When An Au Pair’s Thriftiness Shortchanges Her Adventure

by cv harquail on April 4, 2013

Frugality is an admirable trait.

It takes a lot of restraint and self discipline for an au pair to save money from her/his weekly stipend. Whether s/he’s saving for a vacation, a laptop computer, or to send money back home, au pairs who are carefully watching their expenses deserve our support.

But when an au pair’s frugality starts to bite into our families’ budgets, or when an au pair’s efforts to save money means that s/he’s skimping on adventure, an au pair’s thirst for thrift can become a problem.

Skimping on Food

I recently heard from a host mom who’s au pair is so hell-bent on saving money, that she makes herself sandwiches at home and takes them with her when she goes out at night. She takes a few cans of Diet Coke from the fridge every time she leaves the house, along with the snack sized bags of Goldfish the mom buys for school lunches.

The host mom is perturbed because she (the host mom) doesn’t think that she should be providing the au pair with every single morsel of food and every drop of drink. At the same time, though, the host mom doesn’t want to say anything because the au pair’s behavior triggers her own stinginess.

Skimping on Fun

Another host mom complained that her au pair never joins her family on days when she’s off duty — unless they mention in advance that they’ll be paying for everyone’s ticket. Her au pair also is rather bored– she doesn’t go to movies, buy music, or take a dance class.

While you can understand an au pair declining to spend $45 to go skiing, what about going to the mall, seeing a movie or taking a quick run to Starbucks?

Skimping on Friends

Some au pairs have even been known to skimp on their share of au pair group activities. They decline to drive (or chip in for gas), they forget to contribue to the pot when the group is taking someone out for a birthday, or they stay home rather than join the other girls/guys for a night out.

It’s one thing for an au pair to save money by passing up that crazy pair of heels at Payless, or by drinking a $3 beer instead of a $12 cocktail. It’s another thing for him or her to skimp, skimp, skimp, and by skimping miss out on real, important, memorable, fun.

How can you help an au pair understand the distinction between being thrifty and being a cheapskate to her/himself?

Most of my au pairs have been pretty even-handed with their spending– saving money for their travel month while having fun at Old Navy. The one au pair that seemed to spend her money before she’d earned it learned the hard way about savings, when she was unable to pay for a ticket to join her friends at a Katy Perry concert because she’d spent so much at Sephora & Forever21. (Ironic, I know).

We did have an au pair friend, though, who never seemed to do anything if it cost a penny. She was so intent on having American dollars to take back home with her that she barely had an adventure. In hindsight, I wish I’d talked with her and our own au pair about finding free things to do, and about spending wisely rather than not spending at all.

Money is a tender issue– when we discuss money with our au pairs, it brings up not only personal differences in ways to save and ways to spend, but also differences in what we have and what we hope to have.

Have you had an au pair who missed out on fun because s/he was too focused on saving money? If you did, did you talk with her/him about it?


Image: Coins, Some rights reserved by KJGarbutt


PauliAP April 4, 2013 at 10:27 am

Hi everyone,

Well, I find this topic quite interesting due to I never thought this was a concern (or even bothered) the HF. I have to say that I went crazy a couple of times and spent my whole paycheck before the weekend was over. I guess it was because I really didn’t have the chance to go to town. Anywho, I think it’s about having the purpose of saving if you set goals. For example, I realized that flying from where I was living (as an au pair) to NY was super cheap, so I started saving. Unfortunately, before that happened, I got my mollars pulled out and I had to pay with ALL MY SAVINGS for that.

anotherSeattleHostMom April 4, 2013 at 12:07 pm

Both of our APs have been pretty good about spending/saving although with our first I was occasionally irked at the taking of several diet cokes and/or snacks for a picnic with a group of friends. I never said anything but probably would have if it had been a frequent occurrence.

One thought I have on this is that when we give our APs gifts (either for occasions like birthdays, Valentine’s, xmas, etc.) or for appreciation of hard work (both kids sick, a total playroom clean-up, etc.) we try to give experiences or gift cards for activities. We give a lot of movie passes since they sell them for a discount at Costco and both of our APs have loved to see movies with friends. We also do Cheesecake Factory (yuck but they both seem to love it) or Starbucks cards, again to sort of encourage socializing. We’ve also done Groupons for 2 for theatre performances or touristy events and encouraged them to invite a friend. It doesn’t get around a super stingy AP, but it might be good for the AP who is saving every dime at the expense of her fun and friendships…

LuvCheetos April 4, 2013 at 1:07 pm

I have had 3 APs who liked to spend and now I have one who is more frugal. They were from different countries and the more frugal one is from a poorer country and, I think, sends money home. They have different gials for their time as APs. The first 3 were younger and it was more of a gap year. The 4th one is older and more mature. She still has fun, I think. She just does it in a more frugal way.

I don’t see it as any of my business. I guess the only way it becomes the HF’s business is the food issue. I do see it as my responsibility to provide food for the AP. If she wants to pack it to go, that’s fine. I guess if she were using the expensive things (i.e. pre-packed golfish and cans of diet coke), I might be frustrated. It does sound weird to me to say that my kids can have pre-packed goldfish in their lunches to go but the AP can’t. If it became a financial issue, I’d just buy bulk and make her (and the kids) pack them as they went. Same for soda — I wouldn’t buy cans if it was not ok for her to take them. We actually don’t buy soda (unless we have guests) so the AP buys her own if she wants it and we ask her not to drink it at the dinner table.

The only time I think the HF could really say something is if the AP is consistently feeding friends. For example, if she takes 4 sandwiches, 4 goldfish packs, 4 fruit and 4 diet cokes when she goes out. I don’t mind if friends eat when they are over (I hope they would) but I do not feel obligated to feed friends on a to go basis.

In a way, we have the opposite problem. Our AP sometimes wants things we don’t normally keep in the house. It’s all healthy stuff thati’d be happy to buy. I’ve told her to put them on the list and I’ll buy them, but she never does. She and her friend stop at the store and buy what they want and make it. I feel bad becuase I know they don’t make much money. I’d be happy to stock what she wants, especially because it’s mostly vegetables (just kinds we don’t normally eat) and sets a great example for my kids.

Should be working April 4, 2013 at 1:38 pm

What a sweet story. The AP gets her own healthy stuff and the HM would be happy to do it for her and set the example. I love this!

We are fine with buying most anything an AP wants, but we don’t want to keep soda in the house and I balk at Red Bull. She has to buy that crap for herself.

Should be working April 4, 2013 at 1:42 pm

I wanted to add that it’s hard to get our AP to buy better-quality groceries (with the money we give her for this). She often ‘cheaps out’ and buys something on sale that isn’t as good. Or she just has no idea and buys some cheap ‘cheese product’ and low-grade meat. This drives my husband crazy; he instituted the principle that the AP doesn’t buy the fruit, vegs, meat or cheese, he does this all himself–because she just has no idea what is good enough. She is allowed to buy the packaged groceries, though. With detailed advice in advance.

spanishaupair April 4, 2013 at 3:33 pm

Have you told her which ones you want her to buy? I dont know in her house but for example in mine we usually try to buy the cheap ones if possible

WestMom April 5, 2013 at 8:24 am

We have had similar situation. I am very picky with the quality of our meat and dairy, so when our APs makes dinner twice in the week for the entire family (we rotate), it’s usually not the type of meat I would personally buy. I don’t want to be over controlling so I feel I have to cut the APs some slack in their selection. I gently remind them (‘this meat and this store is really worth the extra bucks’), and slowly it influences their shopping choices over the first few months. In our case, I don’t think it’s about being cheap, but more about lack of experience, since they also sometimes buy expensive stuff I would never buy, like fancy chicken strips at 9.99/lb instead of the family pack of chicken breasts at 3.99/lb!

Seattle Mom April 8, 2013 at 1:51 pm

Lol I have this problem with my husband- he is always cheaping out on the meat and it drives me crazy! I balance it out by buying the most humanely-treated chicken and beef possible, and then point out how much better it tastes.

Of course he just got mad at me for spending $16/lb on halibut… but it was AWESOME, and we needed a break from salmon.

hOstCDmom April 4, 2013 at 2:05 pm

I agree with Luv Cheetos. If my special sodas are being consumed at a rate I don’t like I would stop buying them or stow them away in my office or bedroom. But anything my kids can eat for meals or snacks should be freely available to the AP. I feel I should provide the AP healthy food typical of what we eat as a family, meals and snacks, on an unrestricted basis. And if she wants to pack PB&J, an apple and pretzels to go for a Saturday outing, then I should not begrudge her that.

I think there is a place in the HP office or bedroom closet for special sodas, gourmet chocolate etc. :)

Seattle Mom April 8, 2013 at 1:57 pm

I agree with this. I don’t drink soda anymore, but DH does and he encourages the AP to help herself. I think if she were going through it at a very fast rate he would just stop buying it. And I buy snacks for the whole family, which includes the AP. Our current AP eats a lot of fruit (yay) and so do our children (double yay) so I just buy more.

I got our AP a prepaid debit card (Amex) to spend on groceries. Our current (3rd) AP is the first one to really use it a lot, and at first I was like “who nelly! spending too much money!” but now I see that 85% of the purchases are ones that I would have made anyway, and it just saves me a trip to the grocery store- she buys bread and fruit for the whole family, and sometimes buys groceries to cook food which she shares with everyone. So far I’ve only had to talk with her once- she once bought sugary cereal, which we do not do in our house. She doesn’t really spend that much of my money, overall, and in some cases she is much more frugal than the other APs- she spends less on parking & eating out with the kids.

spanishaupair April 4, 2013 at 3:41 pm

Its nice to hear the point of some of you about snacks and sodas, i think is reasonable to ask the aupair to buy her extras but if the rest of the family can eat them at home, i will feel a bit dissapointed if i cant take them even once in a long while. Apart from that on picking food i think i have done it only twice and one of them was my older HK who packed them all because my HM told her to do as i was going to have a 24 hour trip home for christmas and i was surprised of how many snacks and chocolates they put on.
About saving money, I’m the kind of aupair who saves money, i usually save 50€ a week which is half of what i earn (im in Ireland so payment is 100€ a week), but never regret to spend all money and some savings for going on a weekend out somewhere, what i dont feel the need to spend money in is in clothes (i dont really like irish fashion) or drinks
But i think is very difficult to advise aupairs who are saving all money and not doing anything, because they dont want to spend the money or see what they miss. I have a friend that now that has a bit more than 2 months left is regrecting not have done so much, and i have been trying to tell her to do more, offering her to join me for trips or whatever but usually never wanted

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Gianna April 4, 2013 at 4:51 pm

I would like to share a thought sympathetic to the original poster regarding snack food. Several people have commented that what is purchased for the children should be available to the aupair and I understand this point of view and agree with it. However, I think it is a good guess that the snacks in question are not available to the children 24/7. I suspect that the snacks are available at certain times ( lunch boxes, after school , special treat ). Many of us do not give our children unrestricted access to ” special foods “. In this case, what I heard was that the treats and snacks were intended for school lunches. It seems to me that packing up several cans of soda or food that is part of a planned menu is akin to bringing the car home on empty. I think it is a good pro-active technique to articulate some of the rules in the handbook: ” Peanut butter cookies in the yellow cabinet are only to be used in the children’s lunch “. ” We exspect you to bring the car home half full ” It is a drag writing all of that down but it saves a lot of grief.

5kids=aupair April 6, 2013 at 7:31 pm

I need to make this more clear in our next manual. I’ve had several au pairs eat the last of something or drink the last of something right before I need to make lunches!

JJ Host Mom April 4, 2013 at 5:22 pm

With the caveat that I’m somewhat of a cheapskate myself, I respectfully disagree that the au pair making herself sandwiches is an issue.

