Parents who are researching childcare options for the first time invariably experience “sticker shock”. Who knew that a year of childcare in America could cost as much as a year at a good instate university?
Whether childcare is provided by a retail day care center, a someone-else’s-home-based childcare center, a nanny, or an au pair, good childcare costs money.
It’s not surprising, then, that we often get emails from parents asking if there are ways to reduce the costs of hiring an au pair. Just recently, a new mom wrote:
My head is spinning… Why does it cost $7,500 – 9,000 to bring an au pair here?
Are there any resources where there are au pairs currently in the US looking for work or to extend a J-1 that i could use to cut down on the costs?
Are there other options for reducing the costs?
Yes there are some options for reducing the costs of hosting an Au Pair, and we’ll address these, below. But first we need to consider:
What *Should* Childcare Cost?
For perspective, consider the appropriate cost of childcare, as a standard against which to evaluate how much you feel you can/should spend.
Any qualified childcare provider should be paid at least the minimum wage. At least. So if you’re aiming for a full week of childcare, think “$8.00/hr times 40 hrs/week”. Your baseline is $320.00 per week.
If you can get 40 hours a week of care for slightly less than $320 week, terrific.
But don’t expect to get too much lower than this. In fact, don’t even look for childcare that costs you less than $280/week … because if you find it, someone’s being exploited and underpaid.
What does hosting an Au Pair actually cost?
Agencies suggest that, all told, the cost is about $350/week… just slightly more than if you hired someone yourself, didn’t train them, didn’t pay for a bit of education, didn’t pay their vacation, didn’t screen them much, and paid them minimum wage.
Years ago, I aimed to break down and add up all the costs of hosting an au pair, and concluded that the hourly cost was about $12.75 and the monthly cost was $510— and while this was in 2008, my numbers were on the high side since we spent so much on car insurance, telephone, and cable. (For us, all those costs are lower now.) And, we had two kids so it was still less than using a childcare center.
How can you lower the costs of hosting an Au Pair?
1. Comparison shop the Au Pair Agencies — they often have special “sign up” deals. If you have a choice of agencies, sometimes (and only sometimes) cost is a sensible deciding factor.
2. Negotiate with the Au Pair Agency — sometimes an agency is seeking to build up a cluster in a new area and they will be amenable to accepting a slightly lower fee (e.g., $350 less) in exchange for a new family.
3. Negotiate on car insurance. See the chart we started that helped us get a sense of what a ‘good’ insurance rate is for an Au Pair driver. Also, use ‘good student’, ‘clean record’ programs that your insurance company might provide. if you have an old car and are willing to consider driving around with some dents, raise the deductible to cut out-of-pocket costs.
4. Watch the out-of-pocket household expenses that are Au Pair-related. For example, offer an old model cellphone with a limited data plan. Don’t go buy new sheets, towels, and hairdryers if you already have some in perfectly good condition that are serviceable if not fashionable.
5. Share your car instead of having a separate Au Pair car. And, if you have a separate Au Pair car, make it an older, more affordable model.
6. Earn some money back by referring new families to your Au Pair Agency. (Of course, only if you link your agency and only if these families seem like good people.)
7. Use your Flexible Spending Account and/or Childcare Tax Credit to reduce pre-tax costs.
7. Refrain from taking your Au Pair along with you on family vacations where an additional adult becomes expensive. (E.g., where you let him use the mini-bar, or get her a private hotel room.) Talk with your Au Pair before making vacation decisions to see if s/he will make some compromises on luxury in order to make the trip affordable for you.
8. Ask your Au Pair to pay for her/his own extra media use (e.g., PayPerView movies, library fines, Apple music). These are small cost savings for a host family, but they do reinforce the idea of trying to be frugal, fairly.
9. Have another child, so that you’re now getting childcare for two kids for the price of one. Just kidding. No, actually, not kidding.
Do not try to lower Au Pair costs by:
- Thinking you can split the cost of the Au Pair with some other family.
- Thinking you can have the Au Pair eat less, or lower quality food, than the other adults in the household. (Wine, chocolate, and fancy steaks for data night, excluded. Host Parents can enjoy these without supplying same for the Au Pair.)
- Thinking you can make your Au Pair pay for things like going out to dinner when your family goes out to dinner, paying her own movie ticket when she takes the kids to the movies, or making him count that 45 minutes between piano lesson drop off and pick up as “off duty time”.
Keep in mind:
Your au pair is the person who, next to you, your child(ren) depend on for safety, comfort, and guidance.
If you need to cut costs somewhere, there are other places to do it.
For me, I stopped shopping so often at Target (where, for some inexplicable reason, I never get out of there for less than $200 per visit). And I started buying used books from Amazon instead of new ones. When we got a new Au Pair car, we got one that was safe but not new and definitely not fancy.
I don’t mean to be insensitive to the costs of childcare. Quality childcare costs money, and when you’re writing checks to an Au Pair Agency and directly depositing cash every week into an Au Pair’s account, you can see that money going out. But remember– it’s going where it should be going — towards something your family makes a priority.
Parents, other suggestions for either cutting costs OR remembering how much value you get from an Au Pair relationship? Chime in, below.
Image by .niCKy. on Flickr