Share Your System? Tips from Host Parents

by cv harquail on October 23, 2014

Some readers have teased me about my systems.

Labelers, dots on my fancy knives, saving my ice skates, stuff I tell myself so I calm down, the checkout task list 3905740362_7b8a332cbe_o But any time I write about one of my systems, a few brave ones of you will mention systems of your own. (Clearly I’m not the only one that codifies, checklists, and organizes her way into a semblance of sanity.) We’ve even had some wonderful guest posts where you’ve shared how you’ve organized and systematized you way through some pretty classic host family challenges. So, I’d like to introduce a new kind of semi-open thread:

Share Your System!

Here’s the plan:  

  • Whenever I open up a Share Your System page, you all can add a longish comment about one of your systems.
  • After about 5 different contributions, we’ll close the page.
  • Then, I’ll reblog the systems as individual posts from you. (That will make it easier to search and find the tips later.)
  • If you share a system, when it goes up you can revise what you commented and add pictures, to flesh it out into a fully-formed guest post.

Let’s see how this works?!

See also:

Calendar Advice from CalifMom 4 Household Rules to Protect Your Host Parent Sanity Tip: Know When to Blame the System (part 1)

Note: You detail-oriented readers might note that the title of this feature is different from when the post first went up.

Turns out that “What’s Your System” is the name of an entire Tumblr, not to mention a hashtag, now subsumed under the the Tue/night blog.  To avoid stomping on their territory I revised the tag we’ll use here on AuPairMom. Go check out their interesting ‘What’s Your System’ column, where interesting people share their personal tips for doing all manner of things. And know that our emphasis here is on us sharing host parent-y things with each other. No change there.

Image by Lenna Young Andrews 


DCMomof3 October 23, 2014 at 8:28 pm

Great timing with this post since I need help with a system tonight!!
I have a fairly new au pair and need to change up my gas payment system. Our system is as follows:

We have 2 cars and 1 truck. During the week, au pair drives the truck and my husband drives his car to work downtown. On the weekend, husband drives the truck and au pair drives the car. Au pair has to replace the gas that she used over the weekend in my husband’s car.

We’ve never charged an au pair for her gas during the week because she is primarily using the truck to drive the kids and run errands. We never minded when previous au pairs used it to go to the gym or for a weeknight trip to the mall since the girls never used it that much during the week.

Our new au pair uses the truck during the week constantly. She works a split schedule so she generally goes out to the mall or to visit friends during her break and then she goes out again each evening. We live kind of out in the country, so even going to visit a “close-by” friend is at least a 10 minute drive each way. There are a number of other au pairs in our town, but I’ve noticed that our au pair seems to be the driver during the week when we are paying for gas, but her friends pick her up a lot on the weekend when she is supposed to be paying for gas.

Tonight I told her that we will need to figure out a different system for the gas since this is getting a little out of control. She agreed with me and we decided to discuss tomorrow (since she was running out the door to the mall again). However, I don’t know what the new system should be. Its kind of hard to tell how much gas is for personal use and how much is for driving the kids when she is using the same vehicle during the week.

I should also add that one of her jobs is a trip to BJ’s each Monday which includes filling up the truck for the week with our credit card.

Any good ideas?

Taking a Computer Lunch October 23, 2014 at 9:27 pm

If you’re AP is constantly driving her friends around, then it’s not unreasonable to ask that she collect $1 from everyone (including herself) and buy gas with the proceeds every time they go to the mall, etc. I realize that just buys you one gallon of gas, but you might be surprise how much it adds up if you’ve inadvertently become the AP taxi. Gas stations have a cut-off, so if she hands the bucks to the attendant, she won’t go over what she’s collected.

Other than that, you could have her keep an odometer log of every mile she drives (a separate log for each journal). Once you get a sense of average mileage, you could charge her for personal use – and then it would be up to her to collect from her friends to share in the cost.

Since both DH and I use public transportation to commute, the AP uses both vehicles more than we. We pay 100% of the costs associated with the larger vehicle used to transport the kids. Savvy APs have waited until DH and I use the other vehicle for a date night, knowing that we would gas it up. We’ve had constant drivers (boyfriends and girlfriends 15-30 miles away, shoppers, etc.), and those who used public transportation almost exclusively (especially those who take classes from the local community college and can use the ID as a bus pass).

HRHM October 24, 2014 at 1:33 am

Every week, I calculate how many miles the AP has driven the kids (it changes pretty little from week to week) and then I give her that money and SHE is expected to keep the mini van gassed up. That way, if all she does it drive it for work, the amount I give her will fill it back to where it was at the start of the week. Any additional gas is from her driving and she has to pay the difference. So far, so good.

dcmomof3 October 24, 2014 at 9:32 am

Wow, so I just calculated the miles required for job-related driving each week and it comes out to 1/8 of a full tank on the truck. I used google maps to plot the distances and even added a few bonus trips that don’t always happen. I always imagined that work use was more like 1/2 tank! I’m going to tell AP she can still fill up the tank at BJ’s on Mondays with our credit card, but then at the end of the week she needs to pay to fill it back up to slightly over 3/4 tank to replace the gas that she used for personal driving. Thanks for the tips!