Rick Steves, a famous travel guru, is famous for saying that the more money you spend traveling, the more you insulate yourself from a country and the less of it you really see. (That’s paraphrased from what I remember him saying 20+ years ago so I could be misremembering.) Some of my best travel memories don’t involve spending any money, aside from just getting to the place in question. For example: walking through the rain in the Swiss countryside, playing cards with new friends I met at a hostel in Nice, watching the waves ripple from my spot on the beach of an island in Thailand that is so remote it doesn’t have electricity. So I don’t think you can necessarily equate spending money to seeing a country; in fact, quite often it’s the opposite.

At least where I live, buying any sort of a healthy meal out costs at least $10. That’s quite a high percentage of an au pair’s stipend, when you think about it. A month of saving one meal out per weekend is enough to pay for a weekend away, staying at a youth hostel. So to me, packing a meal when she’s going out anyway is just smart.

Host parents pay for room and board for the au pair. That’s part of their salaries. To me, whether the au pair eats that meal at home or packs it out is irrelevant.

If your concern is that she’s eating junk food or packaged food that you’d rather she not eat, then fair, clear communication should resolve that. For example we have a rule that we’ll pay for the first $5 of “special” food that the family wouldn’t normally eat per week, and the au pair pays for the rest. That way we’re not paying for an all-M&M diet.

If your concern is she’s not getting out, then that’s different, and doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with spending money. I would also argue that (depending on the relationship you have with your au pair I guess) it’s not really any of the host family’s business what she’s doing with her spare time, as long as she’s not making poor decisions that affect the family, being so depressed as a result of not going out that it’s having an impact on her job and relationship with the family and kids, or hanging around all the time and getting in the way of the family’s privacy. Other than that, she’s kind of responsible for herself. Anyway that’s what I’d hope for, realizing that the lines are sometimes more blurred than that in reality.

Emerald City HM April 4, 2013 at 6:30 pm

I really don’t make it any of my business how our au pair spends her money.

I do wish that our LCC would organize less expensive activities more often though. Frequently the minimum cost for the monthly get togethers is around $40 for the au pairs. It’s usually a tour or something that we haven’t even done living here for as long as we have, so while it’s neat and all and they are getting out and seeing the sights, it just seems like they could rather just meet somewhere and get to know each other, rather than doing an activity that doesn’t seem like the easiest way to make friends.

Momma Gadget April 5, 2013 at 12:17 pm

When our LC organizes expensive cluster meetings, she also organizes alternative less expensive “coffee clutches” at Starbucks.

Host Mom in the City April 5, 2013 at 12:37 pm

I thought the host parents pay for cluster activities? We do anyway. And yes, it would drive me crazy if the monthly cost was $40+ and I was expected to pay that. I would probably mention it to the LCC. Ours are usually in the free to $15 range.

Momma Gadget April 5, 2013 at 1:53 pm

I was told we are responsible for the AP’s transportation to cluster meetings, not the activities themselves.

Emerald City HM April 5, 2013 at 6:27 pm

I was also told we are responsible for transportation and that is the way it has always been treated. The LCC specifically addresses cost information to the au pairs and when collecting payments (when needed), collects from them also.

Emerald City HM April 5, 2013 at 6:30 pm

Oh and to add to that. I’m sorry, but honestly we wouldn’t pay for the au pair to take a weekend trip in Canada because that happened to be the activity for the month.

We did pay for half of her multiple entry visa to Canada and helped her fill out the paperwork and get the exactle correct photos taken though. So it’s not like we were unhelpful, but that trip did cost her a minimum of over $200 out of pocket.

Seattle Mom April 8, 2013 at 2:04 pm

Wow… that is pretty lame… I was sort of wondering about our AP’s cluster meeting/trip to Skagit county to see the tulips yesterday (she was actually joining another group, so it wasn’t our LCC). That’s a lot of gas! But visa fees? That seems inappropriate for a cluster meeting.

Taking a Computer Lunch April 5, 2013 at 10:21 pm

Our guidelines – because not all of our APs have wanted to attend meetings – is that they should attend the free ones and should let us know when they don’t intend to attend a fee-based one. I check in from time-to-time if I’m not sure the AP is attending the meetings. Those who do have a much better support network in times of trouble (and an easier time finding travel partners) than those who don’t. I don’t usually provide funds for attending a fee-based meeting, unless I feel it’s warranted (definitely would not pick up a $200 tab for a trek to Canada!).

Momma Gadget April 6, 2013 at 12:22 am

I thought it was a program requirement that APs attend all monthly cluster meetings. Which is why our LC organizes alternate meetings for the expensive ones. I got a call from our LC when one of my APs missed 2 in a row.

German Au-Pair April 6, 2013 at 1:30 am

Depends on the agency. With APC and -I believe- APIA it’s not a requirement, with CC it is.
I maybe have attended 5 meetings in two years of au pairing (because I hate forced meetings).

Taking a Computer Lunch April 7, 2013 at 8:18 am

It is a requirement, but most LCCs understand that sometimes APs have travel plans and sometimes the HF need them to work. I don’t think monthly attendance is mandatory, and of course it varies from LCC to LCC. While APIA says that consistent attendance is mandatory for extension, my guess is that any AP who wanted to extend with her HF would have no problem. I suppose the issue might be when the AP wants to extend but the HF does not. An AP really needs an LCC on her side to help her find an extension family – especially if she has had issues with her HF.

PA AP Mom April 7, 2013 at 1:46 pm

Our LCC requires attendance at 10 of the 12 au pair meetings per au pair year. If an AP can’t make it because of work obligations, previous travel plans, etc then our LCC arranges to meet one-on-one for coffee and to review the meeting.

Host Mom in the City April 8, 2013 at 8:17 am

Now that you mention it, I think you’re right that host families are required to pay for TRANSPORTATION to the LCC meetings. I apologize. But it does sound like some of these meetings are out of control!! A $200 LCC meeting??? That’s insane. I hope the LCC isn’t requiring the au pairs to go on that kind of trip. Ours are required (although our au pairs have both skipped one or two while on travel), but they are always always cheaper than $20, and usually are free.

Taking a Computer Lunch April 8, 2013 at 10:47 am

I sought a ruling when an AP needed to pay for transportation to a special travel class (one of the Hofstra weekend ones). She ruled that we should pay what would be typical for a local class and the AP should pay the difference. I would think the same would be for a meeting. If you routinely pay $5 for transportation to the meeting, then the AP should pick up the rest of the tab for a special trip to Canada – especially if you’re not charging her vacation time for the trip because it’s an AP meeting!

Emerald City HM April 8, 2013 at 11:06 am

The LCC did not require the au pairs go on that trip or really any others. About half of the monthly events are around $40 or more I would say and then the other half could be done for around $15 (not including transportation), but even then might be difficult at $15 sometimes. For example, while the tickets to a ballgame are $15, they don’t allow food in the park, so if it’s a particularly long game, the au pair might want to eat something, ang that is of course ballpark prices. So most of the events would not be ideal for a very frugal au pair.

Host Mom in the City April 8, 2013 at 12:02 pm

I guess when I see “cheaper than $20,” I mean for the ticket. Our LCC has done the circus and a ballgame and tickets have been $15. Presumably a thrifty au pair could spring for the ticket and sneak in a sandwich from her host parent’s house ;) Then, the thrifty au pair could attend and still be spending less than $20.

But yes, you’re right that even at the free/cheap events, more can be spent. I’d say about half of the events are at the LCC’s house and are just a quick one-hour or so check in/facilitated discussion where she provides some basic snacks.

Old China Hand April 8, 2013 at 2:22 pm

Our LCC hasn’t organized any events for our AP at all this year (in nearly 3 months). The only event she “organized” was an invite to a going away party for a leaving AP. Our AP didn’t go because she didn’t see the point in going to a going away party for an AP who was, well, going away. Should I complain to the agency?

Host Mom in the City April 8, 2013 at 2:37 pm

…I think so… We have done CC and APIA and both have had required monthly meetings. Honestly, neither of my APs has been all that excited about them, but I like that they are a regular way to meet new APs, have discussions with the LCC, etc. What agency are you with? They don’t require them? What is your LCC doing exactly?

Old China Hand April 10, 2013 at 12:17 pm

It isn’t clear to me what our LCC is doing – the home visit within the first 2 weeks was horrid. We’re with Go Aupair. 4 meetings a year are required, but so far none have been offered.

Julie April 16, 2013 at 2:25 pm

An au pair is required to have contact with her coordinator/LCC each month. Some agencies, like CCAP, require that to be in person. Others only have events every few months. I’m a host mom and an LCC and with my monthly meetings, I have au pairs from other agencies all the time because so many agencies don’t have that kind of contact that au pairs NEED (it’s not a want–they really do need that connection).

In terms of the cost, the most I’ve ever done for a meeting was $20 and that was one time. If we do dinner, I try to keep it to $8-$12. If we do another meet-up, I try to keep it under $5. $40 every month is ridiculous. All you’d need to do is have several au pairs and families contact the LCCs director (if you’ve already told the LCC $40 is too much), and it wouldn’t happen again. Good luck!

davep April 9, 2013 at 10:50 am

It’s “coffee klatch” from the German Kaffeeklatsch, or “coffee and gossip”…

Momma Gadget April 9, 2013 at 11:31 am

You learn something new every day! ;-)

Anna April 4, 2013 at 7:23 pm

Once it became a concern for me because by being stingy, the au pair flouted our family rules. I had a rule that if she takes my car, she has to return it with at least a 1/4 tank of gas (I didn’t make her pay for the gas she used every time, if it was full she could drive until it was 1/4 full before putting any in).

Three times in a row she broke this rule, close to the end of her stay. Every time she had an excuse (I forgot; it was only to the bank, etc.)
I ended up taking away my car from her. She still could drive my husband’s and there was not enough time before her departure to use up his goodwill, so it worked out for her. But it left a sour taste at the end for me.

Taking a Computer Lunch April 4, 2013 at 9:01 pm

I would not balk at an AP making a sandwich for herself or grabbing a couple of cokes. However, if you suspect your AP is packing a picnic for her friends every time she goes out, then you need to have a chat. I personally wouldn’t mind my AP packing a dinner or snack for herself – especially on nights she has class. If you have a special food for the kids lunches and she consumes all of it, then suggest to her something else she might grab. “I don’t mind you eating some of the goldfish, but you’ve eaten so much by Wednesday, that I don’t have anything to put in the kids lunches on Thursday and Friday. Why don’t you grab an apple or two?”

With each new AP, there’s a certain amount of shopping adjustment that happens. This one loves Gouda cheese, but doesn’t eat fresh vegetables. That one makes a salad for lunch every day. It takes a few weeks, but as HFs we adjust. (And then our own children become teenagers, and we pour our paycheck down their throats!) Assume your AP is hungry more than you would be, especially if she’s 18 or 19.

Some of our APs have been better about planning for their lunches for the week than others (because I have school-aged kids, only the AP might be in the house at lunchtime – and it’s okay with me if she cooks for friends). Some have chafed at the idea of asking on Saturday for what they will eat on Thursday, and we’ve been pretty firm about it – we’re not buying “whim” food. If she feels like having pizza when there’s plenty of healthy food in the fridge, then she buys her own.

If your AP is drinking all your diet coke – here’s another solution – buy her a reusable water bottle. Tell her it’s okay to take 1 Coke when she goes out in evening, but to fill her water bottle up in case she gets extra thirsty.

Some of my APs have spent every penny they made each week (and never traveled anywhere). Others saved almost everything and took a wonderful trip at the end of their year. The trick is to find a balance that doesn’t irk the person buying groceries. (And if your AP is sending money home, as some of mine have, she will be extra careful with the balance.)

