Who pays for what?

by cv harquail on September 7, 2009

Sometimes the concept of treating an au pair like a ‘member of the family’ doesn’t give you enough guidance. This seems especially true when it comes to figuring out ‘who pays for what, when’. We got a request (using the Skribit feature) for a post that would heolp to establish some guidelines for this.

I’ve started a list here of things that need to be paid for, with an initial try at who pays for what. The principle here is that the host family pays for what would be offered to other members of the family (esp. to a teenager/young adult), but your au pair pays for things that only she enjoys or where she exercises lots of personal discretion.

Let’s figure out what other general categories and specific situations need to be added to the list:

Food
Host parents pay for

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  • Regular, healthy food for 3 meals a day, 7 days a week
    This means buying enough of the family’s regular food to feed her as well, imagining that she’d eat as large a portion as the hungriest host parent.
  • A few grocery items just for her:
    Cookies, herb tea, some ground beef if you are vegetarians, some tofu if she is. (Obviously, this is assuming that you have no political or religious issues with having meat in your vegetarian/vegan home).
  • Non-kosher items for her, if your family is kosher and if the au pair is willing to store, cook, and eat the non-Kosher food in a way that does not mess with your religious traditions
  • Up to $25/week of stuff  ‘for her’ (see note at end)
  • Groceries for her to prepare for herself when you are away for the weekend and she is home alone.
    (This is part of the 3 meals/7 days concept).
  • The same food you get yourself when your are out and she is with you, on duty
  • Dinners out with host family when on duty
    Expect her to follow your lead with entrees. Take her only to places where you can afford to have her choose anything from the menu, unless it’s an odd situation (in that case, explain in the car before you get there). Offer her a rule of thumb– buy either an appetizer or dessert, not the most expensive item nor the least expensive item. The rough part here is if the parents want to splurge on a nice wine or an expensive entree, but they do not want to pay for the same for the au pair. This happens (!), and to me it seems to be reasonable if you want to get a $60 bottle of wine that you’d prefer not to share; just be clear if you want to splurge yourself but ask others to choose regular items.
  • Coffee and snack when out with the kids or with you at Starbucks, Target, etc.
  • Any beer or wine at family events or while watching football.
  • Popcorn when she takes the kids to the movies.
  • Takeout/pizza that is ordered for family meals, whether she is on or off duty (but only at the same cost level as the family)

Au Pair pays for

  • Fancy cocktails (if she is over 21) when you are out to dinner
  • Coffee & snacks or meals out when she is off duty and with her friends
  • Freaky diet drinks
  • Food used to prepare meals for her friends and guests when she is at your house
  • Alcoholic beverage consumed at your house when she has guests (if permitted)
  • Food items above and beyond the basic groceries and $25 budget
  • Food when she is on vacation, whether at your house alone or on her travels. (If she is having a ‘staycation’, you might just include her in the grocery shopping)
  • Takeout/pizza items above and beyond what is planned for “family” meals

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Health & Beauty Aids
Host family pays for
(really, gives Au Pair access to) Band Aids, the occasional ibuprofen, tissues, bar soap, hand soap, hairdryer. Also, toilet paper, tissues, paper towels and cleaning supplies if she cleans her own room or bathroom.

Au Pair pays for all of her shampoos, cosmetics, sanitary supplies, prescriptions, cold medications, hair color, toothpaste, bath gel, curling irons, haircuts.


Activities
Host Family pays for

  • Tickets and fees related to activities when the au pair is on duty
  • Tickets to family outings when the Au Pair is off-duty but explicitly invited (e.g., to the movies with the kids)

200909071658.jpgAu Pair pays for

  • Tickets to outings when the Au Pair is off-duty and the host parents are happy to take her with them but would prefer not to pay (e.g., A family Broadway show with Grandma). Hey, we can afford to take Grandma for her birthday… but we can’t afford to pay for the au pair. Such is life.

Medical & Dental Care

  • Au pair pays for this personal care

Gas and Tolls
Au Pair pays
when using car for personal travel.

Host family pays when car is used for family business.

Car Washing: Figure this out in advance, e.g., Au Pair if she is the only user of the car, Host family if you both use car.

Tele/Communications
Host family pays for

All the basics that the family enjoys:

  • Telephone basic service (local calls)
  • HBO/Cable TV, internet access
  • Computer printing of basic stuff (e.g., directions to train station)

Optional: Cell phone basic local (if host family wants to provide this)

Au Pair pays for
Personal items and premium services:

  • All long distance phone calls, texting,
  • Movies On Demand, video rentals for herself, Library fines for her own books
  • Premium online/ internet services (e.g., photo storage, manipulation, printing)
  • Fancy computer printing (e.g., photos, large color items, party invitations)

Travel
Host family pays for

  • Au Pair’s tickets to travel with the family, on duty, regular class (even if the parents take upgrades. But don’t leave her with the kids in economy class unless she is being paid to be on duty)
  • When Au Pair is traveling from ‘home base’ to vacation spot so that she can be on duty at your vacation spot (e.g., you buy her a bus ticket from your house in NY City to your house in the Hamptons, regular class, so that she can be on duty in the Hamptons)
  • Hotel accommodations in a room other than the parents’ room, while traveling with the family on duty or off duty.
    (IMHO, it is fine to ask the au pair to share a room with the kids, as long as you make sure she has some privacy during her off duty time, when she is changing/showering, and when she wants to watch TV after kids go to bed)

Au Pair pays for

  • Tickets to and from the family’s vacation spot if she is unwilling/prefers not to travel with the family in their car, or in the travel mode they prefer
  • Tickets to and from the family’s vacation spot if she prefers to use a more expensive form of transportation (e.g., she wants to take the water taxi or luxury jitney, but you have given her a train ticket)
  • Tickets to and from a vacation spot if she is joining the family on vacation but not going to be on duty, unless the family can afford to treat her

Household damage

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  • Basic wear and tear: when things break and go wrong through regular use
  • Basic household accidents (e.g., tea kettle catches fire, toilet overflows b/c you did not explain plumbing)

Au Pair pays for

  • Dumb accidents that could have been avoided if she followed the directions that you have already gone over with her (e.g., sets off burglar alarm and can’t turn it off b/c she can’t remember where the code is and then you get whacked with the $50 ‘false alarm’ fee; water damage to the first floor powder room b/c she is unwilling to use the shower curtain correctly in the third floor bathroom; replacing the window fan after her balloon ribbons get strangled around it and burn out the motor; restoring all the software on your computer after she downloads something without permission and it has a virus your updated protection software didn’t catch)

What else should we add? And, what principle(s) do you use when you’re trying to figure out ‘who pays for what’?

(note: Regarding the $25 extra grocery ‘allowance’– this happens to be the maximum amount that most host parents thought was reasonable (in a previous discussion) for budgeting for the au pair’s “extras”. You are not expected to offer this “allowance” explicitly, or to offer it in addition to buying a proportionally larger amount of groceries overall. It’s just a guideline that you can use to figure out when you’ve gone too far.)

{ 90 comments }

Jane September 8, 2009 at 8:37 am

This issue was on my mind this weekend as our new au pair had an out-of-town au pair guest for a long 4-day weekend (we gave her off two extra days that didn’t count against her vacation time because we took off from work ourselves.) We cooked big, nice breakfasts on two of the days that we explicitly invited them to join us for and we invited them to share dinner with us twice. The rest of the time, I figured they would eat out on their own when they were enjoying the sights of our area, especially when I told them we would not be home for dinner the other nights so they’d be on their own. They didn’t. Our au pair offered her friend all of the food in our house, and they ate every meal at home.

I’m fine with continuing to feed our au pair while she’s at our house as part of the basic requirements, even if she’s on “vacation,” but I think it’s imposing to have to feed her friend the whole time. Our previous au pairs understood this on their own without us having to spell it out in the handbook. They would buy a few extra items for their visiting friend (extra fruit, bagels, their favorite tea etc.) and they would go out for meals except when we specifically invited them to join us in advance. If they did eat a lot of our food, they treated us to a dinner that they cooked and paid for themselves one night.

It seems very awkward to have to say—“we’ll feed you over this 4-day weekend, but not your friend.” It’s too late to put something about it into our handbook, but the year is new so I want to nip this in the bud now as our au pair intends to have many friends visit over holiday weekends. In fact, she will have her sister stay with us for 2 weeks at Christmas. I’m fine with treating her sister to several meals, especially the big holiday dinners, but I don’t want to pay for all the extras of having another person with us for 2 weeks. Your advice is appreciated!

Anonymous September 8, 2009 at 8:58 am

I don’t agree with giving the au pair an extra $25 of food per week on top of keeping the pantry and freezer full. This is an extra $1,200 per year!!!! We have plenty of food and she can make whatever she likes. We always have eggs, cereal, bacon, bread, bagels, fruit, juice, coffee, etc for breakfast. For lunch there is always coldcuts, tuna, fixings for a salad, leftovers, etc. and for dinner that there is chicken, fish, beef, pork, potatoes, rice, pasta, fresh vegetables, bread, etc. Our issue is that the au pair was suppose to cook – doesn’t- and wants to order take-out and take the kids out to eat. I let her take the kids to a local pizza parlor after school for a snack. They have a special $3 for a slice and a foundation soda. I gave her $10 for herself and my two kids. I explained this to her, but she spent $50 mostly on herself. She didn’t get pizza, but order a meal including appetizer and dessert. She let the kids get bottled drinks, etc. She couldn’t believe that I was upset. We are not wealthy and this isn’t in my budget. Is this reasonable?

Lee Ann December 21, 2009 at 4:20 am

This seems absolutely unreasonable to me, I would be very upset also. We are not a wealthy family, and choose very carefully how we spend our money. If I give $10 for a treat out and she chooses to spend $50, I presume the balance is her treat.

MTR December 21, 2009 at 10:04 am

Where did the $40 extra come from? Was it your money or her money? If it is her money, then what ever, she spend it, her problem. If it is your money, then in the future, I would only give her the amount I want her to spend, in cash, and that’s it. And I would take the $40 out of her week’s payment. She had no right spending your money like that and these are the lessons that need to be tought.

PA Mom September 8, 2009 at 9:15 am

I think the $25 a week idea is to help HFs who have difficulty thinking of their AP as part of the family. If my teenage daughter wants (and no my kids aren’t that age yet but tweenies and getting close) something only she eats (salad dressing or a tea or a drink) – I buy it. It usually stays under $25 a week but kids (and APs) raised in different family environments have taste preferences and it’s not too much to ask to help them feel at home by accomodating that a little bit. I have even switched to buying shampoo and conditioner (large size) for the kids and APs bathroom. It costs me no differently than if I bought shampoo for the kids – and then I don’t have to worry about who uses whose shampoo. Happily my AP loves Pantene and Costco sells it in huge sizes that can be used to refill the original bottle bought at the grocery store. As for thinking about it in terms of 1200 a year – really – don’t you spend that on your kids – when you buy them a special cereal or snack once in a while. Don’t be stingy – we all like a little comfort food now and again and this kid – almost a woman – is living with you for an entire year far from home. A box of cereal and some extra protein (be it tofu, greek yogurt, ground beef or something sweet) is a treat we’d all appreciate in that situation – and it will help her be more at home and part of the family. Why brook ill feelings by treating her differently from your own family. If on the other hand finances are really tight (and perhaps an AP was not the right choice) then maybe a $10 a week budget would still buy a cereal (lasts more than a week usually) and a favorite thing for her each week. No I don’t think $50 a the pizzeria makes sense – but that’s more about the APs judgment and sounds like you need to have a discussion about what your family does versus her own perhaps. And no she shouldn’t treat herself better than the kids but equal makes sense. We’ve only had 1 AP out of 4 who wanted very expensive things (sparkly bubbly water) and once she found out it wasn’t reasonable here (at home it would have been cheap and standard – she accepted tap water. We do try and make something from her home region once a month or more and make sure they have what they like to eat for lunch (who cares if you buy a container of feta cheese once a month – it lasts and it’s a healthy option for the AP with salad) . . . think about it if it were your own daughter doing this job . . . and ask yourself – am I making the decision I’d hope the other family would make for her.

