Reimbursing Your Au Pair: Petty Cash Jars or Slush Funds?

by cv harquail on January 16, 2015

How does your family manage paying for small things, like pizzas, movie tickets, or another gallon of milk?

Petty Cash Jars

I’m a big fan of the petty cash jar (or in our case, a zippered pencil case /envelope in the kitchen drawer).   I keep about $20 in the envelope– usually in $1s and $5s, so that it’s easy for anyone (child or Au Pair) to get money for a forgotten lunch or whatever.  I’m pretty good about remembering to refill the envelope too.

au pair advice, petty cashEarly on, I asked our Au Pair to leave a receipt after she took out money, but then I let go of that because none of our Au Pairs ever took advantage of the petty cash. (My 8 year old? A different story.)

AlwaysHopeful Host Mom does something similar:

I know some APs pay for small things for their HKs from time to time.  I keep a petty cash jar for that type of thing (among other things). I prefer the au pair use that money or reimburse him/herself from it that use his or her own money. That’s also not nickel and diming to me.  For one thing, it is then easier to track how much extra “junk” my son is getting, but also, I recognize the AP doesn’t have a lot of money.

It’s my job, not our Au Pair’s job, to pay for my son’s entertainment and treats.

Slush Funds

The alternative to a petty cash stash is the ‘slush fund’, a looser budget category that gets tossed into the Au Pair’s weekly pocket money.  This is one easy way to manage gas expenses. And I noticed in comments on the Rounding Up post that some Host Parents use this strategy to cover incidental expenses in advance.

Host Parents, how have you decided which method to use for incidental household expenses?

Au Pairs, do you have a preference either way?


Image: Petty Cash, by Jason Sutter on Flickr


Taking a Computer Lunch January 16, 2015 at 7:59 am

We reimburse with cash – we ask for a receipt at first, but barely look at it – we want to develop a notion that we’re reimbursing. For the past few years our APs have only done activities with The Camel, our special needs child – taking her for a walk in the Mall when it’s too hot or too cold (the Camel does not know how to demand anything for purchase), taking her for a swim (the Camel has a pass, we reimburse the AP), or to one of the many free places in our city.

When child #2 was a toddler, one AP bought him cheap crap to shut him up at the store. I hated reimbursing her because I could be firm enough to say no and there was no firestorm, but she had set his expectations. It really added up.

Because we require a driver, we reimburse all expenses related to getting a state driver’s license after each step is achieved. We pay our share of the education expense by paying for it directly, rather than requiring the AP to front the money!

Should be working January 16, 2015 at 8:22 am

We have a separate but linked checking account for AP expenses related to kids. It comes with a debit card that I give to the AP and I arrange for $150/week to be deposited into it from our main checking account.

Most of that money ends up being used for gas–our deal is that we offer to pay for all AP local/reasonable gas if she takes responsibility for keeping both the kid-car and the non-kid-car filled with gas. I *hate* going to the gas station and I hate getting into a car that isn’t over 1/4 full.

For the first few weeks/months I ask for receipts just to make it look like I keep track of how that account’s money is spent, and I glance at the online statement, but at some point all that falls away because the APs have been very responsible and respectful about how to use it. Knock on wood we have had no problems with abuse of this debit card. I do like that I can text the AP and ask her to withdraw $ for something, or even ask her to buy something rather expensive like a new remote control for the TV, and know that she has an easy way to buy it that doesn’t at all impact her own finances.

PacNWHostMom May 20, 2015 at 5:39 pm

Should be working –
How do you set that up with your bank? Does your AP have her own card or is it in your name and you provide that to her?
HD and I were discussing doing this same thing over lunch today and trying to figure out the logistics.
Our assumption, is that it might encourage our AP to do more outside of the house with the kids as well as make it easier on ourselves to not always have to transfer money to her.

CAmom22 January 16, 2015 at 10:02 am

I never carry cash myself so trying to remember to fill up a petty cash jar would be more than I can handle!! Over the years we’ve tried various variations of a debit card account (joint account; AP owned account…). None have worked perfectly for me, but for AP have all worked very well. They never have to reach into own pocket and always have readily available funds for needed extras (assuming they remember to tell me when funds are running low so I can transfer more in). I do ask for receipts and, depending on type of account, can also monitor balances online. I have never had an AP abuse this. For those of you who give a debit card from one of your own accounts, have you ever had a problem with the name on the card not being AP’s name? Or with AP not being able to properly manage the account? I’ve always wanted APs to have control over the account because I do tell them I will not pay for overdraft fees (which can be ridiculously high — e.g. $25 when you go to starbucks for a $3 coffee and cause a $2 overdraft). They need to tell me when the balance is running low and I transfer funds (transfer is instantaneous).