Aupair again April 5, 2013 at 8:28 am

Topics like this make me nervous about my decision to be an Aupair again and discover how different families are. With all my host families I’ve never had the problem where I’ve felt there is something I shouldn’t eat, I use my better judgement when it comes to deciding what “food for the kids” I can eat. The hosts have always been pretty nice about there “special foods and treats” telling me to help myself. I also think they would be happy with me making a sandwich before I leave or snack pack. Of course not all families are happy with this and it’s things like this that we only find out once we are living together.

Taking a Computer Lunch April 5, 2013 at 9:35 am

In our household there are special shelves for the AP and each child. This started because The Camel is pretty limited in what she eats, and we have to be careful what snacks and foods the AP feeds her, especially in the first weeks after she arrives.

However, when I discovered my AP and one of her friends devouring some special chocolates that had been given to child #2 without asking first, I decided that everyone had to ask permission before touching those shelves (well, The Camel doesn’t talk, but I’ve found that most APs get pretty tired of her foods after feeding them to her for weeks on end).

However, we do have a general snack shelf which is open to everyone – although good luck to anyone getting there before child #2, and we’re completely open to the AP helping herself to anything in the house.

DCBurbTwinMomma April 5, 2013 at 9:44 am

If I were the au pair, I would bristle at the financial micro management. If the au pair wants to save money or spend every dime, that is her choice. However, I am a bit guilty of encouraging a few splurges. The DC area au pairs regularly attend the formal Navy ball and require a gown. The gown the au pair wanted was horrible (!) but in her price range–I paid for the difference of a stunning gown that made her look less like a stuffed clown. Perhaps I do not have this problem because I provide a public transportation pass for our commuter train and bus and many things in the DC Metro are free (most of the Smithsonian Museums, the Monuments, people watching etc.) My beloved frugal current au pair has a degree, is older and is thinking more of her future–my beloved past au pair was concerned only with Aeropostale and Forever 21. The au pairs should be able to forge their own financial paths. The one who doesn’t spend a dime may be supporting an entire family at home. I could learn a lot from such strict frugality. In our home, any event outside of working hours is optional. If I am not picking up the tab, I clearly state the cost and understand if the au pair declines. While $40 to me is doable without much hardship, that is 1/6 of our current au pair’s salary.

Food: Are we not supposed to be providing a comfortable environment for the women and men who care for our most precious and important possessions? (Okay, kiddos are not possessions, but I lack a better word right now). Current au pair desires Colombian food that is not part of our regular fare and she will go to the Latin market to find her specialty cheese, vegetables and grains. I give her a budget of $40 for these items. Anything above that must come from her own budget. It works for us because I have experienced great food that I never knew even existed. I encourage her to eat as many healthy snacks she can find in the house instead of the alluring McDonalds and Chipotle. The few extra Snapples and Garden Burgers create a bond that makes her feel included. In return, I get small courtesies like playing with a baby while I try to give the other her antibiotic (an act that usually takes 2) or pitching in with shoes, socks, hair and jackets when I’m running late and she is officially off the clock.

I see other parents in my host cluster calculate to the dime how much the au pair costs in water, electricity and food. If these were over the top dollars I would understand, but the extra $30 is not going to kill us. It’s like watching people come to terms that the robot they wanted to care for their child(ren) is actually a human person with needs. How dare they need, gasp, food. I like the poster who suggested that the au pair make sure there is enough for the children’s lunches, but that the HF buy a bit more with the understanding that the au pair may enjoy a snack herself.

AUAP April 24, 2013 at 2:59 am

I totally agree with the previous poster!!

Honestly, worth remembering that the Au Pair stipend is set at 60% of the federal minimum wage, with assumption that families are spending 40% of what she’d make as a minimum wage earner on room and board — so about $520 a month.

Giving the Au Pair a room isn’t 100% the same as renting out a room in your house to a total stranger (assuming you have a good one, having the Au Pair live with you also gives you more flexible child-care, a bit of extra house-work help, allows you to set curfews and house-rules)… figure it makes sense to calculate housing as the added cost of housing to you (20-50/month for water, electricity, heating; 50/month for an annual 600 renovation of the Au Pair room).

Still leaves at least 420/month over for food for the Au Pair… which is plenty of money for lots of red bull, special snacks, & occasional picnics for the Au Pair & her friends.

Alternatively, if you’re thinking of her as a ‘family member’… you’d let a niece or one of your kids occasionally pack a picnic for her friends with household groceries… right?

PS – I had a few food issues when I worked as an AP in Austria… I got a bit too excited about European deli-meats when I volunteered to grocery shop for the fam, was gently asked to mainly buy things that were not made of 50% fat, and moved on to being excited about thick-grain bread. But I was just working 15-20 hrs/week with one kid, had time for a separate part-time job, got transit & language classes paid for, awesome fam, and it was really just light, flexible work… so different situation.

Host Mom in the City April 24, 2013 at 7:53 am

AUAP – I definitely agree with you that we’re supposed to make up room and board and shouldn’t be counting pennies. But I don’t agree with your calculations. For one, I don’t agree that the “value” of the room and the “cost” to the host family of providing a room should amount only to the cost of utilities and renovations. I agree that it’s not the same as renting out the room to a stranger and most AP rooms aren’t the kind you would rent out anyway.

Unless you have a separate AP suite, most families are sacrificing to provide their APs a room and putting up with the typical inconveniences that come with having a roommate. To use the typical nanny comparison, if I was paying a live-out nanny and she said “how about you pay me $100 less per month and I live with you full-time?” That wouldn’t be enough of a decrease to be worth it to me, particularly as that wouldn’t even cover utilities, upkeep, and furniture for the year. It would have to be at least $300 a month I’d say for me to even start considering it.

You’re also forgetting that its not just food and utilities we pay for. It’s typically cell phone and car insurance and maintenance and $500 toward education costs. There’s also that $7,500 we pay up front. i know that doesn’t go to the AP directly, but that is a BIG chunk of money that you better believe I take into account when I’m deciding what makes financial sense to choose for child care.

I agree and have posted elsewhere that the OP on this thread begrudging her AP a few sandwiches probably needs to let it go (assuming that’s really the whole story), but if you’re going to be putting out numbers, I prefer the whole story be given.

And the “part of the family” thing gets thrown around a lot as meaning “someone you’d let get away with anything.” If my 22 year old niece was staying with us for a week, maybe I’d happily help her pack a picnic lunch for all her friends. Maybe. I still think it would be kind of weird – and I would at least hope she would ask, be very appreciative, and pick up a loaf of bread on her way home to replace what she’s used. If my 22yo niece was staying with us for an entire year? And she was packing her friends a big lunch once a month or once a week? I think that would be really strange.

HRHM April 5, 2013 at 10:32 am

My problem is the exact opposite. AP spends every penny at the mall on clothes. This “generosity” to herself leads to her not having money to put gas in the car, pay for something small and spontaneous while she is out with the kids, etc. DH started giving her cash whenever she had the kids but she seemed to always “forget” to return any change and then next time, “couldn’t remember” how much she should have left from prior cash. I’ve finally had enough and have forbidden DH from giving her money. By now she has at least 100 dollars of our money in her posesion(which I’m sure sha spent at hollister). From now on, no receipt, no cash.

German Au-Pair April 6, 2013 at 1:37 am

There was the discussion of a limited credit card that is linked to your account. Apparently some banks have that.
I get a prepaid credit gift card. You can check the available balance and what the money was spent for (or at least when and where) when you have the card information. Maybe that would solve your problems?

HRHM April 6, 2013 at 10:02 am

Thanks for the suggestion. We actually had that with AP1, who ended up taking cash back whenever she put gas in the car or bought groceries (in addition to stealing us blind in other ways) so if we did this again, we’d have to check receipts anyway.

I ended up instituing a “cash box” that has 50 and a notebook in it. She can uses the money for stuff with the kids, return the reciept in it’s place and then I will refill the money as it’s used. The notebook is for little stuff that doesn’t come with a reciept (lemonade out of the machine, ice cream truck, etc) I hate having to do these changes mid-year as it seems the APs always take them poorly, but I feel like she’s doubling her pay between the gas she doesn’t reimburse us for and the “change” she keeps.
Hopefully this will do the trick.

Seattle Mom April 8, 2013 at 2:11 pm

Ouch- that’s outright stealing! She must be a really great AP in all other ways.. I don’t think I could live with that.

MommyMia April 10, 2013 at 4:12 pm

We’ve had this problem in the past, too, and found the envelope with petty cash worked pretty well. We also purchase gasoline cards through our school “scrip” program and some of the brands are reloadable, so it’s easy for the au pair to keep in the glovebox so there’s never the excuse of “I didn’t have any cash.” (and it’s great that we’re supporting the school through this purchase!)

HRHM April 11, 2013 at 12:35 pm

No, we didn’t find out about the cash back until after we found out about the clothing, jewelry and video camera stashed in her suitcase in anticipation of her return home. So no, she wasn’t a great AP (cold with the toddler, too forceful with the feeding of both kids, etc) but as soon as we found out about the stealing, she was on a plane home in less than 2 days.

Momma Gadget April 5, 2013 at 10:34 am

As far as how our au pairs spend their money, we feel it is none of our business. We are fans of , As one other brilliant HM put it “natural consequences” – Both in terms of- if you spend all your stipend on little stuff, you won’t be able to afford the big stuff, and also if you don’t pay your fair share of costs when you are with your friends, you won’t be invited along anymore.
One AP had a shoe problem, and ended up having to donate about 30 pair instead of bringing a 3rd suitcase home. AP #2 was very frugal and managed to save enough money to make trips to Niagra falls, South beach, Las Vegas, and tour the Whole western coast her last month. Our current AP only made trips with us, and made a few select trips into NYC. Mostly saved his money to buy expensive electronics ( that are double the price back in his country), and saved a few bucks to hold him over when he gets back home -next week! :-(

None of my au pairs have required different expensive food. When My current AP joined us he nearly broke my heart when he said all her really needed was peanut butter and jelly… We encourage our APs to have “international dinner” day once a week, and the AP either tells us what he needs, or he buys any special ingredients and we reimburse him.
Most have been very respectful of our food. They are pretty much welcome to anything in the refrigerator/ freezer cabinets. On the rare occasion that we have special food for a celebration, I just tell the AP that those shrimp ( for example) are reserved for Dad’s BDay party.
I would not mind if the AP made her/himself a sandwich and grabbed a couple of water bottles (we rarely have soda) to take out.
As long as there were snack size chip bags enough for the kids lunches, I wouldn’t really care if the AP took those either… though with the way my boys hoover down food these days, we usually just buy economy size chips etc. and lots of zip lock bags.
I have a bigger issue with food being wasted- our first AP would open a package of chicken breasts, cook one and leave the rest to rot in the refrigerator despite being told multiple times to either cook it all or freeze what she didn’t use. It made me Ca-RaZY!
Although I don’t think anyone needs tremendous amounts of cash to “see the world”- you need some! The NE area we live in is expensive. The train alone into the city is 25$ round trip. I would much rather have the AP save a few $ by brown bagging it, and be able to take advantage of as many of the opportunities our area has to offer.

Host Mom in the City April 5, 2013 at 11:28 am

I’ve had two great au pairs with really good common sense, so I’ve never experienced a money issue being a problem. But I can’t say I’d care how they spent their money (or if they didn’t). Honestly, if I was 20 and had zero expenses and got $800 a month just to spend, I’d probably do quite a bit of shopping and eating out. But if someone doesn’t want to spend any of it or save all of it for their travel month or something, then good for them.

I also think it’s totally appropriate for an au pair to pack a sandwich and a drink at home before going out for the day – and really, if it’s just lunch or dinner for herself a few days a week, is that really adding that much to the food budget? It’s what we do as a family before we go out (we’re pretty thrifty ourselves) and I wouldn’t mind a bit if she did too. If there are specially packaged snacks for kid’s lunches, just tell her that those are just for kid’s lunches and have her put her own snacks on the grocery list.

