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?