Au Pairs: Still "low-cost" childcare?

by cv harquail on September 15, 2008

One of the biggest selling points for having an au pair rather than other kinds of childcare is its relative cost.  For years, having an Au Pair was less expensive for me than employing a full time professional nanny, and (especially for people with more than one child) less expensive than using an out of home childcare solution.  It was also less expensive than hiring a babysitter on an hourly, as-needed basis. woman empty wallet

Recently, I was "running the numbers" to give a friend some advice about the cost of Au Pair care when I came upon a slightly horrifying realization:  The cost of an aupair is no longer "low" relative to other options for our family.

What does an Au Pair really cost?  $11.00 / hr.

Shocked? So was I.

Check out the table, below. Consider how I arrived at various numbers for fixed costs, variable costs and room & board. Keep in mind that your mileage may vary ! Not everyone pays what we do for driver’s insurance, or has cable for the au pair, etc.

Cost Assumptions that I made:

I based my calculation on a 50 week year, assuming that for each au pair you are getting 50 weeks of childcare and managing 50 weeks of room and board. I did not include the cost of replacing the au pair while she is on vacation, and I assumed that the au pair is not at home during her vacation.

diet coke cans I did not include:
— costs of training your au pair or having her overlap with another au pair
— costs for maintaining or upgrading her room & privileges (e.g., swim club membership)
— adjustments for variation in living costs due to location (e.g., New York City vs. Schenectady)
— the amount of Diet Coke you now have to buy every week
— costs on a per mile basis for use of the car (basic wear & tear).

Fixed costs of an Au Pair

The figures that are bolded in blue are the direct costs, others are adjusted to reflect the time period (e.g., annual cost vs. weekly cost). I took the program costs from Au Pair in America (the agency we use). Your numbers may vary slightly depending on your agency.

Room & Board for an Au Pair

The Department of Labor calculates that an au pair’s room and board is about 120 per week, at 40% of an au pair’s earned wages . (You get this number by multiplying the minimum wage by 45 hrs by 52 weeks, then backing out the agency fee, more or less.)
If you don’t actually feel like hosting the au pair in your extra bedroom has a monetary cost, you might consider how much you spend on food for an additional (albeit, usually dieting) adult and how much extra it costs when she runs the window air conditioner 24/7.

Locally variable costs of an Au Pair

For insurance, I also used my actual cost for adding to our family policy an au pair under 24 yrs old (in New Jersey). And, I estimated the cost of the additional phones (cell & landline) and cable box.

Item Annually Montly Weekly
(50 wks)
Agency fee 7,345.00
+350.00
7,695.00
641.25 154.90
Pocket Money 8,850.00 177.00
Room & Board 6,000.00 120.00
Education Allowance 500.00
Vacation pay 354.00
subtotal $23,399.00 467.98
Car Insurance 1,100.00
Telephone 600.00 50.00
HBO/cable/wifi 420.00 35.00
Surprising Total:
$25,519.00

$510.38
What’s the actual hourly cost of Au Pair Childcare?

All told:
When your au pair works 45 hrs/week , the hourly cost to you is about $11.34.
When your au pair works 40 hrs/week, the hourly cost to you is about $12.75.
When your au pair works 25 hrs/week, the hourly cost to you is about $20.42!

Excluding the local costs (insurance, telephone, tv):

When your au pair works 45 hrs/week , the hourly cost to you is about $10.40.
When your au pair works 25 hrs/week, the hourly cost to you is about $18.72.

[Note: I add the 25 hrs/ week in acknowledgment of the moms who use their au pairs for shorter work weeks. We heard from these moms in earlier conversations about au pair hours .]

Bottom Line?  $11.00 / hr.
kitten bites finger Thoughts:

(1) I’ve heard that, sometimes, au pairs complain that they are ill-paid, or treated as ‘cheap" childcare. Well, at an hourly rate, you can’t really say that the au pairs are underpaid– they may not get much in cash but they do get a reasonable amount in total.

(2) I’ve also heard other parents disparage the au pair option as a choice for those aren’t willing to pay for other (fancier?) kinds of childcare.  At $470 to $510 a week, an Au Pair isn’t an inexpensive option, and it is not always easily affordable.

(3) Obviously, because so many of the costs are ‘hidden’, in terms of being either estimated (like room & board), incremental (like phone & cable) and variable (like insurance, furniture, etc.), you may experience and perceive an au pair to be less costly since you are not handing her $510 in greenbacks each week.

(4) Okay, so if it’s not that much less expensive — all things considered– to have an au pair, is it still the right option for you?

There are many different benefits of an having au pair and also many other non-monetary ‘costs’ that I haven’t included here.  For us, we have always needed the flexibility of an au pair. Having someone who can work first thing in the morning as well as on weekends, and sometimes weekday evenings, was particularly critical for us when both my husband and I were working full time out of the house. For you, it may be having the young adult role model, or the international exchange, or the cheery disposition, that makes the au pair option work best for you.  Whatever your priorities, it helps to know that you’re not underpaying your au pair, and you’re not chintzing out on your kids’ care either.

