply don’t need to bother with. By choosing your setting, they are choosing outings. Decision made. Phew.

 

Meals

child eatingMany childminders offer parents a choice of a hot meal or providing their own lunch. If you charge extra for the meal, many parents will feel they should bring their own from home to save money. If this decision is removed from parents, by stating in your policies that “a hot meal is included in your price and there is no discount if you want to provide your own food” means that you never have to deal with refunds at the end of the month, awful unhealthy packed lunches, or worse, asking parents to decide which days they would like a hot meal for their child this week, and which days they will providing it. Providing hot lunches as a default means that all the children eat the same thing, healthy things you have control over. Parents actually love the convenience of NOT having to make lunch each morning.

One childminder offered children (via their parents) a choice hot lunch for the week. It was a lovely idea, but then I thought about it from the parents’ point of view: I really don’t care if my child eats lasagne or a jacket potato on Tuesday – could you please just feed him so I can go to work, happy in the knowledge that he is being fed a healthy meal that I don’t have to make myself!

How you choose to structure mealtime is ultimately up to you, especially in light of the new funded hours, but remember that it is totally your choice what you do, so don’t make a rod for your own back by making the whole thing too complicated for yourself or for parents.

 

Prices, hourly rates and holidays

A childminder posted a question on Facebook the other day asking if she should start charging for the school run from when she leaves her house, or when she actually collects the child? She further wondered if she should still charge for the walk on days she was collecting her own child as well as the childminded ones. In my opinion, this gives the parents far too much to worry about. If you structure your payment scheme like this, then the parents will have to spend their evenings scrutinising the bill each month to make sure they have been charged correctly. You leave them with too many choices to consider.

The simple way to avoid this is to keep it simple for them by charging a flat rate before and after school. They can either take up one of your after school places at a £15 flat rate (for ex.) or they can go somewhere else. They can either keep their child with you until 6pm, or collect him earlier but there is no discount as they have paid until 6pm to hold the space.

 

My new Childminding Best Practice Club with monthly themed packs is intentionally designed to limit choices for childminders

One of the ways I adapted the jam idea of limiting choices was when I started the Childminding Best Practice Club a few months back. The key benefit of the Club is a monthly themed pack of activities (like space themed crafts) emailed straight to the childminder.

childminding best practice club space issueI really worried when I launched the Club. There are 7000 crafts with space themes for pre-schoolers online. I really worried about those 7000 space activities because I worried that people wouldn’t want to join my Club because they could just find ideas online and copy them.

But the truth is that people find 7000 preschool space craft projects completely overwhelming. You start scrolling through them and by the time you’ve looked at a few pages of ideas you are so overwhelmed you make the decision that it’s probably easier not to do space theme after all this month.

By limiting people’s choices to the seven or so ideas in the pack, that come with templates already made that just have to be printed off, childminders have responded really well to having their choices ‘focussed’ for them in this way. When offered a choice of 7000 crafts, or just 7 crafts with templates, to my surprise people have been very pleased with the ‘focus my packs have given them’ and as a result lots of childminders have joined.

 

Limiting choices focusses you on what is important

Parents are overwhelmed with choices at the moment, especially in regards to funding. In a market that is saturated with choice, often about decisions that don’t really matter all that much, you can really help parents by focussing their choices on the stuff that really matters in your setting. You can help yourself out too by limiting choices about things that cause you more work.

Research has shown that people actually feel more comfortable making choices when there are less items to choose from. Think about all the ways you can apply this to your own childminding business from how you treat the children, to your policies and permission forms, meals you provide, late fees and hourly prices.  Look at how you structure choice on your forms and in your daily routines and ask yourself: do I really need to give the parents choice here? Is this too much choice? Am I overwhelming them with decisions they don’t really need or want to make?

Aim to make things easier on children, parents and yourself. There are so many important decisions that parents have to make – and there are many more decisions that are essentially just flavours of jam.

 

Childminding Best Practice Club

Childminding best practice club logoJoin the Childminding Best Practice Club for just £2.50 each month to receive monthly themed packs emailed to your inbox.

 

 

About Kay Woods and Kids To Go

Kay Woods Kids To GoKay 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.

http://www.kidstogo.co.uk/childminders/childminding.html

The 8 types of childminders I hate the most

By Summer guest blogger: A. Grumpleminder

There are lots of things I hate about childminding – parents who are rude or late, thoughtless footwear, potty training, snotty-nosed children, small children in general – but the thing I hate the most about childminding is: other childminders. You know who you are – the ‘goody-goody’ ones who make the rest of us look bad with your flexible attitude to your job, helpful attitude to parents and general fondness of children. Here is my list of childminders who make me want to throw up and why. If you’re reading this, I bet you’re on this list somewhere!