Repeataupair January 17, 2015 at 6:23 am

I forgot to add, I got a problem twice with the name on the card,

Once at a souvenir shop, I told them I was the au pair, that the ID would not match the card, she just looked away.
Once at AMC movies, we went over the limit when you need to show the ID so I just asked the girl to pay for drinks and snacks separate and it worked.

Returning HM January 17, 2015 at 8:39 am

Only once did one of our male APs get questioned about having a card in my (very feminine) name. He looked at the person behind the counter and said, in his most offended tone, “are you saying —-a is not a masculine name?” The person took the card without question. Not sure whether that makes me happy or sad!

No ap has ever abused my credit card that I know of and I do check though maybe not as 100 percent fully as I should. This approach definitely works best for our family, and the APs appreciate both the flexibility and the trust invested in them.

A/B Host Mom January 16, 2015 at 10:04 am

When it was warm and the AP did stuff with the kids outside the house, I tried to give her some money for that.

The one thing I didn’t like is she spent it on other stuff and it never seemed to last. If she took them for frozen yogurt at the place where you pay per ounce, hers would be huge! Somehow she always used it all.

Another time I gave her money to go grocery shopping and while she had more than enough, she ended up going over and using her own money, then asked I reimburse her! I’ve realized she either doesn’t pay attention to prices, or doesn’t care, so for this reason I won’t have her go food shopping again. Once it gets warmer I’ll leave her small amounts of money for the kids but that’s it.

Host Mom in the City January 16, 2015 at 11:01 am

We never have cash, so we don’t have a petty cash drawer or anything. That would be too challenging for me. I think this very much depends on trust. We also live in a big city with tons of free things to do, so I really expect our au pair to spend very little on the kids. We also encourage our au pair to pack lunches and snacks for herself and the kids while they are out for the day, and model this behavior ourselves.

We mentally aim for about $50/month in lunches out, activities, runs to the craft store, Popsicle at the pool in the summer, etc. For our poor au pair who I didn’t trust (and should have rematched with), I did this on a day-to-day basis and just handed her exactly the amount of cash I thought she we need.

Even she didn’t abuse it though. She would always leave me the change and a receipt, even though I didn’t ask for it. I just didn’t trust that she “got us” enough to spend only what we would spend money on. Once I lent her my card to take the kids for a special lunch and she convinced them to go to a place she liked instead of where the kids wanted to go, ordered a ton of expensive stuff on the menu, bottled water for the kids, etc. It ended up being like a $50 lunch, which I really wasn’t comfortable with.

With our three that have been amazing (first, third, fifth – I have luck on the odds!), after about a month, I’ve just given them an extra credit card linked to my account and told them to shoot for about $50 a month in expenditures. I haven’t had to explain our spending philosophies – again, they just seem to get it, knowing when to splurge a bit (kid is melting down starving while out and packed lunch has already been eaten; kids were extra good, so stopped for ice cream on the way home) versus save (they’ve always brought a reuseable filled water bottle from home, for example, rather than buying expensive bottled water whenever someone is thirsty).

They’ve never had a problem using a card with my name on it, and it just works so much better for me personally than remembering to have cash. I also like that if there is an emergency (even a minor hunger-related emergency), they don’t have to spend their own money on my kids or their jobs, they have the card.

I might actually look into one of those refillable credit cards so it has their name on it, but never got around to it.

Texas5TimeHostMom January 16, 2015 at 11:21 am

I have a credit card with my au pairs name on it that I don’t use for anything else. She uses it for groceries, gas, and any kid related expenses while out and about. She pays me back for her portion of the gas. It has worked well for the last 3 au pairs. With our first au pair, I was always paying her back and in retrospect that wasn’t very fair in my opinion, so I started this method. Since nobody else in the house regularly uses the credit card, it’s easy for me to track and view the expenses.

NoVA Twin Mom January 16, 2015 at 11:42 am

Once our au pairs get a social security number, we get them a “Student Reloadable Debit Card” offered by my credit union. I can load funds using my own debit card but I have to “push” the funds, the card doesn’t pull them.