Let me know in the comments, below, if I missed any costs, or calculated incorrectly, or clearly need more caffeine. Also, if you found this post useful, use the "Share this" link below to email it to a friend . It’s really easy to do. And, think about how you might help me find our 100th Host Mom subscriber :-)

{ 55 comments }

Angie September 16, 2008 at 8:42 pm

Thanks for doing this! It is very helpful to see the actual “breakdown”. This is our first year as a host family and we chose the au pair option because we wanted our children to have a great international experience as well as needing the flexibility. So far, we are very happy with the program and are glad we chose the au pair route! We hope to continue with the program for a few more years since we have four under 4! :)

Clara September 17, 2008 at 9:06 pm

Hi there!
I just found your blog and -wow! its amazing! I guess tis great seeing the au pair program for host familie´s eyes. I am Au pair in Burbank, CA and I am so happy with the results. I believe this program work out very well when host families realize they are hiring an extra help and not a mom to their kids and when au pairs realize We were going to work first..many au pais believe they are going to have fun and study besides work. I will be here often now! See you and have a great night!

cvh September 17, 2008 at 9:24 pm

Clara– thanks so much for you comments! They give me a few ideas for future posts. … in the meantime, will you tell your host mom and your community counselor about the blog? The more the merrier! cvh

Rayann September 17, 2008 at 10:06 pm

For us, the most priceless part about having an au pair is having two extra hands around the house all the time. I know some au pairs consider themselves “off duty” if it is not their scheduled hours, but we’ve been fortunate. Our au pair is around a lot, and if she is home, she is usually with us making dinner, playing with the kids, etc…regardless of whether it’s during “duty” hours. And if I say “you don’t need to do that, it’s not your job” she immediately reminds me that she’s part of our family and just like us, anything that needs to be done is the responsibility of all of us.

Rayann September 17, 2008 at 10:10 pm

I have another topic suggestion that I’m not sure has been discussed – Cell Phones. We discussed this recently at a cluster get-together, and the solutions are all over the board. Do you provide your au pair with a cell phone? How many minutes? What about text messages? Prepaid or contract?

Another topic idea from a cluster meeting – Vacations. Do you always take your au pair with you? What do you pay for? Does it depend on how much she’ll be working?

Okay…I’m done now…. : )

cvh September 17, 2008 at 11:48 pm

Rayann,

it sounds like you have a lovely au pair! And of course, she must be enjoying your family to feel so at home.

Your comment reminds me that in the “ideal” AP-HM relationship, you are happy to give and she is happy to give, and the money is an afterthought. But that is really an “ideal” situation, occasionally felt and even in the best of circumstances not consistent.

I think that when we are less happy with our au pairs & relationships we start thinking in more instrumental ways about what’s being exchanged between au pair and family. I know I’ve only ever thought about the money part when I’ve felt either taken advantage of or like my au pair wasn’t here to work. Thank heavens that was rare.

James September 18, 2008 at 9:09 am

Hi, I found your blog on this new directory of WordPress Blogs at blackhatbootcamp.com/listofwordpressblogs. I dont know how your blog came up, must have been a typo, i duno. Anyways, I just clicked it and here I am. Your blog looks good. Have a nice day. James.

MT September 18, 2008 at 5:44 pm

Well I just got the call that we all fear. My appair
had an accident. She made a really stupid mistake while driving our car during her free time. AND she hit a BMW. So now how much does the aupair cost????

MK September 25, 2008 at 2:39 pm

Other costs include, cable bills and food! Sometimes I do not think our au pair realizes that we pay $40 for her cable every month and on-demand movies. As far as her cell phone, she shares 500 minutes with me and gets free text messaging, but rarely uses it to call me. She uses it to call her And I have to say, the first 3 months here, our au pair ate us out of house and home, I think we were spending over $150 extra per month on her food. I would love to see a blog about food, and how families manage food consumption, groceries.

MK September 25, 2008 at 3:19 pm

I should correct myself it was close to $200 extra in groceries per month, its better now and…in addition, if any families bring their au pairs on vacation like we did there are additional travel costs incurred depending on the location and facility.

Eleanor September 25, 2008 at 8:01 pm

I don’t think you can include a price of the au pair’s room in annual costs unless it is a room you would rent out and reap income from if the au pair was not using it. Otherwise, it sits empty and probably only used for occasional guests.

cvh September 26, 2008 at 12:44 am

Hi Eleanor– Thanks for your comment!

I did wonder whether and how to include the ‘cost’ to the host family of the “Room” in “Room & Board”. For some families, you’re right, there is no extra cost (or savings) associated with whether or not someone is in the room. So for these families, it would make more sense just to include the incremental cost of groceries. If you take just half of the R&B value, $60, that’s more or less what other moms have commented is their additional grocery cost…that brings the 45 hr week down to $10/hr.

