When you’re away, you still have to pay: Stipends when your Au Pair isn’t working

by cv harquail on April 8, 2011

Dear AuPairMom-

Do I have to pay a stipend to my au pair is s/he isn’t needed for childcare? I will be out of the country with my son for three weeks and am not taking the au pair with me since i am visiting my parents.


Our au pair already took one week off of her two-week vacation and will take one week off during my trip. But what about the remaining two weeks? She will not be needed to work — in fact she’ll have what amounts to extra vacation time. Do I still need to pay her a stipend? I couldn’t find any rules regarding this issue.

Any advice will great. Thank you so much for your blog. –TravelingMom

Dear TravelingMom-

Yes, you need to pay your au pair for the two weeks you are away, even if she is not technically providing childcare.

The way it works is that you have (already) contracted with her for 50 weeks of childcare and two weeks of paid vacation time…. It isn’t her choice not to work, so she should not bear the brunt of being without a stipend/pocket money during these two weeks.

This may seem a little unfair to you — why should you pay if you don’t get childcare? Well, it’s just like if you schedule a massage but can’t make it– you still have to pay, because you have reserved her time and she can’t ‘sell it’ to someone else. She’s counting on that pocket money.

That said, take a step back and see if you can reframe this.

Since you do have to pay her, think about how to let go of any resentment you might feel over this. As Granddad always says, “It is what it is, so find a way to make it a good thing.”

You might want to encourage your au pair to travel during this time, since she does indeed have free time. You could encourage her to stay in your house but explore your area and find new things to do (maybe even new ideas for kid activities). She should take all the day trips she imagines. She could sleep in, give herself a 10-day workout/vacation at the local Y, or watch the entire Seinfeld oeuvre on dvds she checks out from the library. Or, she could watch Minority Report over and over like my husband does when he’s home alone for a weekend.

Alternatively (or maybe combined with this) your au pair might do some of those kid-related things you rarely have time for. Maybe she could reorganize your child’s drawers and wash all the stuffed animals. Take the car to the carwash and get all the Cheerios vacuumed out. Upgrade the stuff in the diaper bag. Try learning to cook three new things — who knows?

She might also keep an eye on your house, plants and pets for you.

Keep in mind, too, that you are also responsible for her ‘room & board’ during this time. That means– you need to leave groceries & grocery money for her. It doesn’t have to be a large sum, but you need to make sure she can continue to eat what you all normally eat, not dine out every day at Ronny Mac’s or indulge herself with Frappucinos for breakfast. Again, it’s not her fault that you won’t be there– she still needs to eat.

Reframe this to be an act of caring, understanding, and a ‘you’re welcome’ for your au pair.

I’m not denying that it can feel like a drag to pay for things you don’t use– but I am suggesting that you step outside the ‘stipend in exchange for childcare’ box. It’s too narrow a framing of the au pair -host family relationship in situations like these. Even if your au pair is not particularly appreciative, you can always take comfort in doing the right thing.

It’s your choice not to use her services these two weeks, and it’s the rule that you must pay her stipend and make sure she has food to eat and a warm house to sleep in. While you can’t take extra credit for being generous by following the rules (when that’s expected), you can step up as a good person and good host parent not only by letting it cease to bother you, but also for helping your au pair (and you) use this as an opportunity to relax, rejuvenate, and re-embrace the adventure. — cvh

Moms, am I nuts or what? Have your say, below….


azmom April 8, 2011 at 5:36 pm

We have the same situation – 3 weeks in India this summer. her mom is coming to visit and they’ll do some sight seeing. We get “part” of the benefit though – we’ll have her drop us at the airport and back and either save the $120 in cab fees or the $180 or so in parking fees, so we’ll sorta make some of it up.

I hadn’t thought about it, but I will probably ask that she rotate the toys (we try to keep some out of sight and I did ask that she do this on a rotational basis, but have never enforced it. By then our youngest will be almost 18 months so we can definitely remove the infant toys and have her wash them up and put in a big crate. Something that wouldn’t be able to get done in front of kids after all. Thanks for the idea CV!

Little Mexican AuPair April 8, 2011 at 7:41 pm

I think this is a great topic, as a future aupair (looking for HF) I think the answer is great. I would encourage all host moms to walk a mille in the aupair shoes, picture yourselve as a 18-25 year old girl, living in a foreing country, away from your family and friends. What would you like your host parents to do? I think AuPair mom made great points and it’s great that thou she won’t be doing “childcare” face to face, she could/would be taking care of child related stuff, ie learn new meals, shcedule activities for host child(ren) for when he/she comes back, like spending a day at the beach, picninc at the park, learn to fly a kite, a library visit, treasure hunting, etc. I’d see it as prep time rather as an all about vacation time. Enjoy your trip!