We give this to our au pair to cover McDonalds runs, occasionally gas for the car or a gallon of milk (she doesn’t do our “big” shopping but occasionally we need something midweek that she’ll pick up), or whatever other expenses come up. The funds transfer almost immediately. I love that I can load $50 on the card at a time and it can’t pull from my account or overdraw, so even if she were to blow the whole amount on something I wouldn’t have, it’s a finite amount of money to lose. The card has her name on it, so we don’t have that issue. I look at the account activity to make sure she still has funds, which means I see where she’s been, but we’ve been really lucky to have had great au pairs since we’ve started this and haven’t had a problem. In fact, they use the card LESS than I’d like them to because I don’t think they should be paying anything out of pocket to feed my kids.

Before they get a social security number (necessary for this card but not the bank we help them set up their own accounts at) we either transfer money from our account to hers to reimburse her or try to remember to give her cash if we know she’s going to go somewhere that will need it.

WestMom January 16, 2015 at 12:28 pm

My kids are in school, so unless this is the summer or special vacation, AP doesn’t need extra money to entertain our children. But I do leave $25 for each night where our AP is making dinner for the family (we all take turns). Sometimes there is no money in the jar, and our APs pay with their debit card and I reimburse prompt (or instantaneously via online transfer when they call me from the supermarket cash register!). We ask for receipts, but I only loosely look at the amounts. All our Au Pair have been very trustworthy.

For gas, we give our AP a FOB that is connected to our general credit card ( She can use it at any any Mobil or Exxon gas station. If she chooses to go to another gas station, she can pay in cash and bring back the receipt so I can pay her back.

It never crossed my mind to add extra money to the stipend for these extra expenses. These are not fixed week after week, so it wouldn’t make sense to us. And I like to keep things separate between stipend and petty cash. As for people who basically ‘give’ AP their personal debit card, I would not feel comfortable with that. I have lent my credit card on a few very specific occasions (like taking kids to a museum or the movies for example, because I rarely carry cash), but that is very much an exception.

Mimi January 16, 2015 at 12:50 pm

We don’t use cash much and a cash box/stash would get raided by my boys for school lunch extras. We use a grocery store gift card if we need the AP to pick up something during the day. If she’s at the store and texts us to see if we need something and she doesn’t have the card, we reimburse with receipt. (I often round up there, too.) If we don’t have cash in the house, I ask if we can add it to her pay for the week. HD usually does 2 transfers then (since there is no charge), one for her salary and the other for the reimbursement.

One the occasions the APs have gone somewhere with the kids for a day trip, it’s usually to somewhere we have a membership or advance-print tix. If it’s a special treat, I’ll give her money for lunch, otherwise we pack a picnic lunch. I always give them some extra money, just in case, but always reiterate that she is not to spend it on junk. Since we usually did a lot of day trips with the APs when they first arrived, they had a good idea of the things I wouldn’t spend money on.

Since we don’t need a driver anymore, gas hasn’t been a recent issue for us. She started her time with a full tank and is responsible for all the gas on her vehicle. HD will occasionally top it off if he takes it out for any reason. If our AP takes the kids to the gym while she is on the clock, she is responsible for babysitting room fees.

Seattle Mom January 16, 2015 at 2:25 pm

I get the pre-paid reloadable debit card from American Express. There is a monthly fee of $1 but for me it’s worth it. My au pair uses it for gas, groceries, and occasional kid expenses. My last au pair was very frugal, and I think she spent about $75 per month, mostly on gas. The previous one spent around $200 per month but she was buying a lot of Asian groceries and the huge upside was that we didn’t feed her, and my kids often had yummy hot Thai lunches. And she would cook dinner for the whole family once a week.

JerseyHM January 23, 2015 at 6:45 pm

Seattle Mom we do the exact same thing. I try to keep about $100 on the card at all times. Since I’m the main account holder, I can push (or pull if necessary even though I’ve never had a reason). And, when we get a new au pair, I can just order a new card in her name and cancel the old account. No social security #s, etc. I do it right through the Serve app on my iPhone. I get an email and a push notification on my phone when the balance dips below $25 so I know to add more. Adding more $ is instantaneous when you reload it using your debit card. It’s a beautiful thing. For $1/month you can’t beat it.

AlwaysHopeful HM January 23, 2015 at 10:27 pm

Are you able to get an itemized spending list with a reloadable card?