In some houses, like mine, there is some incremental cost to having someone in that (otherwise empty) room– our au pair room is on the third floor and has separate heating and a window air conditioner. … And there is a marked, significant incremental cost that shows up on my electric bill when there is a person in that room over the summer and when there is not. So, in this case, I could instead just count the incremental cooling/heating costs.

Some host moms think of the “Room” cost as the catchall category for all the other stuff they end up having to pay for— extra loads of laundry, cable service, replacing the teakettle that caught on fire because the au pair left the kitchen and forgot it, and so on.

Anyway, I included the whole assessment from the Dept of Labor because this is their assessment of the ‘value’ of what you are offering. So yes the value to your Au Pair is not the same as the out of pocket cost to you.

Remember, your exact mileage may vary– the important point is, are you considering all the (financial) costs to you when you evaluate the au pair option? This becomes more important when your AP consistently works less than 45 hrs a week. And we’ll eventually get to that conversation !

Are there any other costs that you think were overstated or missed? Let us know….

LAK November 4, 2008 at 6:35 am

Our au pair eats more than my husband. We had to do quite a bit of education on portion control for our children because we don’t have the same metabolism. She often complains about the foods we eat (NO TRANS FAT), but if she prefers other fatty high calorie, non nutritious food, then she needs to purchase them.

LAKs last blog post..Tip: Teach your Au Pair about Vampires

michael December 12, 2008 at 6:03 pm

Hi – actually this cost for an au pair is much higher – or it will be in January of 2009! Two things that will raise your cost:

1. You are with au pair in america – their prices are going way up in Jan 09!

2. All au pair stipends are going up in Jan 09 – this payment schedule and cost is regulated by the Dept. of State and they are raising it to 199. starting Jan 1 09 (so your program has to raise it). This means the stipend or weekly alowance will be 10,746 instead of 8,895.

How did I know these two things? on http://www.aupairclearinghouse.com – a new site that reviews and compares programs nationwide – a consumer product review on the au pair industry you might say! Check it out – you should link or have this site posted on your website – I think your moms will enjoy it – and get a lot out of it. It is new, so it is “light” so far in content, but I found some very interesting things on it! Check out who won the Au Pair of the Year Award – it wasn’t APIA! Thanks for your website – I know it is a site for Moms, but as the Dad in the house, I handle the au pair “stuff.”

cvh December 12, 2008 at 7:25 pm

Hi Michael-
Thanks for the heads-up about the increase at APIA…. I didn’t see a mention of it on their site just now– what is it going up to?
Also– are you the mastermind behind the APclearinghouse? Tell me more…

Anna December 14, 2008 at 2:33 am

Hi MIchael,

I checked your site on Friday – it was working, and now it changed to something called “duhzoo” and full of photo collections, nothing about au pairs. I hope you see this comment and respond.

Iryna December 27, 2008 at 6:47 am

Hi!

That’s a good article you wrote – interesting not only for HFs but also for APs!
I’m from Ukraine and I’ve been in US as an AP last year. Must say – I loved the program, my HF is great and we had and have great relationship with them, my kids – oh, I just love them so much! And also, must say, I never thought was underpaid or smth – I was and am the part of that family, they always took and take me for vacation with them, always bought and buy food that I like (we have the same tastes, so it’s not that much just for me), they treat me very-very good. Yes, maybe that’s the ideal situation, but the main fact that I liked in my HF is that they always understand me – so maybe if you look closer and realise that AP is a human being too and she has her needs, and you get more patient and supportive of her – then probably your relationship is going to get so much better!

Thanks for this article,
best regards,
Iryna

michael December 28, 2008 at 5:34 am

Hi! Sorry about my tip on the website http://www.aupairclearinghouse.com. They posted a new article and they also have a blog now. I wish I could take credit a website like theirs (and this one – I like the title page – it is very pleasing to the eye). I just sent my sister, who just had an infant, to the site – she read a piece on a new infant program that one of the agencies has incorporated into their program – where the au pairs receive more training. Check it out. There is a lot of great info on both of these sites – keep up the good work ladies!

Michael – stay at home Dad

Dartha December 29, 2008 at 8:18 pm

I think you missed a few extra costs associated with having an au-pair:
1. Preschool for my child. If we were doing daycare, we’d be getting preschool built in. So, if you have a child of preschool age, you need to factor this cost in: 1500-5000/year.
2. “damage” to your home by the au-pair, or wear and tear. We figure that every year we will have to fix at least a couple hundred dollars in additional damage to the house done by the au-pair, whether it’s towels left at the pool, scrapes on the car, or things they break in the house. I had one that kept disappearing my spoons from the kitchen- she couldn’t be bothered to take plastic sppons, and it took a while to figure out where everything was going.