Now two years ago with our first au pair I posted a lot about it driving me crazy that I was feeding all her friends many times a night. I started to feel taken advantage of – a few of them got into a routin of going to the gym and then coming to our house afterwards to eat dinner (this is after skipping our family dinner, so we had already eaten) and then watching a movie and then having snacks all night too. Or the three times she had an out-of-town guest stay with us for a week, all three guests ate every meal and snack from our food without replacing anything or offering to cook.

So I know I would be bothered if she was packing picnic lunches for all her friends. I’m happy to have people over for dinner with us. I’m happy to provide a drink or a snack to someone who is over. But I did finally put in our handbook this year that anything beyond dinner with us or a small snack for a guest was to be paid for by our au pair or her guest(s).

But again, if my au pair was skimping on her friends or fun, I don’t see that as my issue.

anonamomma April 5, 2013 at 12:15 pm

I hear a lot of posters saying that it is none of their business how APs spend their money.

But what about when an AP is being so careful with their money that it starts impacting on the family and the way they live their lives. In other words what about when it starts to upset the harmony in the house.

The original post says that every time her AP leaves the house she takes numerous cans of soda/snacks (including snacks which she knew were for school lunches, etc. The other issue relates to APs only joining in on family outings was when it is on the HFs buck.

Would these behaviours irk me if I was dealing with them daily – honestly – yes they would.

There is a difference between being frugal and being mean.

I’m not mean (far from it actually) so I dislike meanness and I will not abide it in my home. IMO it is a horrible trait in anybody. And mean people take advantage of other’s goodwill and use it up – which is what sounds like is happening above.

If you have an AP who is not going out, not joining in the fun with the other APs, etc and the common trait is an unwillingness to spend a dime then you end up with a sad/depressed AP which is your business (because ultimately it becomes your problem).

Host Mom in the City April 5, 2013 at 12:32 pm

I think you have some good points and thank you for your post. I just re-read the OP and you’re right – she does say “sandwiches” (plural) and that “she takes a few cans of Diet Coke from the fridge every time she leaves the house, along with the snack sized bags of Goldfish the mom buys for school lunches.”

I’m trying to think about this – if every single day and every single time she left the house, she was taking a sandwich, a snack, and a drink with her, I’m still not sure it bother me if she was a great au pair otherwise. I am supposed to provide her with food as part of her payment.

If she was taking multiple sandwiches or multiple cans of soda or the kid’s snacks, I would address those separately from simply taking food to go issue – please don’t feed your friends routinely on our dime (in our handbook); we don’t buy soda (also in our handbook), so I would remind her to please buy her own soda; and again, a reminder that the kid’s snacks are for their lunches, but to please put on the grocery list what snacks she wants for herself. If she’s ignoring those requests, then obviously that’s another issue entirely.

When we go on activities as a family, we generally pay. And obviously if we’re going to an activity where she will be working at all, we pay. Otherwise, it’s up to her if she wants to come/go (and pay) or not. Once my husband and I were going to a festival sans kids when our current au pair first arrived, and we invited her (she came and had a great time) – we said “we’d love you to join us if you’d like to come, we’ll pay for food and cab, but we’ll ask you to pay for the ticket.” She came and it worked great. But if she had declined because of the ticket cost, that wouldn’t have been an issue either. I’m trying to think of an example where I wasn’t paying for something and she decided not to come that would irk me, and I’m coming up short.

But then, as I said, both of our au pairs have been almost too hesitant to take advantage and I know it bothers me to see when people are clearly taking advantage. Like if an au pair was taking multiple sandwiches just in case because hey free food and then routinely throwing them out, that would definitely drive me crazy.

FourTimeTexasHostMom April 5, 2013 at 12:52 pm

The majority of my au pairs have been fairly frugal but loved to shop in the US (hello, Forever 21 and drugstore cosmetics!). I don’t worry about how they spend their money, but do remind them at the beginning of the year to PLEASE save enough money for a medical emergency. All three of my au pairs (save for the one flameout) have had unpredictable medical emergencies of one kind or another and have been shocked at the cost of medicine and doctor (or ER or hospital) visits despite their decent insurance coverage. Our LLC also shares the same reminder.

Regarding groceries…my current Au Pair does a lot of shopping based on a list for me with my credit card and child in tow. I’ve noticed she buys some junk for herself on this tab…it is minor and I have decided to let it slide. I don’t stock much junk food in the house…and she can’t blame me for the weight gain. I’m very encouraging of all of my Au Pairs to help themselves to what is in the house and help restock if they finish something. Sometimes this works better than others. I would be happier if I had been asked first (per the protocol in our handbook) but one must pick their battles I guess.

On the other hand – we took one Au Pair travelling with us for several weeks in a prior year. We paid for every thing, except on her days off, when we would encourage her to plan something she wanted to do with our help. She finally gave into paying for a couple of high value experience activities but it took a lot of consideration on her part.

TexasHM April 10, 2013 at 4:17 pm

Four time TX host mom I’d love to connect – my email is Nikki7280@aol.com

FutureAP April 5, 2013 at 1:18 pm

I was an Au Pair in Michigan from 2010 to 2011.
My own experience was spending & saving.
I’ve been able to do quite a few trips by myself (NYCx2, Boston, DC, Philly, Florida, San Francisco, Las Vegas + Grand Canyon, Vancouver, Seattle, plus two innerstate trips, Frankenmuth & Traverse city).
But I also went to eat sushis nearly every week, eat out to other places, went to sport games, bought clothes (enough for me to have to donate some + buy an extra suitcase) and bought a lot of scrapbooking stuff. It’s all about balance.

Yes, I came back home empty handed but I had a blast all year long ! (In addition I went on vacation twice with my host parents and I used my day off to go to Niagara Falls once and Rafting + Water World in CO the other time).

So with how much we make, it is possible even if you are not a saver to discover the country & spend on going out or going to the mall.

Concerning the food, I never really talked about with my host parents, I never asked for anything at the grocery store besides lettuce heads, my HP were huge soda drinkers and I helped myself in the stock, probably twice a week the winter and nearly everyday on warmer days. I took a sandwich with me sometimes but when I did a picnic with friends, we went together to the grocery store to buy what we needed. It’s just as if I were home. I’m not going to ask my parents to spend lot of extra on food for me, I eat like everyone, if I want more or unusual I’ll get it my self.

I won’t be doing it any other way next time. I understand some au pairs need to spare but it is also supposed to be the year of our life (not the only for me apparently since I’m coming back lol). My future HF is vegetarian but they already told me I could ask for meat for myself.

CA Host Mom April 5, 2013 at 1:23 pm

Interesting topic!

We are certainly in the “none of our business how AP spends her $” camp (unless it goes so far as to negatively impact our family) but that doesn’t mean that I don’t have an opinion or get annoyed at times. For context, we are moderately frugal, HD more so than me.

AP#1 – INCREDIBLY frugal! She spent countless hours to find a way to satisfy her education requirement and not spend a dime of her own (I thought that was great) and even saved us some $. She rarely ate out; always packed food from home, and that didn’t bother us at all. She avoided activities that charged fees and was frustrated when her LCC would mandate that the girls attend a “meeting” that required her to pay $15 for a ticket to a baseball game. But she had a great American adventure – maybe not the way I would have at 22, but she enjoyed it and that’s what mattered.

AP#2 – At 19, was the most irresponsible and thoughtless young adult I had ever met – it went far beyond irresponsible spending … which explains our re-match. Boxes arrived at our home every other day from Amazon.com, and she was spending every dime she earned at Victoria’s Secret, Forever21, etc. A few weeks into her stay with us, she asked to borrow $200 for a flat iron that she wanted to buy … I obliged, then not realizing what a problem she had. Anyway, as I mentioned, irresponsible spending was just one of her problems …

AP#3 – She falls in the middle of the first two. She’s gotten herself into a pickle with her education and I have had to front her hundreds to cover the courses that she wanted to take (she preferred attending well-known colleges in the area – which are quite expensive). But for the 6 months that she has been with us, she has displayed pretty reasonable spending and saving habits. I think that a lack of life experience (and pre-planning) were what contributed to the current situation. I don’t think she had to cover any expenses of her own at home … so it’s a new thing for her, and I think she is learning.

Anyway, on this topic, the only two situations that really annoyed me were clear outliers. One AP had her family in town (4 additional ppl) and they were taking a road trip. They left the house with a cooler full of food and drinks (taken directly from our fridge) that she was going to feed her family while on the road. I felt like that was out of line … And our current AP frequently has her friends over and they are always eating at our house. I don’t really mind that they are eating, we usually have enough, but it really annoys me that I am not told ahead of time (what if I didn’t have enough?) and that they never offer to help clean up, or pitch in at all.

So my advice to APs would be to think about those things. When your family comes to visit, plan on them paying for meals (they would on any other vacation, right?). If you want to take snacks on a road trip (esp. when your HF is putting them up for 2 weeks!!) then offer to cook a meal, or contribute somehow. It’s rude otherwise. And, when you continually have your AP friends over, it’s nice to offer to help out and not leave your HF with twice as many dirty dishes after they have just fed you and your friends on a Saturday night before you head out to the clubs. It’s basic common sense to me, but seems such a foreign concept to some of the girls I have met.

Au pair April 5, 2013 at 11:49 pm

It is common sense.. And it seems like your au pair has not much common sense in that matter. When my family comes( they usually stay at our house) my mom goes to target and buys food. At the end it is usually the same my hf buys, but I don’t want that my hf thinks my family is eating their stuff away. My hf usually says they don’t have too, but we feel better about it, because they also let them stay at their house! When my friends come over, we do clean up after, especially if my hm cooked. I don’t know, maybe it’s because I come from a big family, but I’m used to pitch in and pay my share. Sorry your au pair doesn’t get it;(

Tristatemom April 5, 2013 at 3:29 pm

I really wanted to avoid posting in this thread but it is just to tempting :)

Generally, all food in our house is available to the AP. My current AP loves to cook and I buy whatever she puts on the list, cost is probably $10. However, I do not buy special snacks or soda for the AP. She has to purchase this herself and keep it in her room.

Our previous AP was very cheap and got cheaper as the year went on (but boasted about her big bank account). It caused resentment because no matter how much fruit I bought, it was gone by Thursday. I would be out of things to pack for the kids’ lunches. She never (!) put gas in the car but would routinely drive the car on empty leaving us to scramble. There are many other examples. She was a good AP in many ways but her cheapness irked us and got into the way of her having fun.
I never discussed this with her because it happened toward the later part of the year and she was good otherwise.

Taking a Computer Lunch April 5, 2013 at 10:25 pm

I had an AP that I loved, except she would never pick her friends up when they went out (and she ALWAYS drove when they went out), nor would she drop them off at home. They didn’t live that far away. It really bothered me (of course DH and I are the types that ALWAYS went out of our way to drive people home who didn’t have cars).

HRHM April 6, 2013 at 10:16 am

Our current AP has also NEVER (ok maybe once) in 9 months has put gas in the car, even though we asked her to from the start and have mentioned it nicely a couple times. Our recent solution has been to stop putting gas in it ourselves and leave one vehicle entirely to her for work and personal use.
We used to switch back and forth and then I realized that she was doubling her weekly work driving to visit friends during the day while the kids were in school, never mentioning it, offering money or putting gas in the car herself. In addition, I felt like I was cleaning up the week’s messes every Saturday. At night and on weekend she was using DHs car and on Monday he frequently had to stop for gas on the way to work.
So now she uses the minivan for everything and we give her a gas allowance for her work use based on her known weekly trips (music lessons, school runs, sports) with the caveat that if she takes them someplace else, (zoo, beach, etc) all she has to do is let us know how many miles and we’ll add the money. We are about 1.5 weeks into it so far and she drives around with 1/4 tank at most times, so I’m waiting for her to run out of gas (BTW, I gave it over to her last week with 3/4 tank and the work miles use less than 1/4 tank per week, so it’s all on her)

Taking a Computer Lunch April 7, 2013 at 4:14 pm

What I tell my APs about driving on empty (because I have found all the cars on E at least once in their stay, is “You are setting yourself to run out of gas in heavy traffic. You never know when there will be an accident, and if you run out of gas, you will be trapped on the road. You will have to arrange for towing. If it is cold, then you will have no heat in the car. If it is hot, then you will have no air conditioning. It is better to drive with at least 1/4 tank of gas and not to have to worry.” The unexpected nature of traffic in a suburban area is a message that seems to reach them.