DC Mom September 8, 2009 at 9:44 am

I agree with most of the post, but I strongly disagree with the idea of buying meat if the family is vegetarian. This should have been stated on the family application and the AP accepted the job understanding this when she joined the situation. She is not under house arrest and can eat meat outside the house on her own time if desired. (Each family could decide what is allowable when the family eats in a restaurant with the AP, if she can order the prohibited food.) The same would be true if the family were kosher, or Muslim and did not eat pork, etc.
While none of the above apply to us, I think some rules, including those around food, are unbendable. To me, asking a vegetarian family to allow meat is the same as allowing smoking in a non-smoking home, or alcohol in a teetotalers home, etc.
Outside of these philosophical restrictions, I do think that one or two items which the au pair likes is not unreasonable. We buy spicy sauces for our AP b/c her tastes run differently from ours; I also pick up her favorite ice cream occasionally.
I would not allow her to order in for the kids more frequently than I do just b/c she doesn’t want to cook. I probably order up mopre pizzas than I should for the family, but I would not want the AP doing it every couple of nights to avoid part of her job description. To Anonymous – how about saying “here is $10, which is enough for you and the kids to get a slice and a coke. Anything you want beyond this is out of your spending money.”
It’s all a balancing act. The first time on any disagreement I write off as a mistake (giving the benefit of the doubt that I did not clearly communicate expectations and reiterate the rules); after that ezxcuses are not acceptable.

Host Mom VA September 8, 2009 at 12:09 pm

I would not be willing to spend another $25 for an Au Pair over and above my normal household budget! I take the Au Pair shopping at the beginning of their yr and periodically throughout the year to make sure I am buying stuff they like and always ask them when I go if they would like anything in particular. The latest Au Pair liked a certain cereal and certain things for snacks.
I always make sure there are plenty of things they like in the fridge/cupboard for during the day and normally cook at night time. The last Au Pair used to go eat the dinner I cooked for lunch the next day and go through the frozen dinners (I take to work for nights) like candy even though there was plenty of food she requested in the house.
Go figure!
I think you have to look at your budget and see what you can afford. A lot of families can only just afford an Au Pair, let alone start adding in additional ‘luxuries’.

helloworld0608 October 26, 2009 at 12:05 pm

My rule is, if it’s something she will cook and eat herself, she buys it, if it’s for everyone in the house, we buy it.

TX Mom September 8, 2009 at 12:45 pm

Host Mom VA, I think you are being fair since you ensure the AP has food she likes in your normal groceries. I use the $25 guideline (and usually only need to enforce it the first few trips to the grocery store) as PA Mom suggests for things that I wouldn’t normally stock but groceries that the AP likes. (ex: our current AP loves English muffins but I’m a bagel person.) I end up adjusting my normal grocery purchases and not spending $25/wk just on the AP’s whims. We don’t eat a lot of meat, but I do keep chicken and such stocked for our AP’s; that hasn’t been an issue costing us more than $25/wk – so far. If I buy it, there is a chance the family will eat it too. S0, all sundries that I don’t want my kids eating is up to the AP to purchase and keep private (ala “freaky diet drinks” and white bread!)

CV: IMHO something to add to “HF always pays list = toilet paper.” I was surprised to learn some HF’s expect AP’s to purchase toilet paper.

CoCa September 8, 2009 at 1:47 pm

I think the $25 issue is very relative and can’t really be treated as a blanket rule for every situation.

For one, I think it depends on what the family normally has in stock, and how much you spend generally on groceries. If you are “foodies” who love to shop for food and are always trying new things and stocking up big on a variety of stuff, that is very different than if you are picky eaters who tend to stick to the same things.

I also think it depends on the food adjustments you are making generally, as a result of the AP being there. Some families may continue to shop and cook exactly the same way as before, only in slightly larger quantities. Others may adapt their habits a little, and begin to feed the whole family more of what the AP likes.

I can see both sides of this argument, but I think it’s a little unfair to suggest that if you’re unwilling or unable to spend $XX extra on special food, maybe having an AP is the wrong choice. After all, these are only suggestions and it may be that a family on a tight budget chooses to make their AP feel welcome in other ways.

CoCa September 8, 2009 at 2:02 pm

Jane – awkward as it may be, I would say the only way to handle the visitor issue is to come out and say it. If your AP doesn’t feel awkward about feeding a visitor for 4 days without clearing it with you, why should you feel awkward about talking about it? Whether you are wealthy and can afford it or not is to my mind beside the point.

I would simply sit down with her and say that you would like to discuss the logistics of the upcoming visit. Perhaps you could start off by simply saying that you would like to do some planning and ask if they are going to be home mostly or doing any day trips and so on.

Have a specific idea of what you are willing to do (rather than “I don’t mind paying for some of it, but not all”) and kindly but firmly tell it like it is. She may not be over the moon about it, but I am sure she would prefer having this chat now, rather than find herself in an embarrassing situation when her sister is already here and you have to say “sorry, but you will have to pay for some of this”.

TX Mom September 8, 2009 at 2:06 pm

OOPS, just read that TP was already covered in the household essentials. Can’t believe we have to spell that one out. LOL.

an au pair September 8, 2009 at 2:20 pm

I agree with the original post, but I’m with TX mom about the toilet paper.

DC mom, plenty of people are vegetarians but don’t mind if others eat meat, whether in front of them or inside their home. I have tons of friends who don’t eat meat, and I used to not eat it in front of them because I thought it might offend them…after a while, I realized they don’t care one bit, and I stopped worrying about it.

My sister and I no longer live at home, but my sister and my mom are vegetarians, and my dad, brother, and I are not. Therefore, my mom buys lunchmeat, etc. for my dad and brother, but doesn’t normally cook meat for dinner. Many people, including my mom, are vegetarian because they think it is healthier; it may not always have to do with animal rights specifically. They choose not to eat meat, but if you want to put it in your own body, they aren’t going to freak out. It’s not always something “forbidden” in the house, to them it might be equivalent to you drinking coffee and them choosing not to do so.

So what I’m getting at is–yes, if it was stated before the match that no meat was allowed in the home because the family was vegetarian, then I agree with you. However, vegetarian families are not always going to require that no meat be consumed in their house, and if they do require that, they should really only choose an au pair who is also vegetarian.

As far as the $25 goes, I agree with Coca. It really depends– how much people spend on food varies a great deal from family to family, and the same goes for their eating and shopping habits. My host family doesn’t have a specific rule about how much extra money they spend on food that I like, but I’m also not the type of person that would want them to get tons of extra stuff. If I’m the one doing the family grocery shopping, I’m free to add things that I like or ingredients for a dinner I want to cook the family. So far, I haven’t gotten much that the family doesn’t already buy normally.

Anonymous- $50 at a pizza place is RIDICULOUS!! This au pair must not have good judgment at all if she thinks that this is remotely acceptable.

PA au pair mom September 8, 2009 at 3:06 pm

I think $25/week is a good average number. some weeks you could spend more and some weeks much less (or even none). I ask the au pair to make a list of the things she wants/needs. I include toiletries in this as well. She is welcome to shop with me or to just give me a list.

The first week is always the most expensive as I stock up on drinks, shampoo, conditioner, deodorant, etc.

I don’t set a specific amount for the things I buy for my kids, so I don’t set a specific amount for her either. I guess I would have to balk at really expensive things/requests, but I don’t set a specific amount.

SeattleHostMom September 8, 2009 at 3:12 pm

I’m actually having a bit of an issue with our new au pair with this… She’s been with us about 6 wks. When she first moved in, I took her grocery shopping, and she didn’t ask for anything. Then our food consumption patterns change (as it does when there are different people in the house), and I tried to adjust to it. It made it difficult for me to plan for meals– food I bought would be gone before I could cook it. I tried to ask her to write down what she wanted me to buy for her; I tried to guess and buy it; I asked her to write down when something is empty/finished. And she still keeps insisting that it doesn’t matter to her what I buy, to just tell her if I don’t want her using something. But it’s not that I don’t want her using something, it’s just trying to make sure I buy what she needs AND what the family needs. She occasionally buys her own groceries (a few things here and there), definitely stuff I don’t mind buying for her if she would just put it on the list. I’m frustrated because I am really having a hard time keeping the house stocked, but she won’t write anything down.

I think the only solution is to have another conversation with her, but I’m just venting right now :)

Anyone else have au pairs who seem to be unwilling to ask for anything, and then being frustrated as a host mom trying to have to guess how to make things work?

Host Mom VA September 8, 2009 at 4:20 pm

Seattle Host Mom,
We had this problem with Au Pair who just left us. Exactly the same thing. I started putting a sticky note on an item if I did not want it used. For example… if I knew I was going to use it for dinner that night or take it to work. She seemed ok with that once I explained why and I limited the stuff I did this with. ie not every item in the fridge!
I gave her a shelf in the cupboard for ‘her stuff’ which I did not touch and we had ‘our’ cupboard for favourite cookies etc which she knew not to touch, otherwise everything else was fair game.
We also had the experience of friends (other Au Pairs) coming over and helping themselves to food from the fridge (mind you not small portions, large enough to feed a small army) and we put a stop to that immediately!
I encouraged her to buy a large box of cereal or extra bread (at her expense) so they could feel free to eat breakfast if they stayed over and after that she always ordered take out when they stayed over.
By the way we just moved form Seattle after almost 10 yrs there..I miss it……

My 2 cents September 8, 2009 at 4:48 pm

SeattleHostMom, Talk to her again and emphasize the fact that when she doesn’t write down when stuff runs out it makes your meal preparation and care for the family impossible since stuff you thought was going to be there is not. Make it clear it’s part of her job responsibilities to do this and then show her the pen and paper you keep for this exact purpose. And if it wasn’t made clear before, tell her the kinds of foods that she will need to watch out for because she may legitimately be confused about whether she needs to write down when one thing runs out verses another (milk verses say lesser used condiments). I think if you characterize it as more of job responsibility that should give her more than enough motivation to listen carefully and follow through (just my experience here).

Although you have talked to her before, I’m guessing some of it probably got lost in translation in those first weeks when everyone is nervous, and she still doesn’t realize the consequences of her forgetting to tell you what is needed. If you think it necessary to get her to comply, give her specific examples, in as nice and diplomatic way as possible, of where the family has been in a lurch because she forgot to write something down or accidentally ate the dinner ingredients for lunch. And it’s not at all rude for you to label the family meal stuff you don’t want her to eat accidentally (just let her know if advance that you will be doing this so no one feels bad), and for her to do that too with a personal item she purchases. She may want you to do this because it relieves her of any anxiety over what she may or may not have at a given time.