Bay Area Mom January 16, 2015 at 3:21 pm

I get a credit card with AP’s name on it linked to my CC. They use it to fill up the car, buy groceries (they do about half of our family’s grocery shopping), and pay for random things like library fines, playspace tickets, etc. We’ve done this for the last 4 years (and 3 AP’s) – never had a problem.

Kate January 17, 2015 at 7:14 pm

I do the same.

hostmominco January 16, 2015 at 3:39 pm

When our au pair picks up little things from the store or takes the kids to the movies, etc. she leaves me the receipt and I transfer the funds into her account (usually the next day) in a separate transfer than her weekly stipend. All of our au pairs have been good savers and can spare $10-50 for a day or two.

DCMomof3 January 16, 2015 at 3:53 pm

My APs get my credit card, which gets used for a weekly trip to BJs, gas for our truck, stuff kids need, etc. I am pretty explicit, however, that if they are going “off list” at BJs or getting things at the request of the kids that they need to ask me first. Somebody said above that their AP doesn’t always check prices and I find that to be generally true with this age group when using someone else’s money:). Therefore, it does take some management to make sure that they are not buying things that are unnecessarily expensive, that could be picked up at the dollar store or 5 below, etc. I think that my APs all like being able to go to the grocery store and BJs because it gives them the ability to get a few things that they want (within reason). For the one AP who abused this privilege, the credit card got taken away. If I were not planning to send her home early, I might have put in the time to manage the situation and to give her some boundaries on what she could and could not buy with our card. My others have all figured it out pretty easily and have been perfectly gracious when I noticed something outrageous on a receipt and told them not to repeat that purchase.

Repeataupair January 17, 2015 at 6:18 am

I have the debit card of the mom all week.
I use it for gas, my pay, housekeeper pay, random errands, groceries, dry cleaner, etc. On weeks kids don’t have school it can add up to $100-200 of activities and food, depending on what we do. It’s bay area, one afternoon at a trampoline place is $100, arcade/jungle place goes easily to $80, etc. I have three kids to take care of, it would be way too complicated to keep of track of cash.
I give receipts all the time, but I don’t think they look at them. I try to be careful, I hate being wasteful and the kids always ask for things to buy, like no point of buying a water bottle when there is a water fountain… I appreciate the trust and also the opportunities that go with it so I wouldn’t want to take advantage of it.

valnyc January 17, 2015 at 8:24 am

We leave cash for kid related items in a drawer – just 30-40 at a time. Then hand over bigger sums for the special outings or once in a blue moon grocery shopping. We asked for receipts at the start but our very responsible ap keeps spending to a minimum so we don’t bother with this any longer.

Cynthia @ You Signed Up For WHAT?! January 17, 2015 at 9:39 am

We rarely use cash for things, so a cash jar would never work for us – even the school lunch is on an auto-reloadable account! The au pair will pay for things here and there, and hand the receipts to my husband before Friday when he does the electronic transfer of her stipend plus anything reimbursable. Or if I know in advance they’re going somewhere I will leave some cash for them. It works out pretty well!

Quirky January 17, 2015 at 10:26 am

We have started using a Kaiku card this year. It has a small monthly fee but we find it worth it. There’s a phone app for checking balances and I have a monthly transfer of $200 for gas, food, and incidentals. We sometimes need a big grocery run so petty cash is not enough for that and I am not comfortable asking our au pair to shell out a lot of money even if we reimburse. And petty cash never works as I never have cash myself.

Peachtree Mom January 17, 2015 at 5:48 pm

Wow, I am a dinosaur. I usually guestimate how much money is needed for the movies, Monkey Joes, frozen yogurt etc and leave the money on the counter. If there is a short list of can’t live without groceries, I leave a pile of cash on counter. Our aupairs have been great about putting the change on the counter with the receipts. There is an ATM at the hospital and right outside the grocery store so I usually have enough on hand. But I LOVE the grocery gift card idea and will probably keep one of those on hand.. Our daughter’s schedule is usually pretty full with preplanned and prepaid activities so her an our aupair only roadtrip once a week. During vacation time I put a pile of cash on the counter for the week with a list of activity ideas and replenish as necessary. This is a great post that reminded that Paddington Bear opened today and to check my wallet for some cash. :)

andrea conrath January 17, 2015 at 6:30 pm

We’ve had a credit card for all 3 au pairs w/ her name on it. Most cc’s will let you get additional cards w/ other names. Never had a problem and it’s easy to track online; it’s a card my husband and I only use rarely so we know what our charges are. Now if some amounts on it started to look inflated or suspicious we would have to investigate but so far we have been lucky and it’s never been an issue.