Ex-Au Pair in CO April 8, 2011 at 9:08 pm

I was in this situation last summer, when I found myself with three extra weeks of “vacation”. I did a lot of the things mentioned above here, like sorting through the kids clothes etc, but I did not get any extra money for food. I ended up paying for all food out of my weekly stipend (we were all out of “everything” when they left), and also paying for gas for the 15 mile drive to the grocery store/everything else, as we lived in the middle of nowhere with no bus around, which all added up to be a lot over three full weeks.. Wish I had known this then!:)

HM Pippa April 9, 2011 at 1:11 am

It sounds like you gained a very clear idea of just how much host families pay, beyond the weekly stipend, for the care and feeding of an AP. It is not insignificant.

Amelie ex-aupair April 9, 2011 at 7:29 am

I think I wasn’t fair for her to learn it like this. This is included in what HFs HAVE to pay.
Also, believe me, most au pairs know how much it costs for HF to provide us with room and board (I sure did!)

ap April 11, 2011 at 10:09 pm

What a bitter point of view, HM Pipa…

Little Mexican AuPair April 11, 2011 at 11:44 pm

I agree with you. Both the au pair and host family pay to be in the program, and it’s not my case but I know a lot of the au pairs pay for the program fees by themselves with their lifetime savings.

HM Pippa April 12, 2011 at 12:40 pm

You’re right, ap. Let me try again.

This seems like an easy enough problem to fix, but it would require some AP initiative: save the receipts for food purchased, note the mileage driven and gas costs for driving to the store, and give receipts to the host family when they return to be reimbursed. This seems honest and fair because the AP gets reimbursed for money she spent to feed herself and the host family can see that they are really paying for “room and board” and not something else.

As a HM, I’d be happy to pay for actual expenses, rather than guess how much to leave for groceries. Of course, it is best if expectations are discussed up front, and not after the fact.

I think it is fair to ask an AP to pay for her own expenses out of pocket and then reimburse them afterward. What do you think?

Should be working April 14, 2011 at 4:07 am

Pippa, actually I don’t think that it’s fair to ask her to pay out of pocket for food and then reimburse. She might not have enough in her pocket to pay for food, and she is not required to. The suggestions below, e.g. by TaCL, seem more fair: a reasonable amount of cash and then request receipts to verify expenditures and receive the change back.

Taking a Computer Lunch April 8, 2011 at 10:21 pm

I think it is fair that, if you have already paid for two weeks of vacation, that you ask the au pair to stay in the house and do some of the things suggested above. It’s okay to ask her to feed the cat and walk the dog, too, in my book – as long as you leave sufficient allowance for food.

Personally, however, I’d rather have my au pair want to join us. We used to trade off a visit with my grandmother with a side trip to Niagara Falls (which allowed DH and I to have a special night out). I find that I enjoy showing APs my country. We’re not a rich family, but we’ve taking our APs to prime locations within the US as part of the family.

When APs have chosen not to join us, we leave a food allowance equal to their share of a week’s grocery shopping. How they spend that money is up to them. Most APs have complete access to the “AP car” while we’re gone, too (our only except was the weak driver, and then we consistently took all the car keys when we left town because we didn’t want her to feel free to drive – but we have a bus that stops a few feet from our house).

germanchickx April 8, 2011 at 10:41 pm

I agree to have her take some trips and have her do some child related things. It makes sense to have her go through some stuff while the kids are gone.

But please don’t be like my former bosses and actually throw out all the food because you’re leaving. Mine did that when they went on vacation without me. Threw out all the food and turned off the heat!-in the end of december.

Thankfully, I wasn’t an Au Pair anymore and a live-in nanny, and gone/moved out by the time they got back.
Sounds like OP is trying to get it right for her Au Pair. That’s great.

MA Mom April 9, 2011 at 7:32 am

We were in this situation last year. We had our au pair drive us to/from the airport, and with what we saved in parking costs ($24/day), it nearly paid her weekly stipend. We also had her clean our the garage (overrun with kid toys!) and organize the closets!