As for her food preferences, I try to learn what my APs are consistently eating and then stock up on it before it runs out. Sounds like you did this. I also add the AP stuff to the food list that I keep out so they can see that I’m cognizant of what they eat and need, and as a training tool of sorts so they can follow my lead and write stuff down when it runs low. And, of course, anytime I think I’m going to be heading to the store I specifically ask what they need and then make a point to write it down on the list everyone should be using.

Is that a long winded enough of an answer?? Ha.

TX Mom September 8, 2009 at 5:16 pm

Seattle HM, I had a similar problem which I attributed to “lost in translation” and general mismatch. When we rematched, I took great effort for the first 6 weeks to plan every meal on the AP schedule; it was actually really helpful for me! CV put a link to the meal planner website. Maybe you could use that planner with your AP and then post it on the fridge for reference. Then she will know what you are planning for the week and see what is entailed in the grocery shopping effort. Ask her to refer to the plan when she is scrounging and in doubt.

Anonymous September 8, 2009 at 5:52 pm

Seattle HM, we had a similar problem and it was making us crazy – we would buy something to use for making dinner, and she would use it (unknowingly) during the day. We now write in large letters with a sharpie “DO NOT USE”, and that solved the problem. We also bought a dry erase board that is large enough to cover a good chunk of the fridge and has an attached marker. We told her and the kids that everything needed to be added to it, and we use it ourselves to set an example. Just having a grocery list on the front of the fridge didn’t work – we needed the extra large, jumbo, no way you can miss this white board – so far, so good.

On the food subject, we follow CV’s guidelines in our home, and they seem to work. The only thing I had an issue with recently was AP’s new boyfriend drinking my “good” beer. :-) Silly, huh? We allow her to drink beer/wine/liquor to make drinks in our home, and to offer the same to guests within reason. When the new BF started hanging around, I politely would offer him a beer. I don’t drink much beer, but when I do, it is a good, not cheap, microbrew of some sort. Well, it didn’t take him long to get comfortable enough to help himself – and he finished my beer! Then, in what I guess was a gesture of good will, he replaced it with a case of Bud Light (bleh!). I wasn’t about to drink that, so I moved it out to our garage fridge and replaced my beer with more good beer, letting him know that his Bud Light was out in the garage fridge. Then, since I was out of “good” beer, I bought more – which he promptly consumed, completely ignoring his Bud Light. Sigh…. So, I talked to AP about it, and believe it to be resolved.

NewAPMom September 8, 2009 at 6:12 pm

Thank you very much for taking the time to write this up, CV. It’s very handy to have as a tool to give to an AP and discuss if things aren’t going well.

Here’s what our host family handbook has to say about this:

“We are happy to buy any basic items you need, including nutritionally complete food items and household items (like toilet paper or cleaning items,) and one inexpensive (less than $5) special item per week, including “junk food”, desserts, or specialty items, like a bottle of water. However, you are expected to eat whatever you request, so please make sure that you have a plan in place for using it. Wasting food is one of our pet peeves.

You are expected to purchase your own cosmetic and personal use items, as well as any additional junk food or specialty items you want.”

For me, it’s more about providing nutritionally complete food than it is about spending a certain amount of money. I’d much rather pay for fancy French cheese than a bag of Doritos, personally, because an au pair who isn’t getting good nutrition is going to have a hard time staying alert to do her job.

Seattle Host Mom, we have had that problem all along, despite numerous conversations with our au pair. It’s everything you described, plus when she does get around to requesting stuff (usually under duress :) ) it seems to have no relation to what she actually needs and half the time it rots before she eats it. I think it’s a byproduct of living with mom and having had food appear magically on the table her whole life – she just doesn’t get it. This time we screened for someone who has lived on her own already, so hopefully that will help. This particular issue makes me want to pull my hair out. I hope you find a solution.

tracy cota September 8, 2009 at 6:33 pm

This list is very helpful. Lots of good information. The one additional thing I would add is text messaging to the list. Many host families do provide cell phones. Some provide text messaging plans, some do not. Some plans allow for international texting, some do not. But spelling out what you will pay for related to text messaging with your au pair is very helpful since the current generation is so technologically savvy, and cell phone do work differently here than they do overseas.

We use texting a lot for our au pair and so we pay an unlimited plan for texting, and that also helps decrease minutes used on the cell phone. However, we told her that if she wants to receive international texts, that does cost extra, and she has to pay for that part of the plan herself.

Anonymous September 8, 2009 at 9:35 pm

Yes I buy TP, cleaning products, band aids, over the counter medications, etc. No, I do not and will not buy alcohol, candy, and junk food. I do not buy this for my kids so she is being treated like family.

Yes – if we have a party I will offer a glass of wine or a beer. No, I do not provide her friends with alcohol. This is a liability.

I have learned to avoid taking an au pair out to eat, never on vacation, and only if really necessary on a day trip such as an amusement park. All four have taken advantage of the situation to the extreme. Not doing it, is much easier.

There are other ways to make the au pair feel at home. I have spent a great deal of time fixing her computer, installing virus software, making a meal that she would enjoy, getting a family movie about her country, taking bike rides, going on walks, go to church, etc.

Once I applied these rules, everything has been fine and the girls have all enjoyed their stay with us. You can have fun and be warm without spending tons of money.

MalvernMom September 8, 2009 at 10:00 pm

I have to giggle. Some of the above posters, I do hope have only little girls. I have an 18 year old son, complete with friends. My sweet aupairs and any number of their respective guests could never hold a candle to “just a couple of the guys mom” who drop by and in 10 minutes have made my super stocked pantry into a barren wasteland. These growing boys who have been around my home since my son was a little guy treat my home with complete respect and usually even clean up after themselves so it is not rude behavior, just normal hospitality to “the guys”.

I would never do less for my aupair. I have always worked to have not just a house, but a home where everyone feels welcome. Because of this there have been times when the budget has been strained. My feeling on this is when it comes to an aupair this, like so many things in this very special relationship, is a fine line. I make an effort to do what I can to show my appreciation for my aupair and the wonderful job she does caring for my most precious possessions. I will knock myself out as long as she does not – take advantage of the situation or – develop an attitude of entitlement.

She needs to appreciate the home I have provided – like I appreciate the job she does.

Emma September 9, 2009 at 6:49 am

I agree with NewAPMom, the AP not knowing what she is going to eat for the week and generally letting whatever is decided on rot is a byproduct of living at home and having a ‘grocery fairy’ as one of my friends likes to put it. Until I started buying my own groceries (and now that I’m an AP, buying my HFs groceries and making dinner) I had no idea how frustrating it could be to have food disappear on you, or even just how to gauge what I would want to eat over the course of the week. It’s something I’m still getting used to (twice already I’ve had yogurt go bad on me, yet no matter how much milk and bread I buy it’s always gone before I have the car available to go shopping again and have to ask my HPs to buy more on their way home from work?)

I tend to spend my own money on food thats ‘just for me’ also, even though my HF has offered me money for it. I’m just not accustomed to other people buying these items for me (yum-yum noodles, dark chocolate, peanut butter- which is no where near as good in Europe as in the US, imo.) She is probably uncomfortable having you pay for something she knows is just for her consumption, whereas anything you buy is communal- for the whole family.

I think that labeling which food is for dinner and/or posting the recipes for the week on the fridge with a “this is what we’re eating this week, make sure we have enough food to make it” note is the best bet for now. Having her grocery shop (solo) with a list and some extra cash for ‘food she wants’ might also help. I like the dry-erase board idea also. My mom actually implemented one on our fridge at home for my teenage brother (19) and told him to write down anything he finishes or wants more of. It works, occastionally. (Would work better for an AP, I think, if posed as one of her duties. Tell her to write down anything the kids finish also.)

Jane September 9, 2009 at 8:21 am

While I don’t spend an extra $25 a week on foods that are specifically just for our au pair, I probably spend that much or more on extra things that she likes that the rest of us can feel free to eat too. I won’t buy cookies, candy, or “junk” foods, but I will buy the type of popcorn she likes, the fruits she prefers, the juices she likes. I always adjust my buying based on the au pair’s tastes rather than making her adjust to our tastes, as we’re not picky eaters. As long as it’s healthy and not a gourmet item I wouldn’t buy for myself, I’ll buy it.

All of our au pairs have told us about the food problems their friends have with other host families–either not enough food, too much fast food–and they all really like that I cook things they enjoy eating. I enjoy sharing meals with her friends–I think it’s a great way to share our culture, I just ask for some courtesy and gratitude in return–a recognition that our generosity is just that, generosity. I only start feeling the need to pinch pennies when friends come to eat and don’t even help us clean up from the big meal we’ve prepared for them–not everyone gets that it takes a lot or time, preparation, and clean-up to cook for 6 people.

Anonymous September 9, 2009 at 8:52 am

Our AP never eats what we eat (either with us or by herself) and it would seem that all she ever eats at home is fries, croissants, ice cream and pancakes with Nutella. I’m not exaggerating. So I buy these weekly for her despite the fact that if she wasn’t here I would never buy them. Having said this, she routinely runs to the store and buys them for herself as well (my shopping trips don’t keep up with her rate of consumption) I don’t think I spend an extra $25 per week, but I don’t really keep track. Either way, I’m not going to force a 20 year old to conform to my eating habits if she doesn’t like what we eat. Could you imagine spending a year being forced to eat food you don’t like because there was nothing else available?

E2 September 9, 2009 at 11:07 am

We have a note pad on the fridge where the au pair can write down anything that she would like to eat and also note if we are out of something…we’ve found our au pairs usually eat what we eat and then supplement on their own (that 2000 calorie Cold Stone shake!). If I know that she likes something “special” I’ll get it…or give her a gift card (to Cold Stone or Starbucks) if she does something great for us or the kids that week. On other supplies (soap, shampoo, etc)…I usually put together a gift basket with these things in it when she first arrives and then let her purchase her own from there. Toilet paper is always on the house!

Franzi September 9, 2009 at 2:16 pm

re:car the use of the car for college purposes (study requirement) is part of the $500 allowance and has hence to be paid by the family.

re:vegetarian household, i believe that it is up to the family to set these rules. if they are for “no meat in our pans” then so be it. as long as it has been communicated in the matching process, i don’t think should pose a problem. my household is vegetarian and my rule is “you want meat? buy it yourself, prepare it yourself, clean the utensils used by yourself”.

re:something special vs $25 a week, i think it is nicer to get a gift card once in a while (unexpected after a great week with lots of own initiative maybe) rather than making this a regular item for the budget.

@jane, talk to your AP now, as a kind of recap of the visit and discuss the food issue. say that you were surprised that they did not eat out at all. i think you will then get some response as in “oh it’s so expensive” which will then give you a lead in to explain that your food at home also comes at a price.

au Pair Ellie September 9, 2009 at 3:03 pm

My host family gives me the 25 dollars to buy food or they just ask me to write a list of things I need and they buy it for me. I think it’s really nice from them. When I have friends over we eat out. First because I have no enough food to feed my au pair friends, so we just eat out when they spend the weekend at “my”house.
United States is FULL of cheap places.
Also My family never eats at home and they dont have much food at home, only kid’s food and salad. That might be one reason they buy me food.
Everything can be solved with a conversation. Most of au pair/host families problems are based on lack of communication.