Keep up the good work.

Edina Stone January 2, 2009 at 5:16 pm

I like this blog very much. It is a great source for host parents. I also have a blog on my site and on Google Blogger – au pair clearinghouse. We just posted an article on Is Your Au Pair Suffering Culture Shock and Depression? It is very interesting particularly if you have a new au pair.

Happy New Year and best wishes for a safe and fun year with your au pairs!

Edina Stone
CE0 & President
http://www.aupairclearinghouse.com

notagoodauparent January 11, 2009 at 5:26 am

Great info – and once it’s updated with the new stipend numbers, au pairs will realize they’re not underpaid at all! Also consider all the running around in your car the au pair will do – how much gas is allowed – and the cost of gas, which is now cheap but rising sharply again.

Additionally, consider that at least one of your appliances or knives or something else major WILL need repair – I had 2 au pairs, one killed my kitchen aid stand mixer, the other crashed my car and never did tell me what happened, as well as staining my clothes washer with something that had no business being in the washer in the first place. Sometimes the girls (or guys) are terrific, sometimes horrible, and with the open system for au pairs right now it’s miserably difficult for families to compete for them. The equity and fairness seems to be missing from the selection process.

Consider another cost if you happen to work at home – you may be resentful watching the AP walk out the door and doing the things you’d rather do with your kids.

Calif mom January 11, 2009 at 4:26 pm

It’s not a purely economic equation. I think if you’re looking at this from a strictly spreadsheet perspective, you might be happier with an hourly situation like a nanny or even a child care center. (That’s not a judgment; some people are happier with less ‘gray area’ or messier situations. If you have low tolerance for human foibles and the need to be flexible, APing might not be right for you, unless you find an AP who is in sync with your style.)

We have done every kind of childcare available, at one point or another, in the past 10 years:
– nanny
– shared nanny with another family
– child development center
– Dad caring for child while nanny went back to Asia for extended visit
– SAHM when second child was born
– PT nanny

I’m really glad we took a try on APs. We did this out of desperation, frankly, when I had interviewed literally scores of local nanny candidates and couldn’t find one I felt was right for us at a price we could afford.

IMHO, regular (legal) nannies come with all the same potential problems as APs –unhappiness that may lead to them bailing on short notice, personal problems including homesickness and plain old depression and financial stress, increasing desire/demand for niceties like paid health insurance, gas money, etc — but they are much less flexible with their schedules and often come to see hanging out with kids as a burden, rather than a joyful way to spend the day and earn money. We had a terrrible time finding anyone in our metro area who wasn’t just phoning it in. And if you are lucky enough to find a good nanny in a pricey market, you can grow paranoid they are going to leave for someone who can pay more.

The food problem — the issue of quality of the caregiver’s diet and their influence on your kids eating habits– is definitely an issue whether AP or nanny. Been there with a regular nanny! oh boy have we ever!

We were blessed to have one lovely, smart, patient, energetic, nurturing nanny who stayed with us for years, but I have come to see through the years that she is the exception, not the norm, at least among our family friends who have dealt with childcare through the years, IMHO.

The other huge benefit of APs is that I don’t have to deal with figuring out weekly paychecks or file taxes quarterly. What a nightmare of anxiety and time-suck that was! I love that liberty, even if I have to write big checks to the agency occasionally.

Maybe it sounds cheesy but we also really do like having someone from a different culture sharing with us in a way that most nannies do not because they leave right away when parents get home after work. My kids really love helping someone learn about our culture, and teaching them idiom, correcting their grammar. And it’s good for the kids to realize how good they have it here, too. (What?! our AP doesn’t have hot water at home to wash dishes? wow!)

Yes, we had an AP break the end off a really good knife. Yes, one dented our car (we had a regular nanny get in a crash WITH THE KIDS, so that’s not a problem limited to APs. At least it seems that APs wreck the cars more often when the kids are elsewhere). Yes, we have bought a lot of really nice meals for APs. But not having to shell out an extra $100 for babysitting to get a date night with my husband once in awhile makes up for it pretty quickly. And one day we hope to go visit them in their countries.

We have not had APs when we had babies, but once the kids are toddlers/preschoolers, I think the benefits of having an energetic young person care for them outweighs the downsides. And as our kids work their way through school, I think it’s good to have an adult who can arrange after-school stuff for me, and not just plop them into the on-site after-care programs at school where the kids have to deal with peer stuff even longer during their day. How do you put a cost/benefit analysis on that?

I have also worked from home, and I do get pangs when the AP (or nanny, for that matter!) gets to really play with the kids or do artwork or something joyous while I’m working. But that’s not about the AP — it’s about the job of childcare in any form vs. the job of parent. Parents have to worry about all the other stuff that we deliberately don’t want our childcare providers worrying about, like what’s for dinner, paying bills, doctors appointments, financial planning — all the falderal that goes along with running a family and being a grown up. So it’s not fair to hang that on the AP program. Blame that on Modern Life of Working Parents, or even Modern Life In a Time when Parenting is Much More of a Big Deal Than It Was for Our Parents Who Just Said “Finish your homework and then come home before dark”.