EC April 9, 2011 at 11:43 am

Many of the suggestions above sound really good for getting a balance of having your au pair still doing some work while you are away for a couple of weeks, I would suggest that you have to be careful with what sort of organising or cleaning is asked however. Things like looking after pets (as TaCL suggested) are actually specifically listed as something au pairs cannot be required to do in the contract with my agency. There is also the fine line between kid related cleaning/tidying and general house work. I think it takes careful consideration to not make your au pair feel as if they have been left with a whole house to clean. On a different note, you might consider her trying different craft ideas out that she could do with the kids. I always find it is hard to judge what is going to work with my HKs and how long it will take etc, so when time allows I like to try making whatever it is on my own to gauge how fun it is and how much time it will take.

Calif Mom April 9, 2011 at 11:56 am

Certain au pairs we want to come with us on trips to parents’ homes, others we really don’t. A little break is a good thing sometimes.

Yes, you’re technically not supposed to require an AP to walk the dog. But what if she wants to? Our best au pairs thought I was crazy when I suggested getting a dog walker to take the dog out when they were staying at the house and the rest of the family was away. Seriously–a dog is a family member, and I’ve only had one au pair in this situation who either didn’t want to take care of the dog, or I didn’t trust her to. So I did hire a dog sitter for that trip. Not a big deal. The dogs love the au pairs–and likewise–too!

As for cleaning chores to leave for her to do–great idea. No one is suggesting a huge onerous list of spring cleaning or such. Just kid-related tasks.

I can’t believe anyone would throw food out like that. We stock the fridge with au pair favorites (if I have time before we leave, which is rare) or leave an extra 75 bucks or so for food per week. What she eats is up to her, then.

Eastcoaster April 9, 2011 at 2:19 pm

We’ve been in this situation a few times. I knew we’d be responsible for the stipend and thought that was totally fair. I don’t even cancel our cleaning lady when we’re away for a long time because I know she relies on that $$ and she does a great job so I want to keep her happy. As far as chores while you’re gone, I think you’ve gotten some great suggestions. Clean out the kid car, organize toys and plan activities. Perfect. Enjoy your vacation!!

used to be an AP April 9, 2011 at 6:10 pm

When I was an AP my host family went on vacation four times during the year and took me along twice (both times countes as “work”). For the first one they went onto alone I took one of my vacation weeks. As it was in November and I was the only AP who didn’t have to work I used the time to relax, sleep in and to go to most of the museums in DC which I really enjoyed.
The second time they went on vacation without me I didn’t have to take vacation week. I did a lot of the things mentioned above: I cleaned the car, organized the kids’s rooms, threw out unused toys etc.
I took care of the family pets both times I as “home alone” and I did not mind that at all.

emmiejane April 9, 2011 at 7:25 pm

We are fairly new to the au pair program, but before doing this program, we would pay our nannies when we went on vacation. Even if we were not really 100% obligated to do so, when you are someone’s sole source of income and decide to take a vacation for 3 weeks, it can be very significant for that person to go without income that long. It’s just the nature of having individualized childcare. All the ideas here for getting some useful chores done are great!

Past Au Pair April 13, 2011 at 8:01 pm

When I was an au pair in Germany, my host family took me on about half of their vacations, and left me in the house alone for about half of them. I always got my stipend and they left me grocery money, generally more than I needed, and then when they returned I gave them back the change. Or rather I tried to give them back the change, they usually told me to keep it and go see a movie with my friends or something.

I know that as far as au pairs go, I was a very mature and professional one, and that I was blessed with an extremely fantastic host family. So my situation isn’t the same as most (I am currently really trying to save money to go visit my host family this summer, and I hope that they are going to come to the states sometime soon). But the trust involved with just giving me money for food and not requesting receipts was something I really appreciated.

boysmama April 11, 2011 at 2:57 pm

Thoughts about how to calculate how much she would need for groceries per week?

HM Pippa April 12, 2011 at 12:52 pm

To take all the guess work out of it, the AP could save receipts and then HF can reimburse actual costs. If AP is short on cash, or if the weekly stipend is not enough to cover her food expenses, you could give her $xx.xx up front and then use receipts to calculate what is owed.

Anna April 11, 2011 at 5:17 pm

Your weekly grocery expense divided by the number of people in the household, including her and excluding infants and babies? This seems fair.

HRHM April 11, 2011 at 7:09 pm

I think that would come out a little generous in our house. After all, my weekly groceries include non-perishables, (which I would make sure were in the house when I left – TP?) and things I don’t buy for her (shampoo, etc).

