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Are You Paying Your Babysitter Enough — or Too Much? Here’s How to Tell
Before we celebrate moms on their much-deserved holiday this weekend, let’s take a minute to talk about some of the other (often overlooked) MVPs of the child-raising world: the babysitters.
The babysitters step in to care for the kids when the parents are at work, away from home or just in need of a blessed night out without a 2-year-old throwing a breadstick at a waiter’s head. (Hey, it happens.)
May 13 is National Babysitter’s Day, and so, to mark the occasion, we’re getting down to the nitty gritty of it all with the question that has plagued moms and dads everywhere from the minute they entered parenthood: How much are you supposed to pay the babysitter?
After asking a variety of sources, I’m afraid I have to report there’s no one answer to this question — but that doesn’t mean there aren’t guidelines you can follow to determine an hourly rate that works for both you and the babysitter.
Good Babysitters are Worth the Money
I have to point out that while a date night sitter seems expensive when you focus on the fact that you might have to pay a high schooler more than minimum wage *gasp* — it’s really not all that crazy. (Although some people beg to differ.)
Not only are you asking a person to provide a service catered specifically to your family, you are entrusting your kids’ livelihoods to this person. And I tend to think that’s worth more than the $5 per hour I’ve been offered (and turned down without a second thought) before.
So how do you figure out a fair and competitive hourly wage that will not only work for your budget, but will foster a good relationship with your sitter?
Identify a Jumping-Off Point
First, find out the average hourly rate for babysitters in your area. This doesn’t necessarily have to be your final figure, but it gives you a good jumping off point and ensures that you won’t low-ball (or maybe even overpay) your babysitter.
While the national average hourly rate in 2016 for a babysitter was $15.71, rates can vary greatly from state to state — and even city to city.
Care.com has a calculator you can use to find the average hourly rate where you live by plugging in your zip code.
5 Factors to Consider
Once you have an idea of the expected hourly rate in your area, consider these other factors that may influence how much a babysitter should be paid:
1. Number of Children
A lot of babysitters negotiate their hourly rate based on the number of children they’ll be taking care of.
Carrie Pinson Harville, a member of The Penny Hoarder Community Group on Facebook, notes her daughters charge a base rate of $10 per hour for two children and an additional $2 per hour for each child after that.
Either way, know that the more children you leave in the sitter’s care, the more you should be willing to pay.
More experienced babysitters often charge more for their services — just like in any profession. And these days, it’s not uncommon to find a babysitter with serious childcare credentials.
Stephen McDermott, an IT Director here at The Penny Hoarder, told me that he has even hired a post-grad student finishing her MBA and a teacher to babysit his son.
TPH Executive Editor Alexis Grant went a different route by hiring a teen, but she emphasized the high school junior had a lot of babysitting experience, saying that she is “definitely willing to pay more for someone with experience.”
Whether it’s a few years of practical experience or an advanced degree, make sure to weigh your needs against their skill level when deciding on a fair hourly wage.
3. Location and Transportation
You’re not obligated to pay your sitter’s cost of transportation to and from your home — that comes with the territory of having a job.
However, if they’re going to be chauffeuring your kids around town in their own car, you should be prepared to offer a transportation or gas stipend. The IRS standard mileage reimbursement is set at 53.5 cents per mile for 2017 (although you and your sitter can work out a system you both agree on.)
On the other hand, if you have to pick up and drop off the sitter at their home (as is the case with a lot of younger teens), feel free to pay a little less than you would pay, say, a highly sought-after, experienced sitter who you have to entice to drive an hour round-trip every time.
If your sitter is expected to pick up the kids from soccer practice, help them with their homework, make dinner and clean up afterward and then do a bedtime routine, you should be ready to pay more for that type of service.
Erin O’Neill, our People and Culture Manager, pays her babysitter just over the local hourly average and says, “good babysitters are hard to come by … so it's worth every penny. She engages with the kids — that's important.”
If your sitter shows up after the kids are in bed and watches a movie until you get back, it’s OK to offer a little less.
Just be sure to discuss these expectations during the interview process — if you’re hoping the sitter will run a load of towels or vacuum the living room while you’re out, let them know that you’re willing to pay more if they’re willing to help out with general housework.
If you only need your babysitter for four hours, once a week, in the middle of the afternoon, you don’t necessarily need to pay as much as if you’re trying to lock in someone who is willing to watch your kids on weekend evenings or important holidays, like Valentine’s Day and New Year’s Eve.
Justin Cupler, one of our editors (and a dad), notes rates “can go up if we need the sitter for an unusually long time or late at night.”
It’s also a good idea to offer a little bonus on holidays or when you accidentally keep the sitter late, like that time you promised to be home by 10 p.m. but a flat tire kept you out until midnight.
The bottom line is you have to pay more for convenience — and prime babysitting time.
Tally it Up
Once you have a number in mind that you believe is fair and competitive, talk to the potential sitter — and don’t shy away from a little negotiation.
The key here is communication: make sure that you are expressing your points clearly and that you fully understand the sitter’s needs. There’s nothing more uncomfortable (for either of you) than having to discuss payment at the end of the night.
Grace Schweizer is a junior writer at The Penny Hoarder. As a babysitter, she endured her fair share of uncomfortable money situations — and she’s here to (try to) help.