Peachtree Mom October 24, 2014 at 11:41 am

I give our au pair $40 extra the first Sunday of every month. That gets her about 300 miles to drive our daughter around, cluster meetings etc. My daughter takes the bus to school so that is more than enough. The rest of the gas is on her. She made a comment the other day about the tank being 1/4 full. I reminded her that she got her $40 in the beginning of the month which was good for 300 miles.

NJmama October 24, 2014 at 9:31 pm

We also guesstimated that $40/month would do it – and then some. During a few summers, when the kids were doing different week-long camps all over the place, I upped it to $60. But then brought it back to 40 once things calmed down.
We’ve never had any problems. Occasionally I would ask the APs if $40 / month was ok if we had a change in the schedule – for example, when one of the kids joined in a weekly or twice weekly activity that was outside of our local driving area. But the system has usually worked ok.
Our last au pair hardly ever used the car for personal use while our current au pair uses it quite a bit. I think the best thing to do is add up how much kid-related driving your au pair is doing each week or month and maybe throw in a few extra dollars and call it a day.
I like TACLs suggestion to have the AP collect $1 from each person for each trip. In years past my APs were definitely driving a lot. And in fact for one in particular, she got kind of sick of being the one who drove all the time and so I told her to tell her friends that I was cracking down on her car use.
We have a small house and don’t do fantastic vacations so I don’t mind throwing extra gas money their way.

Elaine October 24, 2014 at 6:37 am

Anyone have any tips on how to set up automatic payments? Inevitably our au pair has to remind me to make the transfer from my bank app on my phone every week. I tried Dwolla but it wouldn’t let her create an account since she’s not a US citizen. Bank of America (which we both use) won’t let me do automatic transfers (they will mail her checks, however, which would create more work for her than it’s worth). There surely must be some other solution?

TexasHM October 24, 2014 at 8:57 am

Chase has a solution called QuickPay that allows you to send transfers to any bank and vice versa. With this I pay the landscaper, pool service, our friend that comes to clean every couple weeks and the chef that drops off prepared meals and none of them are Chase bank account holders. I have autopay for the AP (she has a free student Chase checking account) so I don’t have to do anything there and I get an email when its done. My parents use it (not Chase) to send me $ every month for their cell phones (on our family plan) and my parents and AP use it when we are out shopping and they toss something in the cart. While we are in the store they can pull out their phone and send me the money before we even check out. LOVE it.

hOstCDmom October 24, 2014 at 10:10 am

There was a recent thread re an AP who wouldn’t deposit her cheques where a number of us chimed in re autopay options. I would check out that thread for bank/app/tech suggestions!

3txmom October 25, 2014 at 12:20 am

Bank of america does atomatic transfers from mine to Au pair’s account e very Friday…. So I know they can. I may have told them we would bank elsewhere. ;)

TexasHM October 24, 2014 at 9:16 am

So I am agonized over what system to share! (I know, I need to Let it Go! Let it Go! but I find that having a process calms me. ;) I have a system or checklist for almost everything at this point (mine not for the AP to check off). In fact right now I am working on the only one I don’t have – a formalized onboarding process for the two weeks after they arrive. Yes I have notes and a general outline for the first couple days but I always seem to get hung up on some little thing or forget how I made things smoother last time (go to the social security office right when it opens) so I now have a couple pages of notes and tips I am organizing and going to turn it into an outline for the first couple weeks. If anyone has anything like this already I would love to see it and exchange notes, if not I am mid process and happy to share when done!
The process I get most asked about is my interview process. It is extensive. CV I know you asked me and I sent you my rounds of questions and examples at one point you busy bee, if you would prefer I organize that into something intelligible I am happy to do so. Here’s the rough outline:
1. Update all our documentation and profile info, chat with DH about any particular traits, countries or languages we would like to look for this round. (Countries and languages have yet to be a factor except that we exclude a country we have already had two APs from)
2. Do a preliminary search using the IE larger criteria (age, driving ability and swimming ability although some APs downplay their abilities so I always go one level lower than I would prefer and we do 21+ year old APs for a myriad of reasons that could be another post itself
3. I watch their video and look for something, anything that shows me personality. If I see enough to get me interested I read their essay and general profile info
4. If I think they could potentially be a match I reach out to them with my first round of open ended interview questions (happy to share)
5. I give them about 24 hours to respond but I know their timezones and I watch for responsiveness throughout the process. If they respond well (can expand on this) then I send them an explanation on why we asked some of the questions and include a second round of open ended questions (happy to share) and ask if they want to see our profile handbook and have some info on the kids and our parenting philosophy (I hold this out until two full rounds so I can get their answers without being influenced by our info – our handbook does not go to them when we reach out)
6. If they had great round 2 answers I send the handbook and kids doc and ask them to ask any questions and let me know what they think (they can ask questions any step in the process but I expect a lot here)
7. Depending on their reaction to docs and questions I ask them if they would like to Skype (with me – I ask softball questions here to get them comfortable happy to share)
8. If that goes well I ask if they would like to speak to the current AP (better be a big yes) and then set up for them to connect on FB/email/Skype – get full analysis from current AP ;)
9. If that goes well I ask them to Skype again with me and then Skype the kids (looking for several things here, happy to share)
10. If that goes well I print email chains and profile and review with DH to determine if we think we want to match with the candidate, if yes I send our “challenge” email
11. Based on challenge response we decide if we are going to offer a match or not, if so I setup the AP the Skype with DH to check the box
12. Assuming that goes well (it never hasn’t) then at the end of that conversation or next Skype we surprise her with a kids made/held sign that says “JANE DOE will you please be our au pair?” Tears and screams and laughs later we have our match!
There are sometimes additional Skypes and usually several rounds of email in between the Skypes as well, its a continual conversation but these are my checkmark steps. ;)

