How much should you tip your Au Pair at Christmas?

by cv harquail on December 12, 2008

peace house

If you celebrate Christmas and if you don’t, the quote-unquote Holidays are a time of year when many people think about giving, some people think about getting, and most of us think about both.

If you were to search for information about Christmas Tips for au pairs, you’d discover that the commonly-advised amount is "one week’s pay and a gift from your child/ren." Truth be told, $170 a good bit more than I’ve ever set out to spend on an au pair gift. This amount is more than we budget for any person in our family (including kids — and I say budgeted, not spent). Am I cheap? I don’t know….

Over the years I’ve given au pairs different combinations of ‘cash and prizes’, depending on how easy they are to shop for, how much money I’ve made that year, how long they have been with us, and frankly how much I liked the job they were doing.

What I recommend

Given that your au pair may learn of ‘holiday tipping conventions’, and that other host families will probably be following them, give your au pair cash and prizes valued between $100 and $170. I’d say $75 is the lowest you can go; it’s less than half a week, but still a nice chunk of change, and more than she’d make in an (illegal) evening of extra babysitting. I would not not not go over $170 — that puts too much pressure on other families in your cluster. (Remember, we all must Resist the Amenities Arms Race! )

Give your au pair some cash, a small personal gift, and a personal note or thank you card from you.

200812111126.jpg The cash is what they really need, and it should be easy to take home. I think a crisp $100 bill makes a good impression and feels more special than a lump of 10s & 20s. A $100 bill is also hard to spend, so she might be more inclined to save it. (LOL)

The small personal gift takes the generic, mercenary edge off the act of giving money to someone who is in a (more or less intimate) relationship with you. Plus, it’s just so easy to find pretty girly things to give a young adult woman. What’s more, you want your au pair to have something to open under the tree (if that’s what you do).

Christmas envelope

The most important thing to give your au pair, however, is a personal note from you and/or your partner . In this note, write specifically about a few memorable events, a few behaviors, or a few attributes of your au pair that have meant something special to you. Be specific; that shows that you’re actually paying attention to who she is. Think about this note as something she might put in her scrap book, so write it for posterity. Her mother might read it, or even her own kids someday.

What your au pair really wants and needs… is to know that you appreciate her, recognize her for who she is, and celebrate her strengths. Money can’t really show that, but a heartfelt note can. And should.

In addition, have your child or children make a gift for your au pair.

A Christmas ornament, a special drawing, a mini-photo album, some project from school– the more personal, the better. It’s with your kids that your au pair has the most significant relationship, so help your children create something to give your au pair that she can remember them by.

Off the board…

The only time I ever deviated from my own advice was last year… our au pair had arrived from Sweden in September with only her cellphone as a camera. How was she going to capture her travels, her friends, her year, with a crappy cell phone camera?! So, we got her a nice quality digital camera for about $100. I felt a little bad that she might have preferred cash, but frankly I had to impose my own values and make sure she could take adequate photos. (C, were you okay with that?)

Anna shared a question about Christmas /Holiday gifts and tips:

I am a second-year hostmom; with my first au pair the relationship was easy and I gave from the heart, not expensive gifts, but appropriate and appreciated.

With our second au pair the relationship is more reserved, and I get a feeling that she is expecting more. We are not rich, and I don’t want to spend more on her gifts than I would on the ones for my husband’s birthday say (my limit for him is $90-$100, and we don’t exchange gifts on any other occasion). I am hoping to spend $75 or less on each occasion (her birthday also falls in Dec). Is it fair?

What advice do you have for Anna? Weigh in, below, and share what you think is appropriate!

(Check out this earlier post on Holidays, too.)

{ 15 comments }

Tammie December 12, 2008 at 10:22 pm

This is my first time posting – I am on my 4th au pair. I am not giving her any cash – I opted to purchase multiple personal items which total about $150. A fleece blanket, 3 pieces of jewelry, a monomgrammed stocking which I will ask her to hang so that I can fill it with German chocolate and a $50 sweatshirt (which maybe I should return and just give cash?).

Maya December 12, 2008 at 10:25 pm

I don’t have an answer for Anna, but I have my own question. I hope Anna does not mind.

I am a first year host mom. My first au pair who has been with us for 5.5 months in leaving in 2 days (we are in transition) and my new au pair is also coming on Sunday. So by the time Christmas rolls around, my new au pair will be with us for one and half weeks. Not a long time to 1) learn about the person, and 2) give her a significant gift (at least in my mind).

