[This post addresses customs and Au Pair regulations in the USA. It may or may not be relevant to host parents in other countries.]
The amount of weekly pocket money (or stipend) that a host family is required to provide to an au pair is set by the Federal Government. Right now (as of Feb 2011) that amount is $195.75. Although the required amount is set, some host families offer their au pairs a stipend above the required amount… including rounding the amount up to $200, or even going beyond that by $30 to $50 extra a week.
What I recommend re: Pocket Money
Whenever I’ve been asked about stipends, I’ve always encouraged host families to keep to the required amount, or at most to round up to an even number. I think that host families do each other a disservice when they start to compete with each other (or try to stand out as a ‘better family”) by offering more pocket money. We don’t want au pairs to be “shopping” for a higher stipend– we want them to choose a family based on the criteria that will make them happy in the family day in and day out– and an extra $20-$50 a week won’t do this.
If parents think they have an exceptional situation, if they want to offer a bonus for good work, or if they want to give the au pair a cash gift, I recommend that they wait until a holiday, a birthday or the au pair’s departure– and treat these sums as ‘gifts’ not pay. Sure, whether it’s a gift or payment it’s still money, but it feels different when it’s a gift.
I’d love to know whether many other parents offer more than the stipend, and if they do, how much more they offer… So let’s take an unscientific poll.
Consider ONLY the constant, weekly stipend you give your au pair. Do NOT include money you might offer her for an occasional extra Saturday night babysitting, or for doing family laundry, or any other non-official work you might have negotiated together.
Also, do not include the amount of money that you (on a yearly basis) offer your au pair as either a gift or a bonus.
Now, consider extra cash– bonus, birthdays, etc. Don’t include cost of gifts that you purchase, or grocery allowance — we just want an es5timate of cash money in his or her pocket.
I’m an au pair looking on websites to ‘prematch’ with an American family. My plan is to prematch, and then sign up with an official US agency so that I come over legally and within a program.
Before I looked closely at prematching websites, I thought the pocket money was the same for everyone (195.75). I have noticed that, on these websites, even families that intend to go through an agency, “advertise” higher weekly payments (300$-1000$). Meanwhile, other families are willing to pay the “normal” au pair weekly pay (195$-200$).
Now, I know that being an au pair is not about making money, but if a nice family is also willing to pay a little bit more (or a lot more) than the normal pocket money, it would make sense to consider them over a family paying the basic amount.
Do agencies care whether families offer more than the basic stipend? Does it tell me anything (good or bad) about a family if they offering a higher stipend?