We have the luxury of having a family car and an AP car (DH and I commute to work using public transportation). We pay back the AP’s use of the AP car for AP meetings and classes by topping off the tank once in a while (as there are times when we do drive the AP car). We have had APs who have rarely used the car, so that we tend to be the only ones who top off the tank. We have had times when we have handed the AP $10 to repay her for gas used, and she didn’t use it. That’s when we have a chat – if we give you money to repay you for gas used, then we expect you to fill the tank.

CC April 8, 2013 at 7:10 pm

Our AP has the same problem. She runs the car on E and once she had to walk home because it ran out. We give her cash for gas because she drives the kids to activities and for her classes, and we thought about paying her with a gas card to force her to get gas. We don’t want to rematch over this but she’s not getting it.

Taking a Computer Lunch April 8, 2013 at 9:37 pm

Two things –

1) Take her to the gas station (I know, I know, not so easy to find time) and have HER show you how to pump gas. If she doesn’t know, then she won’t do it (and don’t assume pumping gas is the same the world over).

2) Use the word rematch in a sentence. As in, “I don’t really want to go in rematch, but so far you’ve had to abandon our car because you’ve run out of gas. I’m not sure I can trust you to remain safe because you make bad choices. Are you trying to save money or do you not know how to pump gas?

Finally, threaten to take away her personal driving privileges (assuming she can catch buses to get to class on time). I’ve had some au pairs who only drove enough so that whenever DH and I used the AP car on date nights or weekends when we were driving kids in opposite directions, we were the only ones to top the tank, and I’ve had APs who drove everywhere.

I know that I come across in these posts as the mild-mannered communicator, but believe me, when I feel like my back is up against the wall, I’m not the chatty HM – I’m the one who looks the AP in the eye and uses the word rematch in a sentence (actually this has only happened with 2 APs – both of whom had car accidents).

MommyMia April 5, 2013 at 4:18 pm

I, too, was trying very hard not to chime in on this one, but we are about to welcome a new au pair after a year break (using a US college grad during her gap year). I’m very frugal, too, and have the same “bias” against anyone using the pre-packaged lunchbox snacks for eating at home; I know they’re more expensive than bagging myself from bulk purchases, but the convenience and time-savings in the morning is worth it to me!

Our 2nd (of five) had a serious money-management problem that amazed me. She had a debit card that she regularly used for her purchases after depositing her stipend checks, but could not seem to fathom the utter stupidity of paying $15+ in overdraft fees for a $4 mini-mart purchase. Twenty dollars for the convenience of a snack if I have no cash on hand just doesn’t register in my brain! But she was sending most of her money back home to her mom -just couldn’t seem to live within the amount she thought she needed. Oh, and we always kept plenty of healthy & not-so-healthy snacks in the house, but then we’d find KFC and McDonald’s litter in the shared car and realize that she was also spending money on her “comfort” foods instead of filling up on our meals served at dinnertime. Yes, she was obese, in case you’re wondering.

AnAuPair April 6, 2013 at 3:05 am

I think this is a very interesting topic of discussion and the “correct answer” is very much family dependent. I consider myself to be a very cheap person, and hate to spend money on things that are frilly or unnecessary, preferring to save my money and go on trips that I will remember forever

I would NEVER take my HF’s food to feed my friends, unless I asked beforehand and got permission. I feel that would be taking advantage of them. I also don’t invite friends over for dinner/lunch etc unless my family offers (which they do, as they enjoy meeting my friends). I would also never expect my HF to feed my family when they come to visit (although they do), as adding a few adults to a meal every night definitely makes a big difference in food costs. So, usually my family will cook a meal one night and then take the family out for another night. It doesn’t offset the cost, but I think it’s nice thing to do

However, I routinely take a sandwich or some fruit with me when I go out of the house, and my family has no problem with it. But, I’m also reasonable about what I take. For example, if I’m going to be hiking all day, I will usually take 2 (small) sandwiches and 2 or 3 pieces of fruit/veggies to snack on. The way I see it, it’s more economical to pack a sandwich, and when I’m not there then they aren’t paying to feed me lunch and dinner on those days (which are definitely more expensive than my take-away sandwich, and they know beforehand so they buy less). I also usually take something to eat with me when I attend school in the evenings (again, then I’m not eating dinner with them, and it’s 3 nights a week so buying a (healthy) dinner that often would get very expensive for me). I would never take the “special treats” they buy for the kids, mostly because I don’t like them, but also because the food was specifically purchased with the kids in mind, and I personally would feel guilty about it

When I go hiking/away for a couple days, I usually like to take some granola bars and other little convenient snacks, which I purchase for myself ahead of time. The family has offered to add them to the shopping list, but I don’t feel right asking them to purchase them for me, even though the total price is probably under $20 per month. But I do often take a sandwich for lunch or some bread with jam for breakfast and a piece of fruit

In my house, there’s nothing that’s “off limits” to the au pair, I’m expected to help myself to what’s there, add to the shopping list when needed, and tell them when I need specific ingredients to make meals, none of which they have ever said no to (although I don’t ask often)

Regarding being frugal in terms of traveling, that’s not something my family is ever had to deal with. I enjoy spending money on clothes, shoes, etc. but I’ve become quite self-disciplined since I’ve been here, always thinking something along the lines of “if I purchase item X, and then can’t travel to location Y with my friends, will I regret this purchase?” generally the answer is yes, so unless it’s something I NEED (such as new hiking boots, a warm jacket for hiking, etc) I put it back on the shelf and it’s forgotten in a couple hours. I suppose that all au pairs have different priorities, and I agree that what an au pair spends (or doesn’t spend) her money on isn’t the business of the family, unless it’s having an impact on her role as a family member or her relationship with the family. If you think she’s missing out on a lot by being too conservative with her spending, perhaps you could talk to her about it in a sensitive way (you never know what she’s saving money for), and suggest some things to do that aren’t very expensive and would fit a small budget (for example, a day trip out of town on a bus or driving if she packs a lunch/dinner generally wouldn’t break the budget, especially if she has a friend or 2 come to split the gas money). Chances are once she sees and learns economical ways to travel she will have the desire to do it more. As CS Host Mom said about her first au pair, the girl had a great adventure, perhaps not the way she would have, but it’s more important (in my opinion) that your au pair enjoy her time her way than someone else’s

I don’t drive here, but I think it’s just plain rude to return someone’s car on empty (or nearly empty). I wouldn’t do that with my parent’s car, so I definitely wouldn’t do it with my HF’s car either

jkwh35 April 7, 2013 at 3:57 pm

I guess when I think about the money we make as a host family, and how hopefully the aupair will make our lives so much easier, that I won’t get too upset about the food she eats or drinks. Granted I do have a comment in the handbook related to not drinking all the sodas as they are my husbands beverage of choice, not using the last of a food item and to check to make sure a food item is not on the days dinner menu. I also made note of the use of the car and gas and as a rule the car is not to be left on empty, that if it used for personal use and near empty to put some of her own dollars in it.

We are getting an aupair who’s 26 and hoping that she will be a good edition, although we are very generous and probably not require her to pay for much on her own, as we feel if she is family, we will treat her as such….. It will be interesting to see what type she will be frugale in the middle or a high roller

Twin+1Mamma April 7, 2013 at 4:28 pm

Our AP is our very first and it’s been a huge success. She’s fairly frugal, because she travels a lot. She has all weekends off, so she has been taking a lot 2-3 day trips. We live in LA, so she’s been traveling extensively around Cali, which I think is great. So far she been taking short trips to San Diego, San Francisco, Sacramento, Seattle, Austin & Boston. She’s also been with us to Tahoe & Mexico.
She has plans to tour the East Coast in her two weeks off.
She did, however, bring a lot of money with her from home in order to do all of this but she also makes sure to be wise about her money. We opened two bank accounts for her, so she puts $100 each week to each one. The one being for travel and the other for everyday use and unexpected expenses.
I don’t think it’s up to me, how she spends her money and it isn’t interfering with our lives, she always puts gas in the car (even though we tell her not to) and is very generous with our kids.
She does eat home a lot and always bring snacks, water bottles etc. with her to class or if she takes the kids out, which I think is great.
She never seems to buy anything specifically for herself at the grocery store but whenever we go together, I ‘force’ her to buy something and she always eats it.

Old China Hand April 7, 2013 at 9:00 pm

Our ap is so generous that she can’t say no to friends who want to borrow money. So we set up a system where we help her save half of her salary each week by putting it into a different bank account that we keep the stuff for so she can honestly tell her friends that she doesn’t have the money to loan them. This is all clearly with her permission. That being said, we live in a college town and there are lots of cheap college students and cheap or free things to do. Our ap feels comfortable with us buying food for home but not with us buying her food at restaurants, even if we are on a family trip. It is an effort to get her to eat and not to lie and say she isn’t hungry. So she is generous with her money and cheap with ours.

hm2 April 8, 2013 at 7:52 am

I screen for this during the interview process. I explicitly ask how the APs are hoping to spend their free time, what they are planning to do with their stipend etc.. The reason for this is that our very first AP never, and I mean never, left the house unless we invited her or paid for an activity and ultimately she was in a bad mood most of the time, showed no initiative whatsoever with the children and was honestly annoying to have around all the time. So we ended up paying for some bus amd train tickets just to get her out of the house every once in a while. I don’t mind the money for the tickets but I mind the hours and days that we all had to spend around her sad and sour face.

hm2 April 8, 2013 at 7:57 am

And she made additional sandwiches for herself when she went somewhere with us and she took extra snacks and then refused to share any of these with our children, who were then 1 and 4 and had a hard time with this kind of behavior.

Taking a Computer Lunch April 8, 2013 at 10:40 am

I would have taken her aside and said, “We expect you to model proper sharing behavior with our children. If you hoard food that you bring from our pantry and don’t share with them, then they will think that is an acceptable way to behave. We want them to learn to share and be generous.”

Now that I have a couple of teenagers, I have to pull APs aside more frequently and mention what is appropriate at the dinnertable. At times the conversation has turned to the drug habits of rock stars – definitely something I don’t want my teen to think is acceptable! In the past, we have had to warn APs that everything they say in front of a toddler will be repeated sooner or later, and that their behavior will be emulated too. The toddler who walks around the house with the toy phone tucked against his should may look cute, but he learned it from somebody!

LuvCheetos April 8, 2013 at 1:30 pm


I know this it OT, but I SO understand your point about dinner table conversation and modeling behavior. Our last 2 APs were young partiers. While they were here, our children (now 8 and 11, then 6-7 and 9-10) talked about people “being drunk” a fair amount. We’re not heavy drinkers and we don’t glamourize drinking, so that clearly didn’t come from us. One of them also slept late into the afternoon (5:00pm sometimes) on the weekends. My children also thought that was an acceptable way to live. It was very frustrating. Luckily, our current AP does not do that. I don’t know if she drinks (I’ve never seen her and she has always refused offers of a galss of wine) but if she does, she gets it that she shouldn’t gloify it in front of the kids.

We’re so lucky with our current AP. We just extended and everyone (HF and AP) is so thrilled. I didn’t think it was possible to have such a great AP.

