How Much Should You Pay Your Sitter?

How Much Should You Pay Your Sitter?

It used to be so simple. Your mom might have paid the neighbor girl a few dollars to keep an eye on a house full of kids while she and your dad went off for an evening on their own. Of course, some grown kids today might remember being left with a particularly negligent sitter who talked on the phone, munched on everything in the refrigerator and ordered the kids out of her sight. How did we all survive those reckless days?

The End of Casual Care

For older generations, it was standard to just allow kids to watch TV. In today’s world, parents are more cautious about how kids spend their time. Today, trends are pointing toward more intentional parenting, a strong awareness of present dangers and a desire to make play serve a role in improving a child’s chance of success in the world. Together, these trends mean that casual child care arrangements are a thing of the past, while the need for on-demand, reliable care has not lessened at all.

Sometimes, it’s simpler to just stay home than to find a sitter who fits your budget and lifestyle. Like any service that straddles both the informal and formal economy, the variation in quality and cost is too confusing to navigate. You don’t want to be overcharged, but you don’t want to shortchange the person charged with watching your child. Anyway, how do you really know if this person is a good fit for your family?

Luckily, it is possible, and the right tools make it easier. But before you begin interviewing potential sitters, make sure you know what you can afford to pay and how much your future sitter likely expects.

Market Considerations

Child care costs vary according to the local market. As you would expect, the expense tracks with the cost of living, making New York City the most expensive city to hire a sitter in, followed by San Francisco and then Los Angeles. Of course, in those cities, you are more likely to hire a caregiver who can speak a second language or has other expertise and experience that may benefit your child. Washington, D.C. follows close behind, and then cities in the Midwest range $3-4 less and often price in below the living wage. Outside the major cities, prices vary greatly depending on local conditions and other factors.

When you think about how much a workshop or camp costs, hiring a sitter with experience who can give your child a unique adventure can really be worth it. Paying at the upper end doesn’t cost that much more, especially if the sitter drives, can take kids to activities and is a person your children look forward to spending time with. These relationships can be mutually enriching and bring other benefits that you can’t put a price tag on.

What’s a Fair Rate for Your Area?

It’s a good idea to browse the classified, check-out postings on Craigslist and ask around to see what kind of rate caregivers in your area are charging. If you have a neighborhood message board or belong to a local parenting group on social media, ask community members about best practices and fair rates.

Use the living wage calculator to get a rough idea of the low and high end of theoretical wage range in your area. If you’re struggling to earn a living wage, you might end up paying more than 18 percent, which is what an average family pays for child care. Be persistent. Patience pays off. Not every sitter needs or expects a living wage, and with diligence, you can find a sitter that fits your budget and needs. Sitters are typically more flexible than full-time caregivers.

Age and Experience

If your wallet feels a little constricted, be more flexible about your sitter’s age and experience. For example, you may want to take a chance on a younger, less experienced caregiver if there is plenty of support nearby in case of an emergency, such as a close family member or trusted neighbor. Often, a new sitter has experience working with kids under adult supervision or can help your favorite sitter out with a group of children to gain experience.

Likewise, an older caregiver may have plenty of experience but be unable to perform some of the more physically demanding tasks required. Older sitters are better for the very young or for children old enough to perform basic self-care. Take into consideration the time span that needs to be covered or the situations where the parents are still in the house but can’t devote attention to child care.

Remember, very few families find the best sitter right away. This is a process that will take some trial and error. When you do find a great fit, use rate increases, perks and bonuses to show your appreciation. Even if you can’t afford to pay a top rate every time, an occasional tip lets your sitter know what they mean to you. It’s always easier to keep a great sitter than to find a new one. Having a back-up isn’t a bad idea, either. Great sitters eventually move on to other things. Sooner or later, most families have to find a new one.

Know Your Limits

Knowing the top rate you can afford and the lowest rate you would feel good about paying will help you find the perfect sitter. Be confident and set the right tone for clear communications. If you and your sitter don’t see eye to eye, no hard feelings. Settle on a rate that makes both you and your sitter feels good about the arrangement. Happy sitters offer you greater freedom and give your kids plenty of stories to tell when you come home.

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