One final benefit — I feel a lot better prepared to parent a teen or young adult now that I’ve had some experience living with young women, helping them deal with building new friendships, and generally seeing the wonders and potential pitfalls of our culture through their eyes.

I enjoy these conversations very much — thanks for sharing thoughts, everyone!

Anna January 11, 2009 at 4:40 pm

notagoodauparent,

you mention competing for au pairs with other families. It really depends on the matching system your agency uses; in my agency families do not compete. If you are not happy with it, change the agency , and you will be the only family looking at an application at any one time, it comes with a catch though – applications are preselected for you by a matching coordinator in the central office. However, if you start your selection process early, you are pretty much guaranteed to see many great candidates.

PA Mom March 31, 2009 at 6:39 am

Wow thanks for taking the time to do an estimate. Didn’t realize what we were paying and suspect it’s a tad higher for us but that’s our decision. In any case, like the AP program for all the intangibles and the flexibility. It is a bit of a luxury but given the painful hunt I went through looking for a local person to do the same job (also at 20 an hour) for a much smaller time commitment. Well, I think I’ll stick with this a few more years. It is helpful though for the APs who may not understand what this really costs the HF. I think the car insurance bill alone should be sobering – glad my kids are still to young to drive… Never mind the soda, candy, favorite snacks and such that we buy because we want our AP to be happy and feel at home. Oh and we fill the gas tank and pay the cell phone bill – so long as they are within reason. And in return – great memories, a few funny stories and someone we can count on with our kids. Seems like a fair bargain and good family business.

TX Mom November 23, 2009 at 2:56 pm

I am finding as my kids get older that we are also paying for activities (lessons, outings, etc.) that we wouldn’t be able to enroll our kids in if they were in extended school care. Since we have an AP who can drive them to and from activities while the host parents are working, we are taking advantage of it. However, it comes at an additional price.

Darthastewart November 23, 2009 at 3:59 pm

TX Mom- that’s one thing that has me thinking carefully about what we’re going to do once the last kid is in kindergarten- au-pair or nanny.

Anonymous February 16, 2010 at 5:25 pm

What exactly is the benefit of the agency? Most people just complain that they don’t screen the girl good enough.

Anonymous April 30, 2010 at 7:15 pm

That’s $25k after tax. Any young adults between the age of 19 – 26 makes $13.00/hr after tax right after college? Average annual salary for just out of college young working adults (with college degree), just about $24k before tax.

Host Mommy Dearest May 21, 2010 at 8:04 pm

Even with the stipend increase I came up with about $500 per week. There is probably a heat/AC/extra laundry/broken appliance cost, but I did not account for the full R&B cost. There is a cost, however if you go out to eat and always invite your AP (as we do), and your AP always joins you (as a few have). Also, I don’t want to nickel dime here, but if you add up welcome gift, birthday gift, Xmas gifts, good-bye/thank you/good luck gifts, it can be significant – depending on your relationship with your AP I guess.

TX Mom May 25, 2010 at 2:02 pm

I think it’s hard to estimate for the R&B accurately in advance (does it include these other items or not?) Some AP’s eat at home more, some AP’s run the heat or AC less… It seems like the ratio that the gov’t applies evens out the differences.

One extra item that I completely agree a family should consider in the cost of hosting an AP is the cost of vacations. When we began hosting, HD and I decided this was a cultural exchange and taking the AP on vacation is part of the deal. I know every family feels differently and families vacation differently. But for us, vacations add at least another $1000/yr to the cost (several airline tickets throughout the year since the rental car is already an expense and the AP shares a room with daughter.)

HRHM May 26, 2010 at 7:57 am

We’ve actually gotten to the point where we are no longer going to take the AP with us on family vacations (after two APs). For us, with 2 small kids, we would normally only have one hotel room (or ship’s cabin) so taking APs with us just about doubles the expense of our vaca. We did it with the first and spent thousands taking her along, only to find out at the end of the year that she was stealing from us. Then we did it once with AP2, left her home once, and then made her work during one. We found that a week away from her was really nice and on the one where it was a working vaca for her, she really didn’t do much to justify the added expense. So now on AP3, we made it clear in advance that she would need to take her vacation on the weeks we are planning to vacation and that she would be welcome to join us on our family vacation but that it would be at her own expense. Since I don’t see her forking out >1000 for a week with us at Disney or on a cruise, I think we’ll be taking separate trips.

For us, one extra expense has been the addition of a 3rd car – to the tune of >600 per month, so that really makes our AP expensive, although, in 5 years it will be paid off.