 

1. Childminders who are ‘flexible’ to help out parents

Did you know that some childminders hold spaces for children when grandparents visit? Or allow children to attend on random days of the week, or for different hours each week? There are even some who go over their ratios to help out parents. Why bother with all that extra paperwork and complications, I say? Why put yourself out to help out some parent who probably calls you a babysitter behind your back? I mean, if the mum is on shift work or can’t get off work 15 minutes early to collect her child then she really ought to find a more flexible job in my opinion. Or just not work. I hate childminders who help out parents by being flexible. Why should you make the parents’ problem into your problem?

 

2. Childminders who waste the good tissues on small children

I hate snot even more than I hate poo and wee. And when I see it, I just have to get rid of it before it gets onto my furniture or carpet. But seriously, I wouldn’t waste good tissues on childminded children. Just get some of that recycled toilet paper. The scratchier the better will encourage them to sniff more. Anyway, don’t forget that if they make each other sick you have an excuse to send them home.

 

3. Childminders who let children wear shoes

top ten types of childminders I hateWhen a parent drops their child off to my house wearing shoes, they are implying that they are expecting me to actually take their child somewhere over the course of the day. Or to let them actually play in MY back garden. I have banned shoes entirely at my setting and recommend you do the same. When we do the school run, I strap the lot of the little darlings into the pushchair, stacked if necessary. Whenever I see a childminder with 3 little children all walking along hand in hand in reflective jackets, I want to throw up.  I mean, why waste your time teaching someone else’s children road safety? It’s not your problem!

 

4. Childminders who make food for the children that they actually like

Some childminders give children food they like and even treats to eat, even though it is not an Ofsted requirement. Who would waste biscuits and treats on childminded children? What really makes me even angrier are the childminders who give the children biscuits and buy them ice creams and treats and don’t even charge the parents for these items! It’s like they like children so much they seem to want to do nice things for them just out of the goodness of their hearts! It’s not like Ofsted is watching when you do nice things – so why do them?

 

5. Childminders who look after children with SEND

As if childminding isn’t bad enough already, do you have any idea how much extra work it would be looking after children with disabilities or special needs?  And yet there are childminders out there who actually make a point of accepting children with disabilities into their houses? And the worst thing is that many of these childminders don’t even charge parents MORE for looking after SEND children?  If you are one of those types of childminders, who look after children with special needs and don’t turn them away from your house, please be assured you are right at the very top of my Hate List.

 

6. Childminders who take the children on day trips

day trips for childmindersSome childminders take the children to petting farms and to soft play gyms. They strap them into the car, and take them places just so the children can have a nice day out somewhere. If this is you, what a waste of effort!  I mean, they’re not even YOUR kids. I figure, I get paid the same lousy amount per hour whether I sit on my bum watching day time soaps or put in loads of effort to take them on outings. Why waste the effort to take them places?

 

7. Childminders who seem to actually care about child development

Did you know that there are childminders out there who have actually read Development Matters?  Worse than that, there are the childminders who have read it well enough to actually point out proper concerns about child development to parents and encourage parents to seek help from other professionals.  Everyone knows that Progress Checks and Learning Journeys should be treated for what they are: worthless paperwork for Ofsted. So what if children have problems? Let their reception teacher sort them out – she’s paid more than you are.

 

8. Childminders who make nice little gifts for parents

When I see photos online of rows of little Fathers’ Day cards or Christmas presents for parents, especially those where I can see that the childminder has spent her own money on the gift, I just want to take that childminder and shake her and say, don’t you see, you’re being used!  Parents are paying you for a service, just like washing your car or getting your drains declogged. You don’t tip the Dyno Rod guy! Children are essentially just like little clogged pipes. When you think of them that way, it makes childminding so much easier.

 

Note from Kay Woods

I hope you don’t mind that I let my dear friend A. Grumpleminder write this blog. I may have to be a bit more selective about guest bloggers in future. I think she misses the point, don’t you?

I think the real point is that all over the country there are childminders going the extra mile unthanked by parents or children, for the extra work they do at very low pay. There are childminders out there doing good when nobody is watching, taking the attitude that you can’t fix all of society’s problems but you can help the world out a little by helping one child, one day at a time. I expect you are on her list there somewhere and if you are, well done and thank you, for all the little extras you do for all those lucky small people. =)

I only wish more parents would read this too so they would also understand a little better about all the little extras they too often take totally for granted.

 

Childminding Best Practice Newsletter

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http://www.kidstogo.co.uk/childminders/childminding.html

 

About Kay Woods and Kids To Go

Kay Woods Kids To GoKay 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.

http://www.kidstogo.co.uk/childminders/childminding.html

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