So, what would be appropriate for me to give to my new au pair? Also consider that we do not celebrate Christmas and she will not be with us over the Christmas anyway as she will be celebrating with her friends in another state.

Thanks.

Anonymous December 12, 2008 at 10:47 pm

Just had to laugh at the digital camera gift. Our au pair arrived this fall with no camera and uses her cell phone to take pictures. Guess what she’s getting for Christmas? :-) It made me crazy that she was capturing this truly monumental year of her life with a telephone.

My advice for Anna – shop the sales!! Check out your local discount outlets or do some online shopping. $75 can be stretched quite a ways if you look for the bargains.

For Maya – You may want to wait until she arrives and she what she may need that she doesn’t have. Our au pair didn’t have nearly enough winter clothes for our climate, so sweaters made a nice gift. Other thoughts might be a nice bathrobe and slippers, or some new pajamas. Those are personal gifts, but you don’t need to know too much about someone to buy them. Another thought would be a gift certificate to a local store so she can buy things she may need.

Angie December 13, 2008 at 12:03 am

We are first time host parents as well and our au pair has been with us for 4 months. We will be in transition over Christmas (our au pair is departing on the 27th and have yet to match with a new oe), but she has done a good job and seeing that this is her first Christmas away from her family, we wanted to try to make it special as well. We have 4 children and one income, so I am keeping her gifts to the value of 1 weeks pay. I had also heard this was a good rule of thumb to go by.
We all have monogrammed stockings from Lillian Vernon, so I purchased one for our au pair so she will have a keepsake to remember us by and also feel included in our family. We traditionally include favorite candies, fruits, nuts & 1 “santa” gift in the stocking (which this year will be a White House Christmas ornament) each year.
Target has some really cute and inexpensive gifts in their $1 bins, so I took advantage of this and am putting together a basket filled with chocolates, coffees and bath products. I am also putting a $25 gift card to Target in the basket. I let my children pick out all the goodies from the $1 bin, so it would be meaningful for them. They are drawing their own cards for her. Creative and inexpensive!!! :)
She loves jewelry, so I purchased a really cute beaded necklace from one of the booths at our Fall Festival. Very inexpensive, but very cute!
She loves taking pictures and had already purchased a digital camera prior to arriving, so I found a great purse size Digital Photo Viewer (holds 50 photos!) for $20 at the Black Friday sale at Target so she could download some of her photos and always have them close by when she travels.
Last, but not least, we are giving her a personal note with a $50 bill. Since she will be moving on, we hope the cash and gift card will help her purchase things she may need.

So, with a little creativity, shopping on Black Friday and including some family traditions, we were able to keep it at around $175 (about a weeks pay).

a cozy gift from Bill Gates December 13, 2008 at 3:48 pm

Wow. I had no idea people “tipped” their au pairs. To me, tips are for doormen and housecleaners, and our au pair is in a different category. I guess it’s just another way to label the gifting that goes on this time of year, though, so I won’t get stuck on the nomenclature.

We do give gifts, of course! I bought her a really warm, long coat and winter gloves (love Costco!) when I saw that the ones she had purchased here in the fall were nowhere near adequate. But she needed them months ago, so I bought them months ago and just said “we are so happy that you have joined us!”

Thanks to this discussion, I’ve just thought of the perfect thing — the laptop she purchased here was disappointing when she got it home because it has no Office suite, so we’ll pick that up for her for under the tree. She is not a girly one at all, so she will love this and I think she has been saving for it. I will have the kids pick out sweaters, and warm scarves and maybe I’ll pop a pair of driving gloves into her stocking, now that the cold steering wheel faces her each morning!

This blog is helping me so much — thanks to everyone’s comments, as well as the initial post. Very helpful to think stockings before we all troop to Grandma’s house!

C December 13, 2008 at 3:55 pm

I loved it!!! I still do. And it is now beeing used in Austria :)

Anna December 14, 2008 at 2:10 am

Thank you everybody. I agree with the previous poster that the term “tipping” sounds distasteful. Why is it the au pair is supposed to be treated as a part of your family, but when it comes to gifts, not? I don’t “tip” my husband and kids.