Busy Mom May 26, 2010 at 1:21 pm

We also don’t take our AP on vacation, but we have the added car expense (payment, insurance, maintenance). I quickly updated the model I built a few years ago when we switched from a nanny to an AP and calculated that we spend $27.5 K per year to have an AP. That includes additional costs incured such as gifts, pool membership, phone line, cell phone, etc. It includes 10% of our annual grocery expenditures, but no allocation for “Room” since we don’t “pay” out of pocket for room like we do for car insurance or a phone. I do include an allowance for replacing items in the AP’s room – carpet cleaning, new bedding/towels/etc. – as needed. It’s not inexpensive, but the alternatives for me (older kids in lots of after school activities) are a live-in nanny (which would add a good $10K to the costs) or part-time college student(s). Live-out nannies just don’t want the split schedule/flexible schedule that we need. I think that part-time college students for an extended period of time would be too unpredictable/unreliable, so the additional expense of an au pair is worth it to reduce the stress in my life.

Taking a computer lunch May 21, 2010 at 10:50 pm

When you only pay attention to the bottom line, you forget about things that are “free”.

As someone who had “free” care for a child – I had to take four hours of sick leave or holiday time every time she had a routine doctor’s appointment, because the nurses wouldn’t drive her from school to the doctor’s appointment (my preferred mode is to meet my AP by coming straight from work by taxi – that way I get to maximize my time at work and my daughter gets transportation). And forget about when my kids were sick – DH and I had to cover the first day, and then the Medicaid nurses kicked in – but I quickly learned that many of them worked the night shift in nursing homes, so it was up to me to ask the shift supervisor – “has the nurse been up all night?” (Because I was definitely NOT having Medicaid pay for someone to take a nap and compromising The Camel’s safety!) I’d rather have an AP a little upset that her plans were upended by a sick schoolchild than a Medicaid nurse sound asleep after 15 straight hours of work!

While I used nurses paid by Medicaid, 5 failed to show up for shift altogether – leaving a pregnant neighbor and a 72-year-old neighbor responsible for my daughter (because legally the bus driver was supposed to take her back to school — and stay with her if all the school employees had left). How many times have APs failed to meet my daughter’s bus in the last 8 years — zero!

And while the nurses took care of The Camel, they were absolutely not responsible for my son. Every time we had to be somewhere, neighbors or friends pitched in. The cost of the stress in finding a “playdate” while we took The Camel to doctor’s appointments or therapy – ach!

And here’s all the things our APs have done over the years that you couldn’t pay me to do (and believe me, they got paid extra or received “tips” in kind!): clean vomit out of a halo traction vest (The Camel was in halo traction for nearly 5 months when she was 5 – a congenital, and potentially fatal disorder – and while she survived the 13-hour surgery, she nearly died from complications), give a peanut butter massage to a beloved hamster caught in glue trap in our basement after DH failed to close the cage properly (and the AP hated the smell of peanut butter!), fine the screw in The Camel’s neck that had worked it’s way to the skin — and before the bacterial count went into overdrive (Grandpa likes to joke that The Camel is the only person to have screw loose and win).

I’m sure, if you think about it, you can think of at least one thing your AP does that you could never get another caregiver to do! If you just watch the dollars, you might miss the things that really matter!

Host Mommy Dearest May 21, 2010 at 11:43 pm

I agree you need to look at more than just costs when evaluating childcare options, but I think it is good to understand the true cost of hosting an AP so that none of the costs are unexpected and because it is reasonable to consider costs as a factor when deciding whether to host an au pair.

Darthastewart May 22, 2010 at 9:01 am

I agree that I’m not trying to count every single penny about having an au-pair. And indeed there are many things that I love about having an au-pair. BUT, I’ve known people who DO get an AP, and they totally didn’t understand all of the costs involved, and it can be devastating. They budget the 17K or whatever it is the agency quoted, and not the 25-27 K that it really costs. The effect is overwhelming.

former extension au pair in CA May 22, 2010 at 1:14 am

i am just curious about why you refer to your daughter as “The Camel” :-) I have noticed this in your posts but I guess I must’ve missed the explanation if you ever gave one. just curious

Taking a computer lunch May 22, 2010 at 6:33 am

She’s a lovely girl who loves music and swimming, never says a word and yet always makes lots of sound, has an excellent wicked sense of humor which she betrays with a giggle, and when she feels like she might choke on a bite of food – is capable of launching it several feet!

CaliDad January 30, 2011 at 7:23 pm

I live in the Bay Area, and our first au pair in 2009-2010 cost on average $2100/month a.k.a. $485/week all-inclusive, so your estimates are dead on.

In some ways it was a poor choice… we often *need* only 25 hours/week and for $19/hr you can hire some excellent nannies these days. In some ways it was a great choice! She was able to adapt to schedule changes. When we unexpectedly needed her after hours, she was there for us. She added excitement and new ideas to holidays and vacations that were kinda old-hat to us. She helped solve some family arguments. She made mistakes, but she cared about our kids and continues to write them six months later.