I always made sure that the dry goods (cereal, coffee, soda) we well stocked. There was meat, veggies and bread in the freezer and eggs and yogurt in the refrig. Then I left about 25 per week for fresh food, mainly fruit, salad fixins and milk.

As an aside to the OP, due to our travel schedule, we arrange with our APs in advance that they MUST take their vacation time when we are taking ours. This may be something to keep in mind with future APs if you know you are going to do this trip annually.

azmom April 12, 2011 at 12:14 am

I agree – plus, you can’t leave out infants who are eating – if you’re making their own baby food it may mean organic veggies for steaming, or if they are getting jarred food, that adds up just as quickly… and if the baby isn’t getting breastmilk, Formula probably is the most expensive item on the shopping list.

Even so, having non-parishables in the house, plus $ for a gallon of milk a week ($4), a dozen eggs ($3), a fruit or two a day (if they eat much fruit) ($8), bread ($3), and money for going out to lunch maybe once ($10) would be fine. most au pairs aren’t looking to cook full meals – so having pasta items in the house already for a few of the days is perfectly sufficient.

So $30ish a week if the pantry is otherwise decently stocked is more than enough in my book.

Taking a Computer Lunch April 12, 2011 at 3:26 pm

We have left $40 and asked for receipts – it usually comes out less than $40, but very much depends on the AP. On the other hand, we do not pay for gas if the AP is not working – unless she is driving to cluster meetings or her classes. We do pay the weekly stipend in advance of our departure, so that should provide sufficient cash to meet her exceptional needs while we’re away: trips with friends, hosting a dinner party, etc.

azmom April 13, 2011 at 12:35 am

Sounds good! We are in this situation in July/August. She plans to travel for some but also her mom and sister are coming, so I think on one side, we’re going to leave the basic staples to feed her mom/sister while they’re at the house, as well as not leave the milk empty, so still $120 for food, plus the stipend in advance, should be plenty for food for 3 weeks. Thanks :)

ExAP April 13, 2011 at 2:05 pm

Concerning money for food:
I like the idea of giving the AP a certain amount $$ per week plus asking her to keep the receipts. This way if she’s short on money, she’ll have enough for groceries. When you’re back, you add up the receipts (or let the AP do it in advance) and give her the money she had to use from her stipend.

Things to let her do when you’re gone:
– sort out toys
– rearrange kids closets
– wash/dry/fold/iron/put away kids’ clothes
– clean the house- as in her bathroom/kids’ bathroom/living room/kitchen/etc. — not the HP’s room!
– take care of plants/pets
– go some grocery shopping for the whole family a day before you’re back (give her a shopping list for that)

I think all this adds up to about work for 2-3 days (Depending on how messy everything is and on how fast she wants to do the stuff. Some people like to do a bit per day, others just do it in 1 whole day from 7a to 9p). That seems to be fair.

If you wanna be nice, remember to leave year-passes for the zoo, museums, coupons, etc. for her! Maybe she wants to explore the children’s museum one time by herself without having to run after a child, being able to look around as long as she wants to, … (I personally would have loved this! =) )

JJ Host Mom April 14, 2011 at 11:00 am

Why not just leave the au pair free to travel, too? I’d think you could build up a lot of good will that way, especially if there’s nothing you really need done while you’re gone.

HM Pippa April 14, 2011 at 12:34 pm

I work an academic schedule, so don’t need an AP in the summer. I had originally really groused about having to pay for months of AP help that I didn’t want or need. I enjoy spending summers with my kids, reconnecting without the pressure of schedules and classes and homework, and I didn’t want a stranger there to mess up the mama mojo. But it was during (and because of) that free time that AP1 really and truly became a card-carrying member of our family. She and I developed an easy partnership that allowed me to give special, individually attention to my kids, and also to work on household projects that had languished during the working months. Because she knew the kids and the household so well, she was a tremendous help.

Consequently I didn’t feel the least reluctance or resentment to give her three additional weeks of vacation to travel extensively with her parents. It was a great opportunity for her to act as translator, cultural mediator and tour guide for her parents, and also to demonstrate just how much self-confidence and independence she had developed during the year.

I think it would have been more difficult for me to let go of the feeling that I was throwing (a lot of) money out the window if it had been early in the AP year, or if I weren’t 100% pleased with the AP’s dedication to her work and contribution to the family.

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