Should be working April 8, 2013 at 4:56 pm

LuvCheetos–any insight as to whether your interviewing helped you to find such a great AP, what questions were key, whether you did something different this time, or just got lucky??

I am always wondering whether our tea-leaf-reading actually has an effect on the success of the match.

LuvCheetos April 9, 2013 at 12:14 pm

Definitely not my interviewing skills! It’s probably luck. We went for someone older (24) from a country that is not as affluent (Macedonia). After 4 accidents in a year, we wanted an experienced driver. Also, our AP has an excellent relationship with her family, which says a lot. She had been to the US before in a work and travel program so she knew what it would be like and really wanted to come back. She had worked as a hotel maid so she makes a mean bed! My kids’ beds are beautifully made, which is obviously not the goal of having an AP, but it’s a nice side benefit to this particular AP. She has an amazing work ethic, which I really appreciate. She makes my life so much easier every day (a huge contrast to spending a lot of time and energy complaining/worrying about the AP).

Our AP has a degree in education and had worked in a school in her home country. She loves kids and it really shows. We looked specifically for someone with a demonstrated interest in children.

I think we really just got very lucky. I count my blessings every day because I know it’s not always like this. We’re about 50/50 in our selections, which isn’t terrible but shows that it’s probably not me.

Should be working April 9, 2013 at 12:47 pm

Nice to hear she is so great.

Side note inspired by bedmaking (“a mean bed” LOL!): My central European APs fold the kids’ clothes so beautifully! I never knew that folding could be done so nicely. I wish I could do that. They are just so smooth and straight and look like they are new from the store. I guess they learned it from their moms??

Molly April 12, 2013 at 3:59 pm

I am currently an au pair in Germany, where au pairs make only 260 Euros per month (we also work less, only 30 hours per week, however the pay difference is still huge). I completely understand that host families are annoyed by stingy au pairs, but frankly I think it’s a bit stingy not to allow an au pair to make a sandwich or a coke for herself when she goes out. However, I agree that an au pair should not be taking extras for her friends (I would never do so without the explicit permission of my host family. I never have, I wouldn’t feel right about it).

Aupair2b April 13, 2013 at 4:35 am

I just applied to be an au pair (im from austria) and reading what some of you say makes me ask myself if that is the right decision… I have a 2 year old brother and we have an au pair too. She is allowed to take whatever she wants she is a part of our family when we go skiing my parents DONT expect her to pay for her ticket(~60€) every piece of food she buys whatever its mcdonalds or healthy stuff my mom just wants to see the Receipt and shes gonna pay for it. If you cant afford an au pair dont get one, I cant even imagine living with a family and asking for every piece of food i want … Id go anorexic

Host Mom in the City April 13, 2013 at 12:22 pm

I think you’re being really dramatic. Not a single person on this thread even came close to saying they required their au pair to ask for every bit of food. And most (all except the OP?) said they wouldn’t mind a bit if their au pair took a sandwich and a snack when they went out.

And yes, if we went skiing and asked our AP to come and work, we would most definitely pay for her ski ticket (and all other expenses for the trip). There’s a whole thread on here somewhere about what you pay for – and family activities when you bring your au pair and have her work is included.

I don’t know if you’re implying that a host family should literally pay for every single expense the AP has during the year (like food and activities when you’re out not with the family), in the US program anyway, you’re going to find yourself disappointed.

CA Host Mom April 13, 2013 at 4:02 pm

Aupair2b, I am with HMitC. You are being really dramatic, and it doesn’t seem like you really read through all of the comments (or maybe you didn’t understand them?) that people were leaving here.

This is a great place to be if you want to learn about good ways to adjust to life with a new host family, how to prepare for your time away from home, how to work through challenges with your HF or HKs, communication, etc. People here (HPs and APs alike) are typically really thoughtful and care a great deal about the relationships and issues that they are discussing.

Based on your last comment, specifically the flippant tone, I’d say that you could benefit from maturing some before your AP adventure begins. There is a lot to learn from discussion threads like these, but you really have to have the right attitude about it all if you stand to gain anything from reading/participating.

Molly April 14, 2013 at 12:18 pm

I hope that the commenters above understand where I’m coming from. I by no means feel that the host parents should pay for everything. However, since the stipend in Germany is only 260 Euros per month, I am simply saying that if I am going into town for the day I tend to make a sandwich beforehand and take a drink. It makes financial sense. If I were to be going out with friends, however, I would never expect my host family to provide food for them.

However, I don’t think it bothers most host parents when an au pair is smart with her money. ( I bring coffee from home to my classes, make a sandwich before going into town, cook most meals at home, etc. But I also go on trips, out for drinks with friends, buy holiday gifts for my host family and my real family, etc.) I think they are referring to cheap au pairs. I have no problem buying a sandwich in town if the need arises, and never take advantage of my host family’s hospitality. It sounds like some au pairs are on the extremely cheap side, which is surprising since the stipend in the US is, in my opinion, very generous. It is about 3 or 4x more than the one in Europe….

Twin+1Mamma April 14, 2013 at 1:16 pm

Molly, I think you are absolutely right and I think you are simply agreeing with the other HMs here. No one (except from the OP) complains about their APs taking a snack or a sandwich with them on the go but consideration is key.
I don’t think anyone minds their AP taking a pack of pretzels with them but if the AP knows that they’re for school lunches, then please tell me when we’re out or about to run out. Also, the soda issue isn’t really an issue to me but everyone’s different.
I see it this way: I have to provide my AP breakfast, lunch and dinner. Whether she eats it with us, in her room or at class doesn’t really make a difference. I don’t mind her having a soda for dinner at the table so I obviously don’t mind her taking one with her.
I actually don’t think the OP minds that either, again it’s a question of consideration. Please don’t take the rest of the snacks for kids’ lunches, don’t take 3 cans of soda with you or pack sandwiches for you friends, they all have HFs to feed them, as well.
I encourage my AP to take food or a snack with her and if she’s had an AP stay over at our house, I always tell her to take some with her. I hope her HF would do the same to our beloved AP.

My view on this might have been different, if our AP wasn’t so great and considerate as she is!

Host Mom in the City April 14, 2013 at 4:07 pm

Molly- whether your stipend is $260/month like in your country or $800/month like in the US, everyone except the OP has said they wouldn’t mind a bit if their au pair took a sandwich and a soda when she went out, so no need to worry. Most of us have also said though, in OP’s defense, that particularly if she was a really good AP, it wouldn’t even cross our minds to be irritated about that kind of thing. Frequently when you’re irritated with someone anyway or feel like you’re giving way more to the relationship, little things can become extremely irritating. So for an AP who is doing the bare minimum or not even, I can completely see how watching her pack three sandwiches and the rest of the kid’s school snacks would be infuriating.

You sound like you get it – it all works great as long as neither side perceives the other side as taking advantage.

AupairLA April 15, 2013 at 12:06 am

I’m sorry but to me it’s ugly cheap to be so frugal with food. If you’re not willing to provide your au pair with every meal, having in mind that she only makes 4 bucks an hour, you shouldn’t have an au pair. Get a live out nanny!

anonamomma April 15, 2013 at 5:20 am

I would say that its ugly cheap of the AP to take the children’s school lunches and leave their lunch box empty – it cuts both ways.

And the OP never said that she was unwilling to provide her AP with every meal – the issue she has is with the AP providing food to her friends – and being inconsiderate into the bargain, i.e. taking food which was specifically meant for the children.

Look even when you are living at home with mom and dad – if you have younger siblings – there are still going to be foods that are off limits, i.e. the snack bars, cookies, etc. If you were constantly eating the “off limit” foods your mom or dad would call you on this – well your HM will do so also.

Being hosted as a AP does not give you an automatic right to eat/take out everything in the kitchen cupboards – there are always some foods that we all have to show some restraint/consideration for, i.e. its Wednesday evening and there are only two sodas and two goldfish packets left (which are meant for the children’s lunch tomorrow) – do I take out the snacks/sodas out to meet my friends (so I don’t have to spent any money whatsoever) or do I bring a bottle of water for myself and make a sandwiche. In the OP’s situation the AP is taking the snacks/sodas regardless – and that is just inconsiderate/rude.

It is also ugly cheap!

Taking a Computer Lunch April 15, 2013 at 7:14 am

AupairLA, if you read through this thread carefully, you will find that most of the HMs who have responded disagree with the OP.

Nevertheless, I disagree with you. HPs are not responsible for providing our APs with “every” meal. I welcome my APs to eat at home (DH buys some of her favorite foods each week set aside just for her), join us at the table, or pack a sandwich. However, I am not going to reimburse my AP for eating meals out with friends. Likewise, I am not going to give her money to purchase expensive grab and go meals from convenience stores or supermarkets when she decides she doesn’t want to make something for herself (our fridge & pantry is always stocked with beans, rice, pasta, tomato sauce, cereal, nuts, fruit, and vegetables, not to mention her own special items) or eat with us. That’s just not in our budget (we don’t eat out much ourselves and often have a meal at home with the kids before going out on a “date night”).

In our house, the kids and the AP each have their own shelf in the pantry to store their favorite “hands off” foods, and our AP is not welcome to grab all the food off the kids’ shelves because it’s a convenient snack or easier than making a sandwich.

Finally, let’s set something straight about the stipend. Your stipend also includes room & board. If you were a nanny making $15-20 an hour, you would actually have less “spending money” because you’d be paying for rent, utilities, all food consumed outside the home, a car (not just gas, but payments & insurance), a cell phone, taxes and social security! Chances are you’d come up short every month, unless you worked more than 45 hours a week – really.

Host Mom in the City April 15, 2013 at 10:14 am

Again, it appears that you haven’t read the comments – every host parent has said they would be fine with their au pair taking a sandwich out at night.

And host families are not required to “provide their au pair with every meal.” The agencies vary on what they say on this – from simply “room and board” with no mention of food to “include her in family meals.” There is nothing on this in the State Department regulations. This means different things to every host parent and is something an au pair should ask before matching. And it’s something that a host family should consider and be prepared to answer truthfully.

I’ve never heard of an American host family that literally pays for every bit of food the au pair consumes. Most host families invite their au pair to eat whatever they find in the kitchen (with certain special things they might keep off-limits – special chocolates the host mom likes, pre-packaged food for the kids, whatever) and to add some basic groceries to the family list. Host families also pay for the au pair when they are eating out together as a family. If an au pair wants certain specialty foods that go above and beyond basic food requirements, a stop at Starbucks when she’s out by herself, or dinner out with friends – that comes out of an au pair’s stipend and is not paid for by the family. Similarly, host families don’t pay for au pair’s friends and guest’s food – unless it’s minimal and then it’s totally out of the goodness of their heart and not a requirement.

And finally, if you’re going to make the au pair versus live-out nanny financial comparison, then you need to give the full picture. An au pair doesn’t “only make 4 bucks an hour.” She makes $200 in cash a week and has NO expenses because the host family is paying for all of her expenses (note that it costs the host parents about $350/week for just stipend, agency fee, and educational fee). A nanny working 45 hours a week might make $675/week (well-educated, legal, English-speaking, experienced nannies make $15/hour in our city). Out of that $675/week, the nanny is paying taxes, rent, utilities, internet and TV, car, gas, car insurance, health insurance, cell phone, food, etc.

I can guarantee you a nanny living in my city doesn’t have $800 in spending cash every month, isn’t living in a nice family house, and is having to be completely “ugly cheap” frugal on her own food.

After everything we pay in cash for an au pair, it costs us about $450/week. Are au pairs cheaper than live-out nannies? Yes, depending on the hours you need. So for an average host family who uses all 45 hours, they might save about $200/week on an au pair versus a live-out nanny (more or less depending on hours used and average nanny cost in your area, which varies considerably).