One thing that’s wierd, but I think it’s a cultural thing is the tooth paste issue. When I got here from my country I never thought I wouldnt have toothpaste to brush my teeth. Why? Because in my country when we have people over we give them soap and tooth paste. But I have noticed that in USa it does not work like that. I think that at least on the first time you have the au pair getting here from her home country you should give her the tpothpaste and soup. Or let her know before she come that it’s something she will have to afford or bring from her country for the first week.

CV September 9, 2009 at 8:39 pm

Ellie, that’s an interesting cultural difference! I agree with CoCa that the ‘American’ reason has to do with the wide choices and varying preferences… but that said, maybe we should take a tip from the parents who supply for their au pair what they supply for the kids, just to make sure she feels welcomed properly…..
One thing I’ve always told our au pairs is to leave their towels and pillows back home– Here in the US when you have guests you give them towels from your house; you don’t expect them to bring their own towels. I also aks my au pairs to choose a pillow or two from the ones we have for guests, so that they have a pillow that fits their preferences. I’ve even bought additional super-firm ones just for an au pair, b/c to me having a pillow that’s “just right” is really nice. cv

CoCa September 9, 2009 at 3:22 pm

That’s interesting, Ellie – I never considered that providing or not providing toothpaste or soap could be a cultural issue. I suspect the reason many people do not provide it might be that at least in the US, there are so many different soaps and toothpastes to choose from, that everyone has their own preference. (Basic hand soap next to the sink is a different matter – I provide this for the AP bathroom the same as every other bathroom in the house.)

Anonymous – I can definitely imagine being “forced” to eat things I don’t like because there is nothing else available. In my youth, I did this in many situations (for example when I was an au pair, when I was at university, when I stayed at one of the many language schools my parents used to send me to). I think that within reason, having to live with things like that is a part of growing up.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that concessions shouldn’t be made, and I do marvel at the stories (which may be true, or may be exaggerated) of au pairs living with families who seem to eat nothing but a few wilted lettuce leaves and seemingly don’t make any amendments at all to their shopping lists.

Darthastewart September 9, 2009 at 4:31 pm

One thing I typically do for au-pairs is to take them shopping the first week and buy them shampoo/conditioner/toothpaste/etc. I make it clear that I’m just buying one batch. What I’ve seen happen a couple of times is that they get here with travel sizes of stuff, and just a little bit of money, which gets spent in NY, then they have to spend their first week’s salary on necessary stuff. So it’s a welcome thing here. (I also try to get a City Guide/Coupon book, to give them ideas of things to do around here.)
That said, my current au-pair came to me as a floater under fairly unusual circumstances (my previous had left for vacation, and not come back), so I didn’t have time to prep, or do the usual stuff.

anon September 9, 2009 at 5:59 pm

As for toiletries, I buy stuff to stock the linen closet (either at Costco, or when on sale, whatever), and I tell my au pair “if it’s in there, you can use it; if you want something else, it’s your responsibility”. I usually have some shampoo, conditioner, soap, toothpaste, extra toothbrushes, lotion, etc. It’s the basic stuff that the whole family uses; not the cheapest of anything, but nothing particularly fancy. I also give my au pairs a welcome basket with “fancy” shampoo/soaps/lotions when they arrive, just as something nice.

Also, in regards to transportation for education: my au pairs have many choices for education around where I live, and some are closer or further away. Also, most of them have buses that go straight there. I cover a reasonable amount of the cost, but when the AP chooses a class that requires them driving extensively (>45 miles/wk & paying for parking), they have to cover some of that cost themselves. I do want to make clear that I provide this stipulation because there are many alternatives, and we had a lot of wear and tear on the car (and gas!!!) when we didn’t have the limits. I feel soft on the issue– if there’s no other possibility, I would cave and cover transportation entirely; but we are on a budget :(

Darthastewart September 9, 2009 at 8:58 pm

Oh yeah. Sheets, pillows, alarm clocks, tv, tooth brush holders, towels, etc. We provide all that. I’ve had au-pairs at some stage bring all of those- There’s not a need, plus our power adapters are different, so it’s a real pain for them. My goal next year (between au-pairs) is to re-inventory and re-stock everything in the room again. (We had several back to back, and overlaps.. So stuff has moved/disappeared, and I haven’t noticed. Shame on me)

Megan from RVC September 9, 2009 at 11:17 pm

These comments have been very helpful. We have our first AP who’s a vegetarian when we are not. I’m all for keeping my house full of fruits and veggies but then she started buying organic foods for herself which we all know are far more expensive. I buy some organic foods but don’t believe in the hype and don’t want to spend the extra money. I did mention that she can’t shop at the organic food store(read – very expensive) since we can’t afford it and don’t believe in it. However, she doesn’t eat meat so isn’t eating any of that food in our house so I’m trying to be reasonable by not saying anything when she buys her Soy Milk and other health food products. Truth be told, it’s very awkward since we are not stingy by any stretch but there’s only so much we can afford. The food issue is not something anyone discusses prior to taking on this commitment and I think it should be a main discussion with the Au Pair companies and the Au Pairs. They make it sound like it’s no big deal when in reality it can become a very big deal. We really like our Au Pair and treat her well but also believe in setting realistic boundaries.

Emma September 10, 2009 at 5:19 am

Megan from RVC- Do you have a Costco/Sams Club/whatever card? My mom and brother are both vegetarians and some of those items can get expensive, so my mom used to buy soy milk and some other items that were used often in bulk. Soy milk, unopened and not refrigerated to begin with, can stand for months in a pantry. We would buy boxes of 12 milks at a time, way cheaper. She can also buy cheaper protein bars in bulk there (luna bars, lara bars, cliff bars,) if she eats those.

My 2 cents September 10, 2009 at 9:10 am

Megan, I agree 100 trillion percent that food can become a very big issue and one that the agencies really need to address head on when they sign girls up and/or train them when they come over.

As to your specific situation, as hard as it is try not to feel bad that she is buying her own food. She should. This is her lifestyle that she chose and so, she’s responsible for maintaining it in a household that she presumably knew did not share that lifestyle. Sounds to me since like she understands this, and it’s a matter of you putting that self-imposed guilt into its place — btdt myself over and over on different things.

good mum September 13, 2009 at 10:17 am

Ellie….I find it weird that you find it weird that your American family does not supply you with toothpaste?????…….excuse me, but am I missing something here??? Toothpaste and soap are basic essential personal hygiene products. Even if you plan to stay overnight somewhere, you should pack these with you. Some AP’s spend days travelling to a new country. You need to be able to keep yourself clean without having to rely on someone else to provide items that you require for optimal personal hygiene.

Anonymous September 14, 2009 at 9:26 pm

My girlfriend asked me if she should buy shampoo for her aupair and I thought she was crazy ! Then my teenage nieces, whom I adore , came for an extended visit this summer. Good God ! The things I learned . Like: there are shampoos that cost $20.oo. You also do not have to know Anna Wintour personally to get these – you can pretty much just go to CVS. I am a jeans and sweater girl and I would never spend money like that on shampoo. My darling nieces were welcome to share my VO5 and Baby Shampoo but when it came to the fancy stuff they were on their own. I also wanted to keep photos of our good times but I wanted them to pack up all of their cosmetics at the end of the visit. Kids are fun. That is one reason I love the younger aupairs. The younger girls keep me young, too. They also make me feel a little more saavy than my friends who do not yet have teenagers. Before I had kids I had a lot of high falutin ideas about what I would and would not compromise on in terms of childrearing. Tons of expensive soaps, hair products and makeup is not in my past or future or my budget.

Calif Mom September 14, 2009 at 10:06 pm

Megan from RVC — dried beans! Maybe spring for a pressure cooker and let her go to town.

I’ve been eating local and as much organic as I can find for the better part of the past 20 years (yikes!). (NO, I don’t own birkenstocks or look like a wacko. My hub often passes for former military, of the conservative variety…) Not that any of this matters. Except as context for my next comment:

I absolutely think that it’s okay for you to provide a ‘normal’ American diet (as long as that isn’t fast food 3x/day) and that if she wants all organic, she should probably spring for the things she eats most of, or that are the most toxic. The EWG website has a great shopping list of “things you really should buy organic”.

Organic sd

Megan from RVC September 15, 2009 at 2:10 pm

Thanks everybody for your comments/tips. I think the bigger issue is that the Au Pair companies make very little potential food conflicts/costs. I’ve heard of Au Pairs who binge on household snacks and then the kids have no snacks for lunch the next day. Nowhere did I read about giving the Au Pairs $25 per week for her own food. It’s a great idea. I’ve also told her to put post it notes on food she doesn’t want the kids to eat (ice cream, etc..) and use a separate place in the refrigerator for her food.

Mom23 September 15, 2009 at 4:50 pm

We recently had an au pair who thought that she should be given more than the standard au pair stipend because she was an older au pair with an advanced degree. While we typically have given au pairs a large sum at the end of her year (or partial year), we felt that this request was a bit too much. Has anyone ever experienced this?

The au pair also only wanted to eat prepared and/or packaged food. In the beginning, we would buy things that she liked, cookies (that my kids do not eat), sugary cereal (we only asked that she not eat it in front of the kids), and nutella, however, she still complained that we expected her to prepare fresh food for the kids (as opposed to canned soup or mac and cheese).

Obviously, she lasted only three months.

CoCa September 15, 2009 at 6:56 pm

Mom23, I think that request is not just “a bit too much” – I think it is preposterous. When you join the au pair program, you know exactly what the requirements are and what you will be paid. If you think you are over-qualified, get a different job.

Considering that the au pair visa entitles someone to work only as an au pair, through an agency, for specific pay, one might even argue that asking for more money for more qualifications is in breech of the visa restrictions.

As for what au pairs “want” to eat, I just get more and more confused. On the one hand we are being told that they are supposed to be a part of the family, and on the other hand that they are supposed to get special budgets for their own eating whims.

In my family, people eat what I put on the table, and if they don’t like it, they can go without. Yes, I will listen to suggestions from the older members of the family in particular, and who doesn’t like to see faces light up at the dinner table when a favorite meal is served?

I will also buy, within reason, certain snack/lunch/breakfast items that someone specifically requests. But in general, I am the person who buys, pays for and cooks the food and as such, I am the one who decides what we eat. If the au pair is a part of the family, shouldn’t she be part of that aspect, too?

Hula Gal September 15, 2009 at 8:33 pm

I think this idea of spending an extra $25 per week for food specifically for the au pair is just a suggestion that CV posed in the original post above. We have not taken this approach. Instead we allow the au pair to come with us to the grocery store and add things to the cart. We have been lucky in that none of our au pairs have abused this although we are pretty new host parents. I hope we don’t get to the point where an au pair starts to expect an extra $25 for food a week. I think a host parent is just being nice to get extra food and special items for the au pair because the only thing the host family is required to do is provide the same food to the au pair as the family gets. An au pair shouldn’t expect more but be happy when she gets it.