AFhostmom January 30, 2011 at 8:09 pm

If we didn’t use all our hours during the week about 90 percent of the time, it might be a good choice for us. But I spent most of this weekend figuring out what to do with my 3 kids (one school age, 2 preschoolers who won’t be in school next year either)after our AP leaves in the fall, and realized that we will save money by putting them in family daycare or the military day care centers at either of the bases my husband and I work at. Even with before and after school care for my school aged child, we’ll pay $390 per week, total. While this is slightly more than we pay for our au pair, our kids will take 2 meals at the child care center, we’ll have our guest room back, we won’t have someone who runs a space heater every night (I don’t begrudge her that, but I do feel the pinch), and we won’t have to feed a 3rd hungry adult. And the intrinsic value of feeling comfortable in our home is worth a lot to us.
We’re with APIA and their fees are, IMO, incredibly high compared to the level of “service” we get from them. Which is pretty much nothing–since our AP arrived I’ve gotten 3 emails from the LCC and every time I have an issue I feel like I am bothering her with my phone calls. And I look forward to only having to deal with the emotions of people who I CAN get upset with, then apologize later, and have life still be good.
I’m not thrilled about putting my kids in day care, but the choice we made when I decided to work was that life would be more difficult.
I wish we could afford to have a nanny who didn’t live with us, but most seem to want about the same as my take-home pay (and I thought I had a pretty good job ;)). So I don’t think it’s in the cards.

JJ host mom January 30, 2011 at 8:41 pm

I think daycare costs really vary depending on the area. We’re in the CA bay area and I just priced out what it would cost to have the kids fulltime in the daycare we’ve been using during our au pair transition… it would be $40K a year for 2 kids. On top of that we would have to provide lunch, and they’re closed all holidays.

Taking a Computer Lunch January 31, 2011 at 8:35 am

When we priced out daycare originally (special needs child and infant) we would have had to pay more in daycare than my husband earned – much less brought home. Now The Camel is on Medicaid, which would supply nurses for “free” but in 9 months we went through 25 nurses and 5 failed to show up for shift. Nursing did not kick in on the first sick day, but it would on the second (although I learned quickly to make sure the nurses weren’t coming off a night shift – many tried to work 16 hours in a row). Nurses did not pick up The Camel from school and bring her to doctor’s appointments (so I could come straight from work like I do with APs), so that I had to take 4-5 hours off for every appt. The nurses were great at problem solving, but their training did not include cuddling (only 2 nurses ever cuddled The Camel when she cried). They were not allowed to care for my son, which meant putting him in aftercare, which he hated. At the end of 9 months, I had almost no vacation or sick time left, and I was looking at a model of childcare that kept my daughter alive but didn’t make her feel loved.

Now that The Camel and her brother are school aged, we still prefer APs – ours have nearly always showed up on time (and been extremely apologetic when they needed to be awakened), cuddle The Camel (last night I saw the love in my AP’s eyes when DH carried The Camel, asleep, to bed), and play with my son. Yes, we could “save” a lot of money, but the irony is even though I might have money for a huge family vacation, I’d have no vacation time.

The bottom line – if you only look at the finances of having an AP, you miss out on a huge amount of intangibles.

Calif Mom February 1, 2011 at 10:35 am

It’s easier when there is a year-round daycare option. Once the kids hit school, what will kill your annual leave is all the days off the kids get that you don’t. And what will kill your budget is the summer: \camps are a minimum $500 per week per kid, sometimes more, and they rarely cover the full day. Most start at 9 or 10 and go until 3 or 4. So then you have to pay for summer camp before and after care. It racks up fast!

I’ve posted this in a million places, but even with an AP who eats a lot, it’s still about the same as if we did before and after at school during the school year, plus summer camps w/ before and after care.

My eldest just isn’t that extraverted, either. She needs downtime that she just wouldn’t get from that kind of a group-setting-all-day-every-day lifestyle.

Remember the latchkey option? The older sibling beat up on the younger one while waiting for Mom to come home? We snitched snacks and watched tv in the afternoons. Had a dime in our shoe in case we needed to make a phone call on the way home…

Yes, I’m not deliriously happy with my current sitch, but I still think the program is fundamentally a good concept. It’s just very dependent on getting the mix right.

I’ve had one terrific college student and two that were super flaky–that doesn’t work either. Nannies in my metro area are making $15-$20 an hour. Our salaries have been frozen.

If only I’d majored in mogul… Lotto, anyone? :-)

AFHostMom February 2, 2011 at 4:18 pm

Ah, summer, the great equalizer. ;)
Luckily we have 2 sets of retired grandparents who are itching to take our children for extended periods during the summer, and a few nieces and kids’ friends who are old enough to spend the day with my oldest, earn a little money, and spend some time with us. That’s the plan anyway. We got some spring break flyers home last week and my jaw dropped at the price. So the plan for our oldest, for now anyway, is patchwork. Fortunately summer won’t be an issue until 2012 since our contract ends just before school starts this year.