But it always boggles my mind when posters don’t get that there needs to be a reduction in cost to compensate host families for the fact that you lose a room in your home and are taking on an additional roommate. Have you ever had a roommate? Do you remember the dishes in the sink? The last of the milk she drank that you didn’t find out about until you had already poured cereal the next morning? Having to wait to take a shower because she got there first? The people you don’t know in your living space, the loud music or movies when you’re trying to sleep? If a live-out nanny and an au pair was exactly the same cost, very few people would get au pairs – the inconveniences of having an au pair (yes, there are many benefits, but there are also tons of inconveniences) just wouldn’t make sense.

AUAP April 24, 2013 at 3:59 am

This is an interesting post.

Yes, families pay program fees of around $7-10K. And Au Pairs also pay program fees between $500-3K. I understand that agency fees are a burden… and I don’t think it’s reasonable to expect au pairs to view the $150 extra/week as part of their income. It’s going to the agency, not to the Au Pair.

Au Pairs, like nannies ARE responsible for paying their own taxes & social security from the stipends payed. And again, they also pay a program fee $1000-$3000, which effectively covers their health insurance in the U.S. (and air-fare).

The median weekly salary for a full-time, live-in nanny = $652/week. You cited $675 for a live-out nanny. $2700/month. I now have a starting-salary job, and I buy groceries I like, and go out to eat and occasionally drinking, and I take public transit with a cab here and there, and buy clothes occasionally, and live with roommates in a part of town I love… and I rarely spend over $1400/month. So…I do think that nannies have significantly more disposable cash than Au Pairs.

I understand that giving up your extra room can be an imposition at times. And I also feel like living with the family you’re working for can also be an imposition. You have to abide by that family’s rules, you have to be thoughtful about inviting over guests, you don’t having equal ownership of the house like you do when you’re sharing an apartment, you have a curfew, you can sometimes feel like you’re always ‘on duty’, and even with a great host family (mine was) it can be less than comfortable living with your employer and always having to be ‘on.’ ..

Ultimately, I’d hope that if it was a good match, both would be happy to share a house… and view the cultural benefits to outweigh the inconvenience…on both ends.

I’m not saying that it is unreasonable for families to be compensated for the actual expenses of having an extra person live with them (max 50/month for utilities & water; 50/month if they do special renovations each year for the new au pair)… but if giving up a room is an immense burden beyond those basic costs, or something that is irritating on a daily basis (rather than just when a friend/relative comes to town & you no longer have a guest room) I do wonder…why bother with au pair?

I also think your statement that no one would let a stranger live in their home for free is not accurate. Thousands of families volunteer for government-sponsored student exchange programs. Compensation is prohibited — families get a 50/month tax deduction — on the theory that families should be attracted to the cultural-exchange-aspect, not the cash.

My aunt, grandparents, professor, cousin-in-law, all did this and loved it. I’m not saying that help with the utilities & grocery bill would have been inappropriate or unappreciated. But…i certainly would not have wanted to live with a host family who — costs equal — would have preferred I did not live with them.

Host Mom in the City April 24, 2013 at 8:07 am

Just saw this and I forgot that I had posted a lot of this already, so I apologize for the double information. I agree that it’s not reasonable to expect an AP to see that $7,500 a month as going to her salary. But it’s an unfortunate reality of the AP program that it costs host families that extra money on top of what is paid to the ap in money and benefits. I guess again the nanny thing is an example – if I had to pay an AP and a nanny exactly the same salary and benefits, but I also had to pay $7,500 for the AP and not for the nanny, I think most people would go with the nanny. It’s an amount that is taken into consideration when people choose.

It stinks to be talking about APs in financial terms because they are people that we grow to love. I really do enjoy having mine. It’s not a huge burden to have her living with us. But it is a burden. It’s not a burden I’d take on for a year just because. I don’t remember saying that no one would take on a stranger for free, and I agree with you that people do. Thousands by your count. That means millions of people don’t. Most people who have someone living with them charge rent or some kind. That doesn’t make someone unloving or mean that they are only putting up with their AP because it saves them money. But it is a consideration. For the same reason that live-in nannies make less than live-out.

I gave the numbers that I know for my city. I’m glad you can live comfortably in a great part of town and not spend more than $1,400 a month. If you kept your expenses at $1,400 a month where I live, you’d be living waaaay out in the suburbs or in a really shady part of the city with no car. That’s why I used my own numbers. And I stand by my statement that nannies here are NOT living comfortably in a nice part of downtown.

HRHM April 24, 2013 at 10:06 am

Your math is faulty, at least in the US.

In my area (largest city in VA, so not a podunk town at all) the going rate for a full-time live out nanny is 10 per hour. If I had her work 45 hours (which my AP never does, but for arguments’ sake) then her gross pay would be 450 per week. Minus 7.65% for ss tax and medicare tax and subtracting federal taxes of $2509 for the year (assuming one standard deduction) and then VA state income tax of 915.50, leaves a nanny with a net anual income of 18184.50 or $349.70 per week in take home pay. With that she must pay for her own cell, her own transportation (unless she is in a pretty large city, that means a car, insurance, gas and maintanence – most employers will expect her to use her own car and will provide a “gas allowance”, only the really wealthy provide a live out nanny with a car)her rent, utilities, food, health insurance, etc. I’m thinking that those expenses will add up to more than $650 per month (which is what the excess over the AP stipend is). The cheapest one bedroom apt here in town is $640 per month, so that leaves her 10 dollars to pay for everything else.

So no, a legal nanny in the US would not have more disposable income than an AP. Crap, I don’t have more disposable income than an AP! LOL

HRHM April 24, 2013 at 10:15 am

Also, APs don’t pay ss tax in the US (not required to, nor are there host families) don’t pay state income taxes and only pay federal taxes on the cash stipend, not on the value of room and board. If you were a US citizen and your income was paid in part by room and board (or any other bartered good or service) you are required by law to pay tax on the monetary value of that good/service.

CA Host Mom April 24, 2013 at 12:40 pm

Thanks HMitC & HRHM for taking the time to accurately detail the whole picture. Like you, there is no way that in the part of the country that I live, a nanny, paid the going rate for our Southern CA county would have near the disposable income that our AP has each month. No way.

And I think that HMitC makes a great point about it really being a bummer to think of our APs in financial terms. Because it depersonalizes the relationship … which really conflicts with my “part of the family” approach to our APs.

The bottom line for me is that I do not mind going out of my way to help, giving more than I am required to, “rounding up” on her salary, buying special treats for our AP, including her in all of the fun family things (holidays/parties/vacations/etc.) that we have as a family — but the other side of that is that when the AP takes advantage of that, and/or does not show appreciation, I am far more offended by that than a HM who might not have given so much in the beginning.

So thinking and talking through this is a very valuable exercise … IF we present an accurate picture of what is involved in hosting APs.

Should be working April 24, 2013 at 1:47 pm

Reality check please on not-entirely-related matter (CV, I could imagine a “reality check” AREA of this site, esp. for more experienced HMSs!):

We are very happy with our AP and are extending. Meanwhile we are going away for a few weeks in summer without her, of course she will be paid and could stay at our house and we’d arrange food and all. She wants to go visit her family, esp. siblings, understandable. Parents are mean and stingy (my view obviously; I do know some about their financial situation and they are middlish class in a wealthy Euro country and in effect swindled the AP over years out of some govt money that she should have had for herself) and won’t help her pay for her ticket home to visit. I offered to give her all the pay up front for the weeks we are gone to help pay the ticket, and we have had an arrangement where she helps with pets and gets extra pay for that.

So I said we can pay the ticket and she can work it off in petcare and with her stipend-in-advance. IS this normal, generous, risky? AND should I just offer her a few hundred to help with the ticket, just because I am worried she will be unhappy or just end up staying here and not going home for the visit? Husband would probably just pay, and we are on the generous side. But is this boundary-unwise? Also it’s not like we are rolling in cash, we have credit card debt aplenty.

Should be working April 24, 2013 at 1:58 pm

BTW it is sort of related to the post, because the parents believe the AP should have saved $1500. AP goes out, has fun, but is in my view very reasonable and careful with money. I do not begrudge her not having saved for a trip to see her family! Again, if this were a poor family in a poor country it would be different. I believe that financial abuse (if that exists) took place in the family–the AP’s parents haven’t bought her a stitch of clothing or shoes since she was 13, despite taking her govt-mandated money.

hOstCDmom April 24, 2013 at 2:28 pm

I am a big believer in the written agreement – I use them for my own teens/pre-teens (computer use agreement, iTouch agreement (prior to purchase of said iTouch with Teen’s own money!), Mobile Phone Use Agreement…). What I would say here is that the back story is less important than where you want to go from here, other than the back story of your AP with your family is clearly what has made you wish to be generous! So, I would take that you like and trust the AP, and want to help the AP as the starting point, and go from there. What you set forth as an arrangement seems fair, so I would just set it out in a bullet point email, and ask her if the below reflects her understanding and agreement, and if so could she respond and let you know that. Of course, I would do this knowing full well you might lose your money if AP doesn’t (or can’t) return to the US. If losing out on this money bc AP doesn’t return and that means that you can’t pay your bills, or will carry credit card debt in order to do this, I would think twice….

Something like:

Dear AP:

We appreciate your hard work and excellent care of our children and are happy that we will be extending. We know you want to go visit your family while we are on vacation (insert dates) and that the air ticket is a big expense. We support that you want to visit your family and therefore, as we discussed, we are willing to help you manage this.

1. we will pay you your stipend for this period (insert dates) in the amount of (insert amount) in advance on X date so that you may purchase an air ticket. This amount will cover approximately Y of the cost of the air ticket, and you will then owe us Z. (insert numbers)

2. we will directly purchase the air ticket with our credit card, rather than giving you the cash (if this is the case/if you don’t want to give cash/want to ensure it is spend on the ticket etc.)

3. as we agreed we will pay you $X for pet sitting on X dates/during X periods and you will use this money to reimburse us the amount Z, noted in point 1 above.

4. Additionally, we would like to give you a gift of $100 (or other amount) toward the cost of the ticket to show our appreciation for your hard work and excellent care for our children.

I think this covers everything we talked about, and if you agree with this arrangement please respond to this email letting me know.

Should be Working HM :)

Should be working April 24, 2013 at 2:49 pm

HOstCDMOM: Where were you when my husband bought our preteen the iPod touch??

I love this. It’s also very much my style: clear-cut and explaining the conditions as I see them.

Note to self: What would a manager do? Do that.

hOstCDmom April 24, 2013 at 3:09 pm

:) glad you like it!

what struck me about your post was that you were concerned about boundaries/appropriateness, and thus I felt a “loan agreement” would make the arrangement more “professional” and clarify any unstated expectations, and allow the AP to accept your generosity without feeling guilty or indebted (which given her parental financial baggage, might be strange for her), but also allow you to keep an arms length employee-employer relationship (albeit kind, warm employee-employer) and clarify both why you were doing this, that it was a one-off special thing, and that you expect to be paid back in a structured/timely way. Hope it works out well!

Taking a Computer Lunch April 26, 2013 at 8:28 pm

I have a slightly different problem. My current AP is the spending type – rarely joins us at the table, goes out regularly to attend events in our city, and is making the most of her year on her terms. I don’t mind any of this – it’s her year and how she spends her free time is her business (as long as she doesn’t land in jail or ask for an advance). I do have to corral her before the end of her shift (she often gets off 1/2 hour before her scheduled time because she is done with childcare duties), to have a conversation with her at all.

Every year, I send my kids to sleep-away camp for the same week. This year, I pointed out to our AP that she would have 3 working days off, plus a holiday and a weekend, and urged her to make plans with friends. Today, when I casually asked if she had made plans to travel that weekend, she replied, “No, I’m saving that for my travel month. I’ve invited my brother to stay.”