CoCa September 15, 2009 at 9:40 pm

I agree, although it does seem like there is an awful lot of variation in what families do and what au pairs expect. I guess there’s no point in hoping for guidelines from the agencies, as that would mean they had to specifically point to yet another area of cost ;-)

We are also a new host family (super-new in fact) and are already facing quite a few interesting challenges, one of which being precisely the concept of being “part of the family”.

If a teenager comes to live with you who has been raised in a whole different family, in a whole different country, it’s painfully obvious for both her and you that she is not “part of the family”. She will behave in ways that are completely at odds with how you raise your kids, and you will behave in ways that are completely at odds with how she has been raised by her parents. This, of course, includes eating habits.

So somewhere you have to find a balance – what am I willing to do for this person/put up with from this person before I draw the line? That goes both ways, and is likely to be very different from what either you or the au pair will accept in your own families. Plus it depends on whether ‘family’ is supposed to mean a mother-daughter relationship or something more distant.

So why does this statement keep being bandied about? Who actually believes in it?

Busy Mom September 15, 2009 at 11:26 pm

CoCa,
I struggle with the part of the family “ideal” as well. (CV – CoCa’s question deserves a post of its own).

In regard to food, I described our food restrictions to both of our au pairs (and the 6 live-in nannies before them) during the interview process. I explain that we eat nutritiously and expect them to do the same in front of our kids; that there are a number of foods (and I list them!) that we will not pay for (sweets, junky snack foods, sugared cereals, gourmet foods, frozen meals, sushi, overly expensive items…) but they are welcome to purchase themselves; that they will be expected to cook nutritious meals on the X nights a week that we are not home in time for dinner; that this does not include stuff from cans, kraft mac n cheese, frozen chicken nuggets, etc.; that we have lots of meal suggestions/recipes but that they will have some latitude to propose new dishes as long as I give my blessing. I go on to explain that our philosophy is that the kids should be able to eat anything in the kitchen for a snack, so we pretty much purchase only things that we would not mind them eating on a daily basis. All of this is repeated in our handbook. We do purchase a few things – within those guidelines – that they like to eat which has sometimes expanded our kids’ repertoire for the better (e.g., almond butter).

Food is a big deal, and not just because of the expense. I include a bunch of food related questions on my interview guide.

The only issue we’ve had is with au pair #1 who fundamentally had no understanding of good nutrition. This didn’t present a problem with purchasing food for her as much as it caused some issues in her choices of meals to prepare. She was in the same age range as our American-born nannies, so I assumed that she’d have the same basic knowledge about nutrition, but she didn’t. Lesson learned and I asked more questions about food for #2.

Another lesson learned was based on an experience with an interim babysitter who was a college kid. I now specify in our manual that if our caregiver eats with the kids, we prefer that she eat the same food as they eat or wait until later to eat. (we abide by this as well) In particular, she can’t eat something that they perceive to be “better” than what they are eating.

I totally agree with you that if an au pair wants to be “part of the family” then she should be subject to the family’s rules…even those regarding food.

CoCa September 16, 2009 at 12:20 am

Ah, yes – our family still talks regularly, with a mixture of exasperation and humor, about the summer nanny who used to buy candy for herself and eat it in front of the children because I thought it would be sufficient to tell her that “they’re not allowed to eat candy any other day than Saturday”. I now know that I should have added “and nor are YOU”. :-))

I am learning so much every day, both by having our first au pair and reading all the wonderful wisdom on this site. I only hope, Busy Mom, that one day I will be one of the seasoned hosts like you, and don’t let the “new AP fatigue” I am feeling right now push me right out of the program for good…

NewAPMom September 16, 2009 at 1:04 pm

There are already a few posts on what it means to be part of the family, but I agree that CoCa’s reply deserves its own post. For us, we decided that we were looking for a self-sufficient adult roommate, not another daughter, and we specifically asked that question during the interview process this time. I think that distinction will guide quite a few expectations and reactions much differently than with our first au pair.

One thing that was a constant challenge for us with our first au pair, and that I even saw here on the site in the advice to my “No room at the inn” dilemma, is that different families have different parenting styles. My au pair obviously grew up with a mom who took care of her every whim, whereas I’m more of a natural consequences kind of gal. (i.e. going back to the original topic of this post – if you don’t get around to putting your food requests on the grocery list before I go shopping for the week, you either walk or take the bus to Safeway yourself or go hungry until I go shopping the next week.) It’s been a constant struggle to try to meet somewhere in the middle with this au pair. On the upside, she’s grown up a lot and become a lot more self-sufficient during the year she’s spent here, and I can see that her au pair year will make a huge difference in her life going forward. On the downside, it was a LOT of work for me that, in retrospect, I won’t bother with again. I have my own kids and family that need and deserve my energy.

Coca, obviously I don’t know anything about your situation but if you’re having second thoughts about being in the au pair program, maybe you should at least try a rematch au pair first?

Anonymous September 16, 2009 at 1:36 pm

Well, my contract states that the aupair is to be paid a
” minimum amount “. A woman in my cluster paid some of her aupairs more than the minimum because she had four very active kids . The extra money was not for working extra hours. I thought that was a great idea except that I would not have made a commitment to doing it every week. But as far as someone demanding it, that is off the wall. The time to negotiate like that is on an interview , not before. Also, many of these programs have special subprograms like Super Aupair or something of that nature.
Why isn’t this girl in that program. Is it because she isn’t qualified ?
Or is it because no one was looking for that extra bit of help. A degree in physics does not make you a better nanny.

CoCa September 16, 2009 at 2:53 pm

New APMom – thanks for your advice! I think we should probably follow the appropriate channels within the program first, to see if we can make things better. First, by working with the AP, and later, a rematch if that is the only way out. It may be that this is really just a case of me, as a first time host mom, suffering more from adjustment fever myself, making it harder for me to support the AP through hers.

I am totally with you on the differing parenting styles point. I am also a fairly firm, natural consequences kind of parent, and I also have a great expectation that people will pull themselves up by the bootstraps and get on with it, rather than complain or sulk. I understand that to some people, family is about the opposite of that – being a place where you CAN sink into the mud and be comforted there, rather than being pressured to pull yourself together.

Anonymous – yes, I suppose there is nothing wrong in principle with paying more than the minimum, but I do also feel that once you start to get into the whole “I’ll pay you more because my kids are more difficult” or “I’ll pay you more because you are over qualified”, then it becomes less of a standardized program and more of a negotiation process. I see a danger in that, as a “black market” may develop where families prepared to pay extra get to pick and choose, au pairs don’t want to go above and beyond unless it’s reflected in extra pay and so on.

Euromom December 21, 2009 at 6:05 pm

But isn’t setting aside an extra $25.00 per week paying an au pair an extra $25.00 – a benefit in kind as such. When does it stop becominga priviledge and start becoming a right. I find that some families might do this sort of thing and before you know it, it becomes recommended by the Agencies and in guidelines, another extra expense ($1,300.00 per year). Danger Will Robinson, Danger!!

I also think that it is ridiculous to buy an au pair speciality foods. This is what her “pocket money” is supposed to be for. I provide good healthy food and it is up to her to eat it or not but no way am I spending extra on my groceries buying specialty foods for her. (Perhaps for a holiday or a birthday or as an extra special treat – but I have never done this and cannot see myself starting – start as you mean to go on)

I myself love spicy food – I make a mean spicy bolognese sause! but when I interview, I tell every potential applicant my families eating habits, and ask them how they think they will fit in with us. If my au pair did not like a meal I have prepared, I would just say there’s ham & cheese in the fridge and bread in the cupboard – h & c toasties for you it is.

Would I treat a member of my family this way, you bet I would. Worse even – in my family you have to eat it whether you want to or not. With my teenage daughter, I have one rule over dinner – there is no arguing over food. You eat what is on the table and that is it. If I had an au pair who was making demands on me, then guess what – it’s not working – goodbye. I am not going to pay someone to stress me out and then pay them extra so they will stop – madness! If I may quote aussiemum here YOU ARE MAKING YOUR OWN PRINCESSES!

aupair ca March 2, 2010 at 4:08 am

I don’t know if it’s just me, but it seems pretty obvious that as familly you should talk and find an agreement on who pays for what in the first place…
i think the tips here are very useful, butit is more important to have a conversation about that with the aupair, prefereably during the matching process.
As Ellie said, most of the issues come from the lack of communication.
I don’t eat meat. it’s not like i’m a vegetarian, i just don’t like the taste of read meat. This was discussed on the interview. I turned down a family because they said they couldn’t deal with someone in the house who wouldn’t eat meat because sometimes all they have for a meal is meatloaf… it said a lot about the family to me and i turned them down.

Even though the food is the minor of the issues to me, I agree with CoCa that it’s really hard to draw the line between family and business.
The other day my host mom was really upset at me because i told her she could cooperate more to help me keep the house clean and organized (cause she leaves a mess in the kitchen, the toys for me to pick up after the weekend, her laudry in the machine for days etc)..
I felt comformtable as family to say that, but I guess I crossed the line…

Communication is the key to avoid most of the problems between AP x HF.
I say that if you’re not willing to have her in your house as part of you family, and feel comfortable enough to adress your concerns to her as you would to to any other member of your kin, maybe au pair it’s not the right program for you, or you didn’t choose the right one…

Jennifer March 28, 2010 at 4:32 pm

This has been a great source of information.

Just wanted to know if anyone else has expereiced this type of situation. My AP leaves every weekend. Sometimes she will be home on Saturday nights (late) and leave again on Sunday. I wouldn’t think this was unusual except she is very sneaky about it. She will pack food for the weekend. One time is was 1/2 a loaf of bread so I’m thinking she is packing for friends too. I did question her about it and she says it’s normal. Is this normal?

We’ve had many of the other issues in the other posts. Empty containers back in the fridge/pantry, unusual eating habits, binging (not bulemia). She says she doesn’t eat chips, yet she’ll eat the whole bag. There are cookies I buy for my kids on the weekend and they are gone before the kids get home from school.

We will be going into rematch soon but wanted to gather input before the next AP arrives. Too many issues with this one.

Calif Mom March 29, 2010 at 9:11 am

nope. not normal, or okay. Rematch sounds like a good plan. “Sneaky” in any situation is bad.

Anonymous March 28, 2010 at 8:53 pm

I would guess that your aupair is working. Maybe she is babysitting, maybe she is cleaning houses and maybe she is tending bar. Lunch and supper are not provided by her ” other ” employer. You are providing room, board and insurance coverage as well as her weekend meals.
Indeed maybe she is bringing sandwiches for some others. This is just a guess …. That is probably why she is sneaky about it. Where else would she be going every weekend ? My thought is that I wonder if she will go through with rematch or drop off the charts.If she has a job locally, then she would be reluctant to leave the area.
Did you read the post on aupairs having a ” second ” job ?

Darthastewart March 28, 2010 at 9:04 pm

My general feeling is that if she’s packing a major picnic to take out, then she’s paying. If she eats it at my home, then I’m paying. I think that you’re being taken advantage of, and if she’s doing lots of stuff like this, then it’s time to rematch.

KittyGirl March 31, 2010 at 3:59 pm

This is a great post. I did the $100 a mo for our first au pair (2001) – she was vegetarian. That seemed to work. I actually was thinking I was being too cheap. I feel better now. I do not do this anymore, though.
Also every au pair we have had seems to gain min 20 lbs in 1 year. I think that means extra eating ….