Mom23 February 2, 2011 at 4:34 pm

Yes, I so wish that the State Department hadn’t discontinued the summer au pair program! We once had a college student “au pair” for us. It worked out really well. She got an opportunity to live in a different part of the country and we got a great sitter.

HRHM February 3, 2011 at 2:51 am

Y camp is one more affordable option for the summer. Here in VA it’s 355 for each 2 week block and it goes from 6:30 to 18:00. Now finding something/someone for Spring Break, that’s a different story!

Emily January 30, 2011 at 10:28 pm

We gave up hosting aupairs about a month ago. We are saving $600 each month, not counting room and board, cell phone, car insurance, gym membership, …… We hired a morning nanny, and put our younger child in pre-k full time (our older one is in full-day kindergarten). It has been a LOT less stressful, and we are much happier. My little one does not cry and beg me not to go to work anymore.

AFHostmom January 31, 2011 at 9:51 am

This is us. The stress is too much, and I just feel like we’re trying to make something fit that we’re not happy with. I love the idea of having an AP, but in practice, it’s not the solution for us. I don’t want to use day care, honestly, and it’s absolutely not just about finances. We’re just not the kind of people who want another person living in our home, period. Whether that is a relative, a child care provider, a tenant, whatever. So the intangibles for us are actually what is pushing us into leaving the AP program.

HRHM January 31, 2011 at 12:18 pm

We too are about done – AP3 leaves in about a month. Where did you find your morning nanny? The main thing I liked about having an AP was not having to get them up and out at the crack of dawn and this sounds like a good solution, I’m just not sure where to start.

Mom23 January 31, 2011 at 12:34 pm

We took a break from the au pair program after a really bad hosting experience and haven’t gone back yet. We have found some great sitters both on Craig’s List and Sitter City.

We have found that we are paying less for our sitter than we were for our au pair’s stipend during the normal school year.

AFhostmom January 30, 2011 at 10:30 pm

Oh yeah, they definitely vary. Even here (national capital region), affordable child care is very hard to come by. Day care costs vary greatly from center to center and if we weren’t a military family we wouldn’t be able to afford it, honestly.
The downside is that the wait list for the military centers is 6-9 months, so we have to get on it NOW. But that’s OK.

SotaGal January 31, 2011 at 12:42 pm

We also gave up hosting an AP just before the holidays, it was by far the best decision for our family at the time. We’ve hosted for about 3 years now and was great when our twins were younger but things have changed (I was planning on going back to school in Nov but didn’t), mostly that they have grown up and its easier to balance time between our oldest and the twins. We have been paying for part time preschool even with an AP with the flexibility of additional days to cover when AP’s were sick, on vacation or in between arrivals so an AP was always an additional expense which we happily paid for the flexibility we needed in addition to preschool hours. That being said, we are saving the stipend, additional cost of insurance, food, grocery and utilities and all of the other expenses that occur through out the year. Best of all, we have our home back. I didn’t realize how much I needed that until we had it. The strain of worrying about another person wore me down, we tried to treat our AP’s as a member of our family, but it always felt a little guest like as well. I was one who would stress about AP’s being homesick, eating well, making friends, making sure they had a social life, feelings of guilt if things didn’t go as planned with our AP and on, and on and on…. After a while, the best part of hosting became this site and for that thanks to each of you for sharing your insight, triumphs and tears and being a virtual shoulder to lean on.

HRHM January 31, 2011 at 2:37 pm

Isn’t it funny how many “HM”s here are not actually HMs anymore! LOL

Emily January 31, 2011 at 2:40 pm

We found our sitter on Sittercity. My husband and I teach at the same school. We commute together and leave the house at 5:45am. Our sitter works from 5:40am to 8:30am. The kids get up at 7am, she gets them ready, drives our son to the school bus stop and our daughter to pre-k. (She uses her own car!) It was a little tough to find a sitter for the early mornings. I contacted 10, only 2 responded! I was very discouraged at first, but I am glad we did not give up.
We never knew how stressful it was to host an aupair until our last one was gone. There are other things we have to worry now, like sick care and snow days, but it is well worth NOT having to deal with all the drama, and the B.S.

Busy Mom February 24, 2011 at 8:37 am

Thought you’d enjoy this short post on my friend’s blog about childcare costs titled “How to spend $275,000.” She’s had some form of childcare for the same amount of time I have – 13 years. I never stopped to consider the “grand total,” but I think that mine is greater than $275K because I had live-in nannies for more years than she did before switching to an au pair.

http://theotherdrlaura.blogspot.com/2011/02/how-to-spend-275000.html

darthastewart February 24, 2011 at 5:23 pm

Okay. That made me a bit sick… I’m @ 12.5 years of au-pairs so far, and have another 2 years to go.

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