Two things are at play here 1) my handbook says to ask for permission before inviting overnight guests to stay more than one night in a row (I’m pretty lenient otherwise) and 2) this AP, by her own admission, does not put any effort into anything she doesn’t care about, and that includes most of the tasks associated with non-direct child-care (e.g. cleaning, laundry). We’re limping along and trying to see her through her year (yes, I should have gone into rematch in week #14 when she nearly trashed the AP car in an accident that was her fault) — 3 1/2 months left.

My response was, “Oh, I had hoped you would travel. DH and I like to have that time for ourselves.” While I am less concerned about her staying around, I really don’t want to host anyone else that week – even if they will have no direct impact on me (other than buying more food for breakfast/lunch).

If she had been a great AP, there is no question I would have embraced the surprise announcement of guests. And while I certainly won’t take back my “No, don’t invite your brother for that week statement (because I intend to use much of the time to clean up the playroom where the guest futon is), am I being unnecessarily rude in asking her to leave for those 6 days?

CA Host Mom April 27, 2013 at 12:49 am

I don’t think so. Would you be resentful about it if you didn’t ask and she hung around the whole time? Sometimes I use that as my “is this really important enough to make an issue of” litmus test.

And I certainly don’t think you should be arm-twisted into hosting her guest (brother or not)! Especially if the rules say ask first.

Admittedly, when it came down to it, I might have a hard time telling her that I wanted her to leave. But I’d ask her to – especially if you and DH were looking forward to spending time alone together. It’s important that you get your time.

I am right there with you. When you are blessed with a superb AP who is good at her job, goes out of her way to be kind and pleasant and is respectful and grateful (and shows it) …. it’s so easy to go out of your way for them! But when you don’t – well, it just isn’t.

Maybe you could put a note in your handbook that your kids go to sleep-away camp one week per year and that you and DH like to spend that time alone so the AP should plan to be away then too … for next time anyway.

Should be working April 27, 2013 at 12:07 pm

TaCL, with one VERY physically challenged child and another typical child, you have more on your plate every day than most moms. If you get ONE week a year with no kids around, it is your hard-earned vacation. Definitely stick to the rules about not hosting the brother. And I might even in your shoes try to figure out a few carrots to offer for her to leave, although she is a lame AP. Can’t you call this her vacation week?

Taking a Computer Lunch April 28, 2013 at 7:49 am

It is her vacation week. She seems to spend most of her money on dinners out and listening to live music, for which I don’t begrudge her. However, despite my saying “You should look for friends now who will be able to travel that week…” she is the type of AP who thinks as long as she is not working it doesn’t matter what she does. Hence she extended an invitation to her brother without asking first.

Host Mom in the City April 28, 2013 at 11:43 am

If you’ve been saying it that way she probably took it as a suggestion. From her perspective (and I agree), it’s her vacation week so she can do whatever she wants. I completely agree that inviting her brother without asking you is NOT ok and you are well within your rights to tell her to cancel that plan. It is telling of the kind of AP she is that she didn’t ask.

But I don’t really get what you mean when you say that as long as she’s not working, she thinks it doesn’t matter what she does. Does it? Obviously she can’t be breaking other rules you’ve been upfront with (like inviting people without asking) but isn’t it her free time? Does she know clearly what else you expect her to do with her free time?

I know you from your posts as a very reasonable host mom and I completely get where you’re at with this one. I hope you find a great AP for next time so this can all be forgotten.

Taking a Computer Lunch April 28, 2013 at 2:30 pm

This AP has been particularly lousy at communicating. I posted a couple of weeks ago, that I came home from a long weekend and discovered that someone had been in the house while we were gone. It turned out to be she, who had never bothered to tell us that her travel plans had changed. Now, she was lucky, because I had reported to all my immediate neighbors that the house would have been empty. Had one of them seen the lights on, they would have called the cops. Her response, when questioned, was “You were gone so it didn’t matter.” This is typical behavior for her – to feel that she doesn’t need to communicate (e.g. inviting her brother for a week) with us when we’re not asking her to work.

Host Mom in the City April 28, 2013 at 2:47 pm

I remember that and I know you are not happy with this one. Of course we don’t see what you go through every day, but based on what little we know from your posts, even that didn’t seem like a huge deal to me. If she was a great AP and just didn’t want to bother you while you were gone so didn’t tell you that her plans had changed after you had left, then I really don’t think that would have been an issue.

I completely agree that not asking you if the brother could come is unacceptable and you would be perfectly reasonable to say no even if it means he needs to change his plans. But even with a bad AP, I don’t think you can really say that she has to vacate your house for a week even if you warn her up front (which it doesn’t sound like you did).

I know it’s difficult for you guys to find a rematch, but you sound like you’re in a really really bad place with this one. How much longer do you have?

Taking a Computer Lunch April 28, 2013 at 4:14 pm

3 months. We can make it. And thanks for your input. I will tell her she may stay (she doesn’t eat dinner with us anyway, so I expect it will be a zero impact on DH and I).

It’s interesting, just the other day she revealed to me that she might not make it into the university of her choice because he had a C average in high school. She told me that she had As in the classes she enjoyed, but didn’t want to bother with the things that didn’t interest her. She has no idea that I already knew that of her because it has been so obvious in her work all year. I don’t think she has realized that we have been less flexible with her than our previous APs because she has done a mediocre job in most areas (she takes care of The Camel well enough).

We have already matched with our next AP (back to Extraordinnaires – they’re worth every extra penny).

Host Mom in the City April 28, 2013 at 4:25 pm

Best of luck to you. Too funny – we had an extraordinaire for her first and she was great. We decided to try the regular pool this year and had a really hard time finding someone. Finally settled a bit and definitely regret it. Not that our current one is terrible, but our first was far better at her job. We’re going back to extraordinaires next year too!

JJ Host Mom April 27, 2013 at 12:13 pm

I had a similar situation a few years ago. There’s a thread here called “No Room at the Inn” about my situation. (I was posting as New AP Mom at the time.) Mine was a little different because I needed to use her room to house grandparents who were coming to the house as back-up childcare to cover the vacation time she chose. But we, also, had 4 months to go in a not-so-good au pair situation.

My situation turned out to be fairly controversial here, so you should read the replies to that thread.

What ended up happening with us is that she finally made travel plans after months of hemming and hawing about it. But then she did something really stupid and dangerous that could have killed my son so we went into rematch. It was so bad that the agency just sent her home. So many times I have looked back on that situation and wondered why the heck we didn’t rematch sooner. But I’m glad we finally did.

German Au-Pair April 28, 2013 at 3:03 am

Actually, while I think it is really rude of her to invite someone without asking and you shoukd definitely not let her host her brother for that time AND I think you deserve your couple-time with your husband, I still don’t think you can just “make her leave”, especially if it hasn’t been discussed in advance that she will need to travel that week.
She will have the week off, yes, but it is not her fault or choice but yours. The room she stays in is part of her salary and the paid vacation is part of her contract.
While it is uncommon not to go away for your vacation time, it should be possible.
Like I said, I totally understand why you would want her to be away but I don’t think you can just MAKE her pay money for a hotel room away somewhere if she doesn’t want to.

I would save myself a lot of frustration and rent a nice hotel room with my husband if I were you.

Taking a Computer Lunch April 28, 2013 at 7:57 am

I don’t have the luxury of taking time off that week while the kids are away. I wish I did, but both DH and I have taken a pretty big pay cut this year. It has taken a lot of scrimping to put together the AP fees for next year, and now we are saving for a bar mitzvah for child #2 (who, thank goodness, doesn’t want an wedding-style evening party, but it’s still not free). I think there is an assumption among APs that their HFs are all rich. We are solidly upper-middle class, but 90% of our expendable income goes to hosting APs (a sacrifice we happily make for The Camel). My luxury that week might well be getting to commute to and from work with DH (usually we stagger schedules).

Host Mom in the City April 28, 2013 at 11:33 am

TaCL – I know you’re frustrated with this AP and I totally get where you are – I’m in a similar place actually. I’m more than happy to go above and beyond for an AP who is doing a great job, but when they’re taking more work to deal with than they are worth and not even doing a great job with the kids, everything can feel annoying. You’re actually making me think I should address he issues we’re currently having ourselves before I get to a place where it’s irritating to even have her around.

But anyway. Absolutely not ok for her to have invited her brother without asking and I would not hesitate to tell her no on that immediately. And reiterate that you need to be asked for guests. That is totally reasonable.

But unless I’m missing something, I don’t think you can expect her to leave for the week. Especially if she doesn’t know you want her to (it sounds like you’ve just been hinting?). It’s her room and her vacation week.

I think at unreasonable to expect her to leave for the week or to be irritated that she chooses to spend her money on other things. I have similar frustrations that APs seem to think we have unlimited money. We’re having some complaints from its that all other families apparently have a car for exclusive AP use and pay for all their gas. I know for a fact that’s not true, but it doesn’t seem to occur to her that buying her even a basic car and paying for all her gas would be $20k extra for the year. Not gonna happen.

But we probably also need to realize that not all APs have money to travel either. Either because they’ve spent it all on music or because they have different priorities.

I’m sorry you’re frustrated though. I really do get where you’re at.

German Au-Pair April 29, 2013 at 2:52 am

I understand that not all host families are rich and as I have said I also understand your wish to be alone in the house.
But just as you cannot afford spending a week in a hotel, so can’t she. Her reasons obviously are totally different from yours but it’s still a fact and her priorities are her personal choice.
(Also it can be hard to find someone to travel with. I obviously love my friends but even with some of my closest friends I couldn’t travel because our ideas of vacation simply don’t match. “Just look for someone” is easier said than done.)

I hope you still get to enjoy your kid-free time.

Taking a Computer Lunch May 3, 2013 at 11:16 pm

To those who responded to this part of the thread – I thank you. Your comments helped me change my mind, but also think about how to discuss end-of-year issues with the AP. (She is free to stay in her room until the end of her year.)

Unlike ALL of my previous APs how had taken a travel month and whom I had to talk into spending more than 24 hours back in my community (because 48 really is the minimum to shop and say goodbye), this AP had announced she was traveling for 2 weeks and staying in the community for 3.

I was able to help her see that I was not being unreasonable for saying that she a) was free to stay in the playroom but not have overnight guests because the new AP would feel trapped in her room which is on the other side of the playroom from the rest of the house. I helped her see that if she were having sex with her boyfriend, the new AP would feel too uncomfortable to move. (Boyfriend of outgoing AP shares a room in an apartment so he spends a lot of time in our house.)

I also had the opportunity to point out to outgoing AP all the things that were happening in our home as she was transitioning from AP to home that would make it difficult for us if she were to show up at midnight because she had no other place to stay.

Assumptions play a huge role in misconceptions. AP asked to end her year a week early. We said yes. She then thought she would be free to hang out in her room, until we told her that her successor would be coming shortly after her year ended and we gave her a firm date to be out of her room (more than 24 hours after her last shift with us) so that we could start cleaning the room for the next AP.

While I usually wait until 2 1/2 – 3 months out to have the “so-it’s-the-end-of-your-year” chat with the outgoing AP, AP #8 because she had a couple of misconceptions, led me to have the conversation earlier.

And then, at the end of the chat, she announced that she and her boyfriend were an item (sigh) and because he shared a bedroom with a friend, he would be hanging out at our house more than ever (which, 24 hours later, led me to have the “step-it-up sister” chat – I’m probably unusual in that I don’t mind boyfriends – however, if the AP expects to provide a hot shower and breakfast to her boyfriend – then I expect that she’ll do more than a mediocre job. I’m happy to report that so far it’s working – she got the message – and has been more willing than ever to do her fair share!

Au Pair in Australia May 29, 2013 at 3:35 am

Some of my au pairs have tried to save all their pocket money and that makes it difficult, as they do not catch up with friends and enjoy their time, the best is to encourage them to try to enjoy their time as au pair as well

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