Now, I explicitly explain how we eat food / meals /etc and look for an au pair that seems to be good with the idea. Also I think its a good idea to find out how the future au pair likes to spend money. I have noticed that some au pairs think nothing of buying themselves an ice cream or a starbucks whenever they want and would never expect me to pay. Others EXPECT me to buy it whenever they want it. I think you can tell which type of girl you will have by asking your future au pair – has she ever earned money herself and what does she spend it on? It says a ton on what she feels is important.

lolipop September 4, 2010 at 2:31 pm

au pair hi mom, I’ve been reading your blog and I think it’s great, I have a question about money my host kids love ice cream, there’s always ice cream in the freezer, a few weeks ago the ice cream truck pass through our neighborhood and Children ran up without asking if i could buy ice cream, and her emotion was so great that i end buying the ice cream for them, the following week the same thing happened again and went back to buy ice cream, the third week it happened again and talk to them I explain that before running to the road for ice cream they had to awnser me if i could buy it, next week I had to pick up at the bus stop one of my kids and whit me was the smallest, the ice cream truck pass just happened again when we were waiting and I had no money with me and I said no the next time and also had ice cream at home, he was very upset and began to cry in the middle of the street and yell at me, I felt so ashamed, when we got back to the house was very upset, hit me and told me he hated me, i talked with my host mom about this and upset me a little of their reaction because what she said was “I can understand their reaction the ice cream truck is very important for him ” i wonder if this will be their reaction every time I say no to ice cream truck will mourn and cry and hit me, and if i have no money whit me he is going to do this ? do i have to pay for the ice cream during my dutty hours ? my host mom reaction was ok ? when she arrived home talk to him and he apollogize whit me ,but i don’t know what to do in this situation because the ice cream truck will
be passing every week …..thanks

NewAPMama September 4, 2010 at 3:23 pm

You either need to tell the host mom to provide money for the ice cream truck, or she needs to tell the kids they’re only getting ice cream at home. There is NO REASON for you to spend your own money on the ice cream. That’s ridiculous. And you should not have to provide the money and then wait to be paid back.

Taking a Computer Lunch September 4, 2010 at 4:01 pm

While the HM my empathize with her child, her reaction was inappropriate. No child should be permitted to hit an AP ever (in my opinion, no child should hit period). It is very hard for small children to have limits, but in the end it is good for them. They can’t always have their way, or they won’t be very nice people to be around. I hope the kids thank you when you do buy ice cream for them. If they don’t, do remind them.

The next time your host kid gets upset, do tell him “I’m sorry to see you so upset, but we can’t do x right now,” or “I’m sorry, but I don’t have any money with me and I cannot buy that now.” Personally, I would not reward bad behavior. Sometimes if you hug a small child when he or she is upset they calm down sooner, sometimes not. I would not buy ice cream the next time the truck passes – tell him that his hitting you made you so sad that you cannot buy ice cream for him. It won’t take long for him to realize that a treat is a reward for good behavior and that it shouldn’t be expected.

And, in my opinion, no AP has to spend her own money on host kids. APs don’t make that much money. HK should see an AP spending her own money as a special treat. If you want your HP to reimburse you, you need to ask them their policy first. (I was so broke when my kids were tiny that I didn’t have extra cash to reimburse my AP when she purchased treats.)

Personally, I’d rather see my APs doing something special with my kids that didn’t cost money (and making it clear to the kids that it’s a special activity) than spending money on them. Mine are spoiled enough!

CO Host Mom December 12, 2010 at 8:17 pm

Well, we are in Week 3 with a new AP, and I’ve run in to a new issue that has never come up with previous APs. I know this is an older topic, but I’m hoping for some suggestions.

We use a grocery list system – there is a household grocery list, and APs are free to write whatever they’d like on it. Previous APs have asked for specific juice, yogurt, stuff like that. New AP has asked for OJ (she drinks A LOT) and these actimel things (seem to cost me about $12 a week for as many as she drinks). She’s asked for a few other assorted things, no big deal, I’m happy to buy them for her. I wasn’t thrilled with the $7 jar of Nutella, but whatever.

So today, she tells me that she wants particular flavors of things like yogurt and cereal versus what I buy for myself and the kids. She tells me that she’ll just buy them herself and then give me the receipts so I can repay her for the cost.

This REALLY rubbed me wrong. These are things that she wants specifically…over what I already buy for the household. I shop the yogurt and cereal, as well as everything else, that is on sale. I don’t mind buying her things that she adds to the list within reason, but the idea of her buying what she wants and getting reimbursed? That’s just off to me. I offered to take her shopping with me, but she doesn’t want to do that because she doesn’t always know when I’m going since I don’t have a set time each week.

And that being said, we are generous with our AP – she has her own car, own unlimited cell phone package, stuff like that. But the first week I was here, I took her shopping and explained that I buy what is on sale – for example, she asked if we should buy oranges, and I said “No, this week we’re getting apples instead because they are on sale”. So she knows (or should know) that money is not unlimited.

Any thoughts on how to do deal with this request that we reimburse her for the groceries she buys for herself? Just flat out “no”? Otherwise, she seems to be a great AP, and I don’t want to set that off over some .50 containers of yogurt…but I also don’t want it to get out of control. Anyone else run in to this?

Euromom December 13, 2010 at 9:11 am

What is disturbing to me is the tone or the sense of entitlement so early on (3 weeks!). This is when your AP should be at her most congenial not already making demands on you financially.

You need to stop this straightaway – you can tell her that you realise what she likes/loves and when you are shopping you will try to include SOME of her requests into the shopping the others she can pick up herself and NO you will be reimbursing any receipts. She is free to eat whatever is available in the house. I am sure she does not hand her mother a receipt for something she wants solely for her own use does she?

But nip this in the bud straightaway or heaven knows what the next receipt will be for.

My 2 cents December 13, 2010 at 9:30 am

She feels comfortable being blunt with you so why noy you with her? Just tell her that does not work for you. Tell her She can put 2 or 3 things on the list a week. She can make choices and accept limitations like everyone else. She will have to understand.

Taking a Computer Lunch December 13, 2010 at 2:56 pm

It sounds like this young woman is a little more self-assured than most incoming au pairs. I wouldn’t necessarily call it a sense of entitlement, just a little braver about asking for what she wants than most new arrivals. She may not be aware that the items she has requested are much more expensive than in Europe. I know our AP was used to drinking Pelligrino water at home, and asked for it here. When she went through it in a couple of the days she returned to buy more, and was shocked at the price. Then, she asked if there were something similar that was cheaper. Turns out our supermarket brand of seltzer tastes the same at a fraction of the cost.

DH and I disagree about how much to let APs request. I don’t mind buying one expensive thing, but I’d prefer that it was food (as opposed to junk food). DH is the one who goes shopping and pays for the groceries, so if is willing, so be it.

I’d like to offer one solution, and that’s $10 a week. Tell your AP, “look, my budget is not unlimited, and you are absolutely free to eat what I buy. I shop for items on sale, because that’s what I can afford.” You are free to buy extra items, and here’s X. I’d like a receipt and any change you might have at the end of the week. If you go over this amount, that is your decision, since there is plenty of food in the house for you to eat. Tell her that you will be willing to honor her requests within reason — and it will be your decision whether or not they will also be available to the children (or must be kept away from the children).

That way you don’t become a bottomless checkbook for her grocery whims, and she’ll develop a sense of her favorite European brands cost in the US (and because you’ll have a receipt at the end of the week she has to honor that it is groceries she is buying).

I’d also be clear, when you bring such items as OJ in the house, that you won’t be shopping for it again (and if you expect that it will be available to the children throughout the week, make that clear – “This is the OJ for the week, do be sure to give the kids a little every morning.” That way she’ll learn to pace herself. Do remind her that you think she’s a great AP.

Should be working December 14, 2010 at 4:55 am

I agree with TaCL that this is not necessarily ‘entitlement’ or a bad sign, although it doesn’t fit with a general American sensibility of how to ask for what you want. It could be simply that she is assertive, or from a say-what-you-mean-and-wait-for-correction culture.

I tend to be pretty accommodating, because I figure the AP really does have to get used to a lot of foreign things, and gives up a lot of autonomy in living with my family, and so if she really likes x and y so much, I want her to have them if they help her feel comfortable, and especially if she is grateful for my efforts to get her what she wants. Offering to buy them herself and give you the receipt for reimbursement is not necessarily ungrateful; depending on how it’s said it could be a very practical suggestion–e.g. the AP gets to explore the supermarket quietly, doesn’t make you hunt around for her favorite flavors, etc.

I would probably tell her in a friendly way that I do the shopping, that I try to get what’s on sale and am very budget-minded, but that I will try to get her favorite items anyway. Or as TaCL suggests, give her a small weekly budget for her favorite items. In my view, a few extra cents or even dollars spent on another yogurt or bread each week is worth the good will of the au pair. If I truly couldn’t afford the favorite flavors, I would show the AP the grocery list and the prices and ask her to figure out what could be cut out to fit her own choices in.

Melissa December 13, 2010 at 4:05 pm

We have never had any organized policy with our au pairs regarding food items, and thankfully have never had a problem so far. We just tell our APs to add whatever they want to the grocery list and all have kept their items in reason and bought any treats they wanted themselves (e.g., special candy, etc). I don’t mind buying a particular brand of cereal or juice or whatever, if that is what they like (and even if they are the only one using it), as long as it is reasonable (not very expensive) and as long as these specialty requests are limited to one or two items. Carrot juice and Frosted Flakes are fine, as long as they also expect to eat whatever type of bread, milk, meats, etc that we typically buy and consume as a family.

However, what would really bug me in this situation is an AP ‘expecting’ that you purchase what she wants and ‘telling’ you that she will give you the receipt for reimbursement. Even though it might seem trivial, how an AP presents ands asks for things makes a huge difference to me, whether it’s food, vacation time, money advances, whatever. Asking you how food is handled and who pays for what, and what is the best way for her to request particular food items is one thing, but making the assumption that you will get whatever she wants and then telling you to reimburse her is another. This outlook is concerning, particularly since she has only been there three weeks. I would have a nice, but direct conversation about it quickly.

Jennifer December 12, 2010 at 10:31 pm

We had an AP that would ask for specific items and I remember in particular she asked for apples. She would eat them like crazy at first and then just stopped. So, I asked her why and she replied that she was tired of them. This happened with yogurt t0o. I was very blunt and told her that when I start throwing food out I don’t buy it anymore. This is the same rule for my kids (I end up buying it again but it is usually quite some time in between). So, if you don’t let your kids ask for specific flavors – why should she? If you do this, it will be a long road of being taken advantage of.

A Host Mom December 13, 2010 at 11:36 am

I agree that it is very forward for her to initiate this request after 3 weeks. However, we do invite our au pairs to do some of their own shopping and leave us receipts. We explicitly tell them they are allowed to do some of their own shopping “within reason” and we have never gotten a receipt over $12. Instead of collecting receipts, why not budget an extra $10-15 into her stipend and tell her that is her food allowance to shop for her own things and let her know that she may no longer include her things on your shopping list (i.e. yogurts, beverages). You’ll probably find it more economical in the long run.