Anyway, here is what my plan is so far regarding gifts, please let me know if it sounds good. My au pair’s birthday is next week, and then I am going to give her another gift for the New Year (she doesn’t celebrate Christmas on the 25th, and in her country New Year is the big gifting holiday).

So for her birthday I am giving her a lot of small things, hoping if she hates one of them, at least she likes some others.
– a robe and slippers (she has neither) – bought at TJ Maxx for about $25 total
– a set of SS necklace and earrings with cubic zirconia ($80 value at Macy’s, got on sale and with a coupon for $30+)
– a hat and a scarf from H&M (a regift, but new with tags)
– a USB flash drive 4 GB ($15 at Staples) – should be useful for backing up photos
– the newest Stephen King book (her favorite author) $20 at Borders
So the total cost to me about $90, value much greater

For New Year I plan to give her a Visa or American Express gift card for $50 or $75, haven’t decided yet; a box of fancy chocolates (already have it), and a small paper planner for 2009.

What do you all think?

Ann Levine December 15, 2008 at 4:20 pm

My au pair is leaving (the end of her year) at Christmas. We don’t celebrate Christmas but I made her a snapfish photo book of her year here and I will give her a $100 bill. I’m pretty sure my daughters (when they are a little older) would greatly appreciate a $100 bill. It has a different feel than a check – it feels precious….

cvh December 16, 2008 at 2:10 pm

Nat, a Cultural Care Au Pair person, offers this advice on holiday gifts, which I quote from their site (http://eastsideaupair.blogspot.com/)

People often ask for my advice for appropriate gift-giving for families and au pairs during the holidays. While gift cards, photo albums, an extra vacation day, or a picture frame are all great gifts, one of the best gifts a host family can give their au pair during the holiday season is the gift of clarity.

With all of the school vacation time, travel, family engagements, and holiday traditions, it can oftentimes be difficult for the au pairs to understand when their work day begins and ends. It’s so important for families and au pairs to sit down before the official holiday games begin and make very clear what the “holiday hours” will be.

In addition to clarifying hours, it’s also important for families to clarify what activities or events the au pair is asked to be a part of as part of her role as the au pair and what activities or events she is invited to be a part of as a member of the family. Without this clarity, there can often be misunderstandings and hurt feelings. The holidays are a wonderful time of the year and can be the highlight of an au pair’s experience. Taking this important step can help to keep the season bright!

Dawn December 16, 2008 at 2:25 pm

I agree with others who are a bit befuddled by the idea of “tipping” someone who is supposed to be treated as a member of the family. What we have done in past years (and will do this year as well) is to spend (approximately) the equivalent amount on our au pair’s gifts as we do on our children’s gifts. (DH and I typically do not exchange gifts at Christmas.) In the past, this amount has probably equalled about a week’s salary, but this year we are cutting back a bit on all of our gift-giving, as I’m sure others are as well. This goes for ALL members of our family, including our au pair. We do not give cash, although we do typically give a gift card or two and/or a phone card.

We also have various “branches” of our family that we spend the holidays with, and each of them also gives our au pair one or more gifts — and I try to give her ideas of inexpensive (usually homemade) gifts she can give to them so she doesn’t feel awkward accepting gifts from them.

Caroline February 16, 2009 at 10:22 pm

The digital camera made me laugh too! That’s what my host mum gave me for Christmas and I was totally gobsmacked. No amount of cash would have got such a big smile out of me on Christmas Eve (that’s when they open presents). And when I left six months later I gave her a album with all the nicest pictures I’d taken of the kids and it made her cry. Tihihi

Anonymous March 20, 2009 at 1:08 am

we gave her $500.00? i think we were a little generous…

Anonymous October 19, 2009 at 9:09 pm

same with us. We gave her a tiffany bracelet and $ 500 it is a small price to pay when she is taking such great care of my little guys all day:)

PA au pair mom August 6, 2009 at 11:49 pm

We got our AP a laptop computer. All the other girls in our cluster were getting expensive gifts like ipods, laptops, etc and we didn’t want to appear cheap. we thought that was the norm.

My 2 cents August 7, 2009 at 10:13 am

FWIW, We gave our AP last year $100 and a stocking full of inexpensive personal care items that she would enjoy and may not have purchased for herself. I talked with another host mom and we both agreed $100 was a very fair, but still generous, figure.

I’m very comfortable with this amount and plan to do so again this year.

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