TexasHM October 24, 2014 at 1:40 pm

One of the fellow HMs on here just emailed me to point out that I have a “12 step program” for AP selection – LOL! Thought that was funny enough to share! ;)

cv harquail October 24, 2014 at 8:49 pm

It’s true. The best laid plans get stuck in MSWord. Half edited. I will go look for them. ;-)

NJmama October 24, 2014 at 9:34 pm

TexasHM a you should start a side biz and patent your systems. Really admire your organization skills. In comparison I feel like I’m flying by the seat of my pants lol!

TexasHM October 24, 2014 at 9:52 pm

LOL NJMama I would if I thought I could monetize it! Just kidding really though most everything I do I learned from this site so I’m just sharing the collective genius of other APMoms! :) And I have had my share of bumps along the way so whatever I can do to spare someone the same mistake is worth it! I was just telling another HM I used to do more skypeing upfront and found that by moving it back in my process my kids were happier (last round they only skyped our match), DH was happier because I was less stressed (process helps me feel like I have some control and it will work out) and I saved a ton of time because probably at least 80% didn’t make it to the Skype rounds so imagine the time saved when you use email templates for the first 3 rounds! Some opt out first round (time saved) some don’t make it past round one (time saved), some second rounds both ways (again time saved no Skype) and some bail or get eliminated round 3 (again, less investment). Not trying to be impersonal but we do get attached to the candidates and I would rather vet like crazy and then get invested than get invested and waste time earlier. Plus it shows the candidates that we have a process and know what we are doing. (I always tell them what the next step is in the process assuming they want to continue.) I’ve gotten really positive feedback even from APs that didn’t end up being a match or that opted not to continue with us for whatever reason. I helped two brand new HMs use this process in the last year and both got amazing APs (their feedback) and are still going strong. I wish someone had helped me interview as a new HM, in fact I wish the agencies would do something like that (have an LC that’s had an AP or a fellow HM mentor) but there I go again…pipe dreams!! :)

NJ Mama October 25, 2014 at 8:20 am

Yes I followed your advice this last time around — it was actually a relief to push the Skype interviews back. With our last agency, it seemed their advice was –send an email and do an interview. Then do two or three interviews with each girl and choose. I had never thought to do it any other way in the beginning, and it was really stressful. We’re all so busy during the week. My husband and I don’t get home until late. We can’t Skype from work, so we had to carve out time to do it. And you’re so right — the kids just get so worn out. They aren’t nearly as into it, and it can make it difficult for everyone.

I sooooo wish I had found this site earlier on, b/c by the time I did I had already started doing a lot of upfront emailing. But just think of the time — and heartache– I would have saved if I had gotten these tips earlier.

This last time when we were matching, we didn’t Skype until we were down to the final two candidates. This was after several weeks of emailing and weeding out some candidates who seemed great on paper and/or started out having really great potential, but just fizzled out for one reason or another. So by the time we did the Skype interviews, we really felt like we knew the girls well. Even when the connection was bad during the first try — we still had a good conversation.

Hats off to you TexasHM. If I can think of a way for you to monetize your techniques I’ll let you know lol!

Old China Hand October 25, 2014 at 3:53 pm

This is perfect timing for me, thank you! Thanks to advice on this site I have been emailing extensively with aps before setting up skype interviews, but I am glad to see some advice on how to move forward now that we are likely to interview two candidates. I am so thrilled to feel like I have it all better under control this time and your advice helps with that even more.