CO Host Mom December 14, 2010 at 4:07 pm

Thanks for all the great feedback. I think it was the directness of it, and how early it came up that was such an issue for me. She seems to freely spend money – going out with friends, buying new clothes, signing up for a gym membership – so she definitely isn’t pinching pennies for travel or anything.

My plan at this point is to see how it goes. If she gives me a couple receipts showing she is being mindful of what is on sale, buying store brands (as she has seen me do), and keeping it to a reasonable amount, I’m going to let it go because in all other areas she seems great. If it becomes excessive, I’ll talk to her about it and let her know I’m willing to reiumburse her for a certain amount each week (probably $10), but beyond that she is on her own.

Thanks again for the advice!

AFhostmom January 24, 2011 at 4:10 pm

I know this is an old reply to an even older topic but I just have to toss in my two cents: nope, nope, nope! NO ONE spends my money, without asking, and then gives me receipts to be reimbursed, UNLESS he or she has cleared it with me first. I am a couponer, groceries for a house of 6 are expensive, and my AP started the habit recently of buying things willy nilly when she needed them, then expecting me to pay full retail for them. Yeah, no. I don’t even trust my husband to grocery shop without blowing our budget, so I definitely don’t trust a young adult who laughs at me diligently clipping coupons every week.
IDK if other families do this but we regularly round our AP’s pay up by 5-10 dollars a week. It never occurred to me that this is being generous because the amount set by the DoS is so odd, plus we like to reward her when she goes above and beyond ($20 for doing the dishes every night during a week, etc)but a few weeks ago when she lost it cause my kid ate her banana by mistake, I started to get kind of miffed. So our new rule is that I won’t pay for something unless it’s cleared in advance–which should have been the rule all along but I foolishly thought it was implicit.
She is definitely free to add stuff to the list and honestly there has only been one time when I said no….a few weeks ago, when she asked for an expensive out of season veggie to cook with. A, it’s January, and I don’t really buy things (besides bananas, which never grow here) out of season. B, we have that veggie frozen, and therefore perfect for cooking, and left over from the summer crop. But when I go shopping, I try every time to get her something special, either an American treat I know she likes, or something from her home country (we shop on a mil base so there is an excellent ethnic food selection).
Our newest grocery issue is that the AP, who can’t go to the base without me, LOVES to grocery shop with me, and will smile and stick things in the cart and try to be cute about it. I feel petty saying no to a $3, $4, $6 item, but when there are 10-15 of them, they add up. Plus, bordering on being an extreme couponer, I take a LONG time shopping, and I don’t like to be rushed (or, conversely, spend 45 min in the hair care aisle). I usually save about 30-45 percent off our grocery bill and I just can’t handle someone throwing something in my cart that’s not on sale. Having someone come along behind me and negate all of my savings kind of ticks me off. Plus I am one of the rare breed (I think) who actually enjoys the grocery, and it’s totally my “me” time. Is there a polite way to say “I don’t want to bring you shopping?” What I will pay for is in our handbook, and she knows that I prefer to shop alone, and that I take forever, but she seriously asks me every.single.time if she can come. Or am I just a weirdo for being so uptight about this? I’ve actually been avoiding big grocery shopping runs for a few weeks cause of it. Yeah, I’m lame. :)

Calif Mom January 24, 2011 at 5:06 pm

No, you’re not lame! You are tired of losing your me time, and you can’t think through your purchasing decisions with ‘company’ and she is totally taking advantage of you by adding the small stuff she would pick up at Walgreen’s on her own dime and on her own time.

(My mom used to enjoy shopping, too. She left us 5 kids with dad for the only time during the week that he had ‘sole custody’… :-))

If you can screw your courage up and be blunt, it’s probably better to say, “you know, I really like going by myself. It just works better for me.” Or if you’re feeling wimpy about it, you could just make excuses several times in a row and maybe she’ll stop asking. That’s my–decidedly lame–advice.

Calif Mom January 24, 2011 at 5:11 pm

We’ve been getting the “cute” thing when our au pair is trying to take advantage of us (either special grocery store requests or needing a ride because she failed to plan for one or ask for the car ahead of time, usually right when I need to be making dinner), and I think the reason it really rubs me the wrong way is because it actually makes me doubt her overall honesty. I feel like I’m dealing with a salesperson on commission, rather than someone who has my back and makes my life easier. It feels like she is one more person I have to worry about pleasing and keeping happy, like I’m held hostage. It’s an uncomfortable feeling that isn’t just pettiness, it’s about the nature of the relationship the au pair is foisting on me, and maybe you’re in a similar situation.

My 2 cents January 24, 2011 at 6:06 pm

Oh, the whole dreaded take-the-aupair-to-the-grocery store dilemma.

I don’t care if it’s petty. I don’t care what other people think. Nor our au pairs. I’ve learned over the years to never, ever, never to take them. Doesn’t matter how nice they are. Never take them. I learned this from another host family with the same hard-learned rule. It always ends with advantage taking. Trust me, the ONLY reason she wants to go with you is to slip things into the cart. She’s not being “helpful” or “friendly.” That’s a cover for what she really wants — for you to buy junk food or some speciality merchandise that she doesn’t want to shuck out the extra dollars for. Just keep that in mind at all times and leave her home and think back to your college years or what have you when you “willingly” went with your mother to the grocery store. Why? Because you wanted her to buy you toothpaste, or laundry detergent, or shampoo, or chips, or something else you’d rather not spend your hard earned beer money on.

What do I do? I shop during their “off” time. Over the weekends. Evenings. I’ll even take the kids with me if I have to. It’s just not worth it. I become too angry when they try to slip the Lindt chocolate bar in under the grapes or take it upon themselves to load up a bag of 5 lbs. of cherries (off season) for the “family” including tots who would choke on the pits if they were even to deign a taste of that unusual tot fruit.

Melissa January 24, 2011 at 6:16 pm

I don’t know if you have room in your AP’s schedule for this, but I try to go grocery shopping during a time that my AP is working, with the express intent of having her watch the kiddos so that I can go shopping. I joke that I save so much more money when I don’t take the kids, but it is sooo true – I can sift through my coupons and calculate prices and purchases without anyone fighting, whining, or throwing things in my cart, which only causes me to want to rush through and get the heck out of there. Sounds like APs can pose the same problems!
This is an area that we haven’t had issues with, thankfully. Our current AP is super easy with food, only adds a couple of very reasonable items to the grocery list (usually I’m the one asking her if she wants anything). She never cooks (unless she has to for the kids), but most of the time I can live with that because she is so hassle-free in the food department.

Taking a Computer Lunch January 24, 2011 at 10:24 pm

Personally – I say don’t go lame, I’d confront her. Tell her that you wouldn’t mind taking her if she helps you with your shopping, but that you find it annoying when she throws items specifically for her alone into the cart that are expensive and over your budget. Don’t say it in a hostile way and make it clear that you don’t mind purchasing special items for her when they are on sale, and that you don’t mind rewarding her with one or two of her favorite items because she’s worked hard at X this week.

We only do a big shop once a week, although DH has been known to run out and get a few things on Thursdays when he works from home and supplies are getting low for Thursday night’s dinner or for when we are preparing an unanticipated dinner on Friday (sometimes there are no leftovers).

Our APs are always welcome to add their food preferences to the list and ALL have been reasonable — after the first couple of weeks. And that’s because when they select X, which they know and love from their own countries, and have to buy more of it on Tuesday, they all want to know what is similar and cheaper. The AP always has a shelf to herself in our pantry (as do my son and The Camel), and the idea is that no one is supposed to eat the food off that person’s shelf (although DH has been known to plow through The Camel’s cookie stash). Occasionally my son leaves evidence of having swiped something from the AP, and we come down on him hard (the last episode — a couple of months ago — was eating Nutella on her shelf — after her parents gave him a jar for his shelf!). He learned his lesson, and now swipes stuff from the common treat shelf.

Personally, I don’t begrudge my AP a jar of Nutella once in a while because she works hard and is generally agreeable (at least to my face) when we need to change her schedule because one child or the other is ill. I would never begrudge any NUTRITIOUS food. But that’s easy for me to say – DH does all the shopping.

PA AP mom January 24, 2011 at 6:13 pm

Odd Host mom out here, but my current AP does ALL of our grocery shopping. It started when I was in the hospital in November. I gave her a list and she went. I told her to add whatever she wanted. She came back with all the things on my list, plus about $10 worth of things for herself.

Now, she and I make a list on Sundays and then she goes to the store on Mondays while I am working. She has never gone over $25 for herself and I am ok with that. She uses coupons, shops sales and uses our “bonus card” religiously!!!

For me, the time I don’t have to spend in the evening or on the weekend going for groceries is worth the extras she buys for herself.

CAmom22 January 24, 2011 at 7:38 pm

Me too! AP does all the grocery shopping during the week. I review receipts – I’ve never felt anything she has included for herself was out of line. I also feel the extra time I gain is well worth whatever she gets for herself (and I think she appreciates the independence). So this method works really well for us.

HM Pippa January 24, 2011 at 7:20 pm

In the beginning, I tried to keep the house stocked with my APs favorites. Until I really couldn’t afford (mentally or financially) her daily consumption of 3 yogurts 5 granola bars and a liter of (organic!) mango juice. It seemed the more I had in the house, the more and faster she ate. So I ceased purchasing it. I now buy only the big quart-sized yogurt for the family (which she won’t eat) rather than the $.99 6oz cups which disappeared before anyone else could eat any. I buy plain old orange juice and skip the mango. I ceased purchasing granola bars. Although they are incredibly convenient for kids’ car snacks, they don’t NEED them, and I rarely had any for the kids, anyway. Now several months into the austerity program, I decided to try again. Last week I bought a 24 pack of CLIF Zbars for the kids, thinking they’d last the month (or at least a few weeks) for pre- and post- practice snacks. They were gone in 5 days. The kids ate 3.

I thought AP had been incredibly considerate taking out the garbage in the afternoons before I get home from work. Now I just suspect it is a way to conceal the mountain of food packaging she produces.

The kicker? My AP has started using toddler-style positive reinforcement, praising me for my excellent shopping choices on the very few occasions when I bring home her favorite yogurt cups or granola bars.

MommyMia January 25, 2011 at 12:02 am

LOL – been there, done that, learned my lesson, and stopped! It seemed whatever “treats” and lunchbox snacks I’d get, they’d all disappear within a week (kids denied having eaten them, I knew I wasn’t packing them in their lunches, and there were no wrappers or other evidence in the kitchen trash–our APs all have generally emptied their own trashcans from their rooms….) I hate having to hide and “hoard” food, so my new mantra is “If it’s in the pantry, help yourself. If you want something special, add it to the grocery list and you may get it, or a reasonable facsimile!” No complaints so far.