When the au pair leaves, a quick call to the CC company and that particular card is canceled (just the one w/ her name on it). easy!

AussiePair January 20, 2015 at 5:08 am

This is what 2/3 of my host families have done and I think it’s been the easiest method for everyone. I put everything from gas, to groceries, school supplies, gifts for the kids teachers, you name it, on the card. If my host parents needed something they could just send me a text and I could take the kids on the errand. I would simply leave the receipt for my host parent so they knew what I had spent and on what… I think toward the end they didn’t pay an awful lot of attention to it, but if my host mom saw something she’d rather I not buy she pointed it out (only really happened when I bought the big expensive apples instead of the cheaper smaller ones, when the kids didn’t know the difference and were perfectly happy with the cheaper ones).

TexasHM January 18, 2015 at 3:59 am

We have asked our APs what they preferred (offering cash upfront bring back receipt and change or they pay and I e-transfer the funds once they text me the amount and get receipt or something else) and every AP has migrated toward putting it on their own cards and then texting me the amount which I promptly transfer (quick pay means I can do it in seconds on my phone). They don’t grocery shop for us but we have a Costco membership and they just ask to borrow my card for that and gas (it’s the Costco Amex) and we do have a little cash in the house (kids allowance jar) that I ask them to raid if cash is necessary and I don’t have it or time to deal with it. So I guess we do all of the above! :)

Taking a Computer Lunch January 18, 2015 at 8:53 am

I feel fortunate to live in a city where a lot of museums and other public amenities are absolutely free. When my kids were younger, just paying the AP fees and stipend broke the bank – DH and I had “date nights” at home after we put the kids to bed – so we definitely could not have afforded to give the AP a budget for entertaining the kids. Our first APs were great at finding free activities or those that cost less than $5 – story time at local libraries and bookstores, a place that sold swing sets that turned into an indoor playground on weekdays, museums and the zoo, and playgrounds. She would get together with her AP friends and their kids. Until child #2 went to school, his best friends were the children of other APs.

Now that child #2 is a teenager, I will occasionally give him money to have lunch with a friend when he’s out on the town, but am encouraging him to pack a healthy lunch (after all, I bring my lunch from home to work to save money for his college education and AP fees!). I still encourage my AP, when she takes the Camel out, to find inexpensive outings.

Amelie January 19, 2015 at 5:47 pm

I was an au pair in DC with three small children (the oldest was 5 at the time). My host mom always made sure there was ~$100 in a drawer for me. I just had to take the money and put the receipts there afterwards – no biggie if I didn’t have them for some reason.

I didn’t drive so it was mostly for the bus (and very occasionally the subway), for a cab when it was raining or snowing and I had to get the kids from school or for a very occasional snack. I guess I never spent more than 15-20 dollars each week (maybe a little bit more during summer). I could also get any special food I wanted with this money, but I rarely did so.

Anonymous in CA January 19, 2015 at 6:20 pm

I’m in the camp of I estimate how much the planned activities will cost and leave money for those (like I know the zoo entrance fee, the parking fee, etc. and leave out money for those). If I haven’t explicitly authorized it, I don’t expect the AP to be buying food out for my son; instead, I expect her to be packing lunch and snacks when they go out, just like I bring my lunch to work every day. That might sound stingy, but we live in a very expensive part of the country and I take care to purchase good, organic, healthy foods that I want my son to be eating. And I try to teach and model responsible spending habits – which doesn’t include stopping off for a snack each day.

If the AP decides on her own that she wants to take my son out for a treat, (a) I feel that’s on her and (b) I’m not so keen on it because I don’t really want him eating sweets or gluten every day (which is the only things they get when they’re out!), and I want to know when he’s had a sweet – if he’s only allowed X number of sweets a week, I’d rather that it be ME who gets to say, yes, you can have a treat this time, not the AP, or at least share in it. But if she’s given him a sweet 5 days in a row, then that’s not ok. So, really, it’s only if I’ve actually said it’s ok for them to go to a café or get a little something. But otherwise, I expect them to be packing food with them, just like I do.

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