Old China Hand October 25, 2014 at 3:51 pm

I need advice on a system for helping ap with taxes. I had our last (first) ap pay quarterly estimated taxes. She doesn’t owe state income tax but has to file (easy). She also owes school district and city income tax (Ohio weirdness). Our ap was super resentful every time she had to fill out the estimated taxes and then even more so when we did all the end of year paperwork for the local taxes. She kept telling me that her other ap friends in other states either didn’t pay taxes or didn’t have to pay the local and school district ones, which are kind of expensive. The fact that Ohio is weird and has these just didn’t get through. Then we went through it all again when she finished up her 6 month extension. How can I avoid this with our next ap, who will arrive mid January?

Repeataupair October 25, 2014 at 6:00 pm

That’s not your responsability, that is extremely nice of you to assist but I would suggest making a little taxes handbook for your au pairs, offer your help if they ask for it and leave it there. The LCC is supposed to be helping I believe and I know many clusters who dedicate the february or march au pair meeting to a taxes night, explain, answer questions, etc.

TexasHM October 25, 2014 at 6:15 pm

Ugh taxes. Our firstAP paid first year but not second (as far as I know) and she married an American. Second AP didn’t pay and went home just before they would have been due. Current AP actually downloaded form and plans to pay the week she leaves (Dec) and I am thrilled she’s taking it seriously. I know taxes are not fun but I get super frustrated when the APs don’t pay them, I’ll be honest. I’ve thought about holding them out but haven’t because I don’t want to get in trouble with state department for paying less than the stipend if a cranky AP turns me in. :(. I honestly wish the state department would require the agencies to make sure taxes are paid. If they won’t then at minimum don’t grant them another visa in he future or allow them to change visa type or apply for citizenship. I’ve hear rumor they do some of these things already but it doesn’t seem to be consistently applied.

Old China Hand October 25, 2014 at 6:28 pm

I know it isn’t my responsibility, but our LCC is horrible and I don’t want our aps to not pay. It’s part of teaching them what it means to live in a country with rule of law. There is a way that we can withhold taxes from their pay checks, so that is kind of what I am wondering about. I figure that if taxes are withheld weekly and then filing your taxes gets you the money back, it will be more of a positive experience.

TexasHM October 25, 2014 at 7:41 pm

I’m with you OCH. I had asked an LC and another HM and both said we couldn’t withhold because then we violate the minimum stipend state dept requirement but I find that ridiculous because we are helping the govt by ensuring the APs pay their taxes but I digress… Would love to hear if anyone has been told they could do this and I’ll ping our LC (we changed agencies) and see if she has a different perspective.

Anonymous in CA October 26, 2014 at 2:23 am

I don’t disagree on some level, however, will point out that whether or not an individual taxpayer actually files and pays taxes is the responsibility of the taxpayer. So, while it leaves a bad taste to know that an AP may not pay his / her taxes, it’s not up to us to enforce the tax law. How many of us have followed up on a vendor, like a part-time sitter, a house cleaner, a massage therapist, a psychologist, a yoga teacher (anyone who is not a W-2 earner) to ensure he or she paid taxes? My suspicion is that very few of us would ever think to try to withhold taxes on an independent contractor, and I don’t view this as different. It’s not our job to enforce tax law – which also means we’re not responsible if AP doesn’t pay. My two cents.

Old China Hand October 26, 2014 at 11:09 am

We are allowed to withhold for them. Here is info from the IRS:
Income Tax Withholding

Because au pair wages are paid for domestic service in a private home, they are not subject to mandatory U.S. income tax withholding and reporting on Forms 941 and W-2. However, au pair wages are includible in the gross income of the recipients, and au pairs are required to file U.S. individual income tax returns.

At the current wage rate it is likely that the au pair will have an income tax liability on his U.S. individual income tax return because nonresident aliens (with certain exceptions) are not able to claim the Standard Deduction. For this reason it is recommended that the au pair take one of the following two steps:
1.File and pay U.S. estimated income tax payments during the year on Form 1040ES-NR (PDF) if the au pair is is a nonresident alien, or on Form 1040-ES if the au pair is a resident alien, or
2.If both the au pair and the host family agree, file Form W-4 with his host family, indicating on line 6 of such form that the au pair voluntarily wishes a withholding amount of U.S. federal income tax deducted from his weekly au pair wages. The host family will report and pay over this withheld federal income tax on Schedule H of Form 1040. The host family will also issue Form W-2 Wage and Tax Statement to the au pair to report his au pair wages and income tax withholding. The host family will need to apply for an Employer Identification Number (EIN) if it decides to withhold tax and file Form W-2. The au pair will need to apply for a U.S. social security number.

I guess the next step is to figure out how to get an EIN.

I think that it is nice to help them out with this. When I was on a fellowship in grad school and the school wouldn’t withhold for me (even though it was clearly taxable), it drove me nuts.

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