Honey July 8, 2011 at 7:06 pm

Yes, that was the same with us concerning milk. I would go to Costco buy the box with the 2 gallons and it would be gone in 3 days. And this was milk that we were all sharing. What ticked my husband off is the one day he decides to have cereal, goes to the fridge to get milk, and there is none. He runs to me and says “didn’t you just buy it on Sunday?” (it was a Wed) – that’s when we knew something had to be done. She had to be told that we were not a cafeteria where you can food and drink just magically appears. We decided to just buy her 1/2 one gallon of milk per week (or one gallon every two weeks) and that is hers, and hers alone. I even got a sticky and put her name on it. The half gallon is enough for an 8-10 ounce glass of milk a day, which is not depriving her of her favorites, but setting limits. If she drinks anything over that one gallon, than she buys it with her stipend. Same concept falls to any food item that we notice she eats or drinks more of, such as bread, juice, butter. On snacks, she has her own stash (example: one bag of pretzels per week) that is hers alone. SHe is not to eat from the kid’s snack pretzel bag. That is for their consumption. This new rule helped us budget ours/ and her grocery bill and it taught our AP basic life skills to be considerate of others.

AFHostMom January 25, 2011 at 2:19 pm

I love that some of you have your APs do the shopping–that’s fantastic if it works for you! The grocery just happens to be one of my “issues.” ;) I’m a bit of a control freak about some things and between living in one of the highest cost of living areas in the US and recently having completed a foreign adoption, saving money is definitely at the tippety-top of the list.
Anyway, I think I *may* take her one more time, just cause I told her she could go with me a few weeks ago but we only had an hour, and it wasn’t enough time to schlepp to the base which is farther than safeway or the other of a handful of stores where I can shop when pressed for time. But whether I come right out and say “I’m not taking you” or just schedule my trips for Saturday before noon and hope the AP’s “she’s going SHOPPING!” radar doesn’t wake her up, that will be the last time. At the moment I am a commuter and take the train to work but in the spring my office is moving to an area where I’ll have to drive, and I’ll pass right by the base on the way home, so at that point I will just do what makes sense and go alone after work.
I also try to be very conscious of the amount of waste we produce (living in Germany made me that way–I still have nightmares of 5 different trash cans, our trash allowance of 35 liters a week, with 2 kids in diapers, and having to separate the little plastic window from a paper envelope before I could recycle it). As Pippa mentioned, the $1 yogurt cups just don’t make sense to me, nor do other convenience foods except when we are really in a pinch. And don’t even get me started on bottled water. But as much as I would love to be able to buy my AP as much healthy food as she wants, we can’t afford extravagance usually, and we also have principles (buy local, buy fresh, buy in season, coffee is the best energy drink)that I’m not always willing to compromise on with our family budget. Lesson learned for the next handbook I suppose. Oh, and TaCL, good advice–but almost word for word what you said in your first paragraph (after if she helps you) is in our family handbook, so insert big “why is this still an issue?” sigh.

Newhostmom May 30, 2011 at 12:54 pm

The one I’m having trouble with right now is food for our au pair’s guests. We’re pretty lenient on guests – I truly don’t mind having them and all her visitors have been lovely. We hosted her boyfriend for two weeks, her sister for one week and her three friends are coming for two weeks this summer (though they are only actually staying with us for four nights – they will be at a close-by hostel the other nights). Also, our au pair has friends come to watch movies once or twice a week.

The issue is that they eat our food. I really don’t mind having a friend over for dinner every once in a while, but feeding her sister breakfast, lunch and dinner for seven days was too much. And at her weekly movie nights, they eat our snacks. So I frequently wake up Sunday morning to all our pretzels gone, or no milk because they all had chocolate milk. And she does not replace these items or offer to pay.

I should have said something in the beginning and I definitely want to say something before her three friends come, but I don’t want to be a jerk and calculate out the cost of every bagel with cream cheese her friends eat for breakfast after sleeping over.

How do you deal with food for guests and visitors? Did you just make it clear up front? This is the one thing I’m starting to become resentful about, so I want to try to deal with it sooner rather than later. Even if I decide just to let it go since she’s otherwise pretty great.

Should be working May 30, 2011 at 1:20 pm

You are REALLY generous, your AP should be very grateful and should offer to contribute to guests’ costs. As should the guests! I can’t imagine staying in someone’s house for more than a day or two without offering to “go shopping” or to at least buy the ingredients for one big meal for everyone.

I guess you need an amiably-formulated policy, like “guests should please contribute groceries or throw in some cash toward groceries”, and if it needs to be more specific how about $10 per guest per day?

But if the AP is otherwise reasonable it might be enough to say to her that you are feeling the drain on the grocery budget with all of her guests–whom you are otherwise so pleased to host–so could she consider what kind of solution might work for getting some grocery assistance? If she comes up with the terms for solving the problem it would be ideal, in my view.

Taking a Computer Lunch May 30, 2011 at 4:30 pm

My attitude is that food is meant to be eaten and so I don’t charge my au pairs for food that they or their friends consume. I will say, that in general, when my APs (I’m on #6 now) have had a group of friends over, that they have tended to purchase their own food for consumption in the house. If something is consumed, I would want to know with at least a note (Sorry, I finished the milk last night) left for me so I could head the store on a Sunday morning to get more.

We have hosted other APs for a few days (friends met at orientation, friends from the home country who were APs elsewhere, friends from the home country visiting, AP friends in rematch) and we haven’t charged them for food or board. We have also hosted family members, and for them we ask that they cook a meal from their countries (usually they do more than one).

I think that if you have found that feeding family and friends makes you unhappy that you should adjust your rulebook for the next AP. (You don’t mention how much time your current one has left.) However, I would recommend taking your current AP aside and ask her to replace items like milk that the kids need for their breakfasts on a Sunday morning when she and her friends consume everything on a Saturday night. For example, “I’m glad to see that you and your friends enjoy getting together here. It makes me happy to see them around. However, I’m not happy when you finish all the snacks that were meant for everyone in the house to enjoy.” Encourage her, when she is inviting friends to ask them each to bring a snack or drink to share.

The trick is to be gracious and while being firm. In my experience, being gracious without being a pushover generally wins you more respect from your AP than nickel and diming her (especially if her friends’ HF are less than gracious).

Newhostmom May 30, 2011 at 5:52 pm

Thanks to you both for the feedback. I’m torn about this one – we’re definitely not nickel-and-dimers and really our pair has been fabulous in all other ways, so I’m not willing to mess up the relationship for this issue. It is actually in our handbook – a little line in the “guests” section that just says that she is responsible for the cost of any food for guests. I’m sure she doesn’t even know it’s there though – it’s pretty buried. We only have two more months with this au pair, so I dont think there’s anything I’ll do for this one. I just wanted to see what the “norm” is for guest food, since it’s a tough one not to sound obnoxious on. Because really…her sister probably ate $25 worth of food that week, which is definitely not a hardship for us. I think I was just irritated that she didn’t offer to cook a meal or swing by the store when they were out to pick up more bagels since that’s what they ate every morning. And then coming down to no milk this morning (when I had a half gallon last night when I went to bed) was pretty irritating.

I think I’ll just let it go with this one and make it a little more clear in the handbook for the next time that while we are more than happy to have guests (and actually really do enjoy it), that we’d appreciate if they’d pitch in a bit.

If anyone else has input into how guest food works in their house, I’d love it – thanks!

Taking a Computer Lunch May 30, 2011 at 9:57 pm

If she’s a short-timer and she’s been fabulous, and take a deep breath. It’s too late to change anything (and there are great sections on this list about the issues of the last couple of months).

In my experience, when everything is going great, I can overlook just about anything – and when it’s not every little thing sets me off. (And as the end draws near, I’m more likely to be irritated – somehow it’s a little easier to say goodbye to a beloved AP if you’re a little upset than not – and the trick is not to let it end that way).

So – let the food issues go with this AP and decide what you want for the next AP. But, I do think it’s okay to take her aside when the kids are not around, and say, “I love it when you’re friends are around and the fact that you feel comfortable entertaining here. One thing that is bothering me is that there was no milk for breakfast Sunday morning. If you had just left me a note – ‘Sorry for drinking all the milk,’ then I would have felt better about driving to the store to get milk for the kids.” Keep it light, keep the tone gentle, but it will serve to remind her that she is sharing.

My best AP house guests (aside from parents, to whom I make it clear to my AP that they should just cook us a typical meal from their country – and who in general go above and beyond in being good guests) are the APs that either play with the kids or do the dishes after dinner – because it’s a nice thing to do when someone is feeding you. The worst are those that sullenly sit through dinner and barely give an answer to a question designed to get them to open up.

Newhostmom May 31, 2011 at 8:18 am

Thanks again. We talked it over and have decided to let this issue go since she’s otherwise terrific and it’s not like they’re eating us out of house and home ;) we’ll just be considering how we want to address this in our handbook for next time – we’ll probably make our expectations more clear that we would appreciate guests to chip in (preferably by making us a meal from their home country!!) :)

Anonamomma May 31, 2011 at 2:12 pm

Just a tip:

When the next AP wants x & y to come over – or asks if guests can visit -(before you say yes) during that conversation tell her to look over the guest section in your handbook – I keep my handbook in the kitchen and I just grab it and hand it to my AP.

Tell her you would like her to be familar with the expectations in the guest section, i.e. whether you are asking for $10.00 per day or for a cooked meal during the visit (or if it a movie night to bring their own snacks/drinks) – you are reminding her at the “yes” stage that there are terms and conditions.

Indi Au Pair to be June 1, 2011 at 8:57 am

I was doing some research for arts & crafts projects and came across this excel spreadsheet to keep track of both hygeine and food storage, maybe it’d be kind of hard or overwhelming for the AP to use at first but some customization and instructions from the HPs might help :) http://gardenberger.blogspot.com/2011/05/years-supply-of-hygeine-storage.html

Honey July 8, 2011 at 5:09 pm

We had this same issue with our AP. We had never hosted an AP before and had no clue on these things Our AP is German, and 24 years.

We are the generous types that when you stay in our home, you can eat/drink whatever we have. Boy, we were we wrong! My husband said it was okay to have a beer or have some wine. I said okay too but regretted our decision after 4 months. Our AP thought that our milk, juice, bread, butter, yogurt, etc., came from an neverending supply. 2 gallons of milk gone in a week, and that is milk we all share. There are 3 kids under 5 that drink milk too. I thought that was rude and just plain greedy. The bread was going at a rate of 2 loaves a week. It was out of control. Also, our beer and wine supply were slowly being depleted. My husband notices when his beer is missing from the fridge when he just bought it.

I was starting to get resentful as it was hurting our pocket book that we had to have a family meeting and compromise. We would buy her a half gallon of milk a week, a loaf of bread a week, a half gallon of juice of week, and we cut out her drinking our alcohol completely. Anything over what I buy that she eats a lot of, then she can buy out of her stipend. Example, if she consumes more than one loaf a week, then she buys the second loaf. I know this seems petty but this also teaches common sense. We know darn well that back in Germany she didn’t have a neverending pocket book. Meaning that if it was Wed, and she wasn’t getting to the store till Sat, that she would have to ration what she had until she got to the store, or until she had money. Same concept in our household. Re the alcohol our NEW policy is she can buy her own and store it in the fridge, garage, for her own personal use, but we are NOT providing it any longer. I started thinking about the alcohol thing and wondered to myself in the 4 months that it was a free for all, she did not replace one bottle, or even a six pack! Not even a “hey, I’ve been drinking your beer this month so here’s a 12 pack”. Anway, our new rules worked out great and we haven’t had a problem since. This will now be in our handbook for the next AP.

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