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Au Pairs: Still “low cost” childcare?

repost from 2008

woman empty wallet

One of the biggest selling points for having an au pair rather than other kinds of childcare is its relative cost.  For years, having an Au Pair was less expensive for me than employing a full time professional nanny, and (especially for people with more than one child) less expensive than using an out of home childcare solution.  It was also less expensive than hiring a babysitter on an hourly, as-needed basis.

Recently, I was “running the numbers” to give a friend some advice about the cost of Au Pair care when I came upon a slightly horrifying realization:  The cost of an aupair is no longer “low” relative to other options for our family.

What does an Au Pair really cost?  $11.00 / hr.

Shocked? So was I.

Check out the table, below. Consider how I arrived at various numbers for fixed costs, variable costs and room & board. Keep in mind that your mileage may vary ! Not everyone pays what we do for driver’s insurance, or has cable for the au pair, etc.

Cost Assumptions that I made:

I based my calculation on a 50 week year, assuming that for each au pair you are getting 50 weeks of childcare and managing 50 weeks of room and board. I did not include the cost of replacing the au pair while she is on vacation, and I assumed that the au pair is not at home during her vacation.

diet coke cans

I did not include:
— costs of training your au pair or having her overlap with another au pair
— costs for maintaining or upgrading her room & privileges (e.g., swim club membership)
— adjustments for variation in living costs due to location (e.g., New York City vs. Schenectady)
— the amount of Diet Coke you now have to buy every week
— costs on a per mile basis for use of the car (basic wear & tear).

Fixed costs of an Au Pair

The figures that are bolded in blue are the direct costs, others are adjusted to reflect the time period (e.g., annual cost vs. weekly cost). I took the program costs from Au Pair in America (the agency we use). Your numbers may vary slightly depending on your agency.

Room & Board for an Au Pair

The Department of Labor calculates that an au pair’s room and board is about 120 per week, at 40% of an au pair’s earned wages . (You get this number by multiplying the minimum wage by 45 hrs by 52 weeks, then backing out the agency fee, more or less.)
If you don’t actually feel like hosting the au pair in your extra bedroom has a monetary cost, you might consider how much you spend on food for an additional (albeit, usually dieting) adult and how much extra it costs when she runs the window air conditioner 24/7.

Locally variable costs of an Au Pair

For insurance, I also used my actual cost for adding to our family policy an au pair under 24 yrs old (in New Jersey). And, I estimated the cost of the additional phones (cell & landline) and cable box.

(50 wks)
Agency fee7,345.00
Pocket Money8,850.00 177.00
Room & Board6,000.00 120.00
Education Allowance 500.00
Vacation pay 354.00
Car Insurance 1,100.00
Telephone600.00 50.00
HBO/cable/wifi420.00 35.00
Surprising Total:

What’s the actual hourly cost of Au Pair Childcare?

All tolled:
When your au pair works 45 hrs/week , the hourly cost to you is about $11.34.
When your au pair works 40 hrs/week, the hourly cost to you is about $12.75.
When your au pair works 25 hrs/week, the hourly cost to you is about $20.42!

Excluding the local costs (insurance, telephone, tv):

When your au pair works 45 hrs/week , the hourly cost to you is about $10.40.
When your au pair works 25 hrs/week, the hourly cost to you is about $18.72.

[Note: I add the 25 hrs/ week in acknowledgment of the moms who use their au pairs for shorter work weeks. We heard from these moms in earlier conversations about au pair hours .]

Bottom Line?  $11.00 / hr.

(1) I’ve heard that, sometimes, au pairs complain that they are ill-paid, or treated as ‘cheap” childcare. Well, at an hourly rate, you can’t really say that the au pairs are underpaid– they may not get much in cash but they do get a reasonable amount in total.

(2) I’ve also heard other parents disparage the au pair option as a choice for those aren’t willing to pay for other (fancier?) kinds of childcare.  At $470 to $510 a week, an Au Pair isn’t an inexpensive option, and it is not always easily affordable.

(3) Obviously, because so many of the costs are ‘hidden’, in terms of being either estimated (like room & board), incremental (like phone & cable) and variable (like insurance, furniture, etc.), you may experience and perceive an au pair to be less costly since you are not handing her $510 in greenbacks each week.

(4) Okay, so if it’s not that much less expensive — all things considered– to have an au pair, is it still the right option for you?

There are many different benefits of an having au pair and also many other non-monetary ‘costs’ that I haven’t included here.  For us, we have always needed the flexibility of an au pair. Having someone who can work first thing in the morning as well as on weekends, and sometimes weekday evenings, was particularly critical for us when both my husband and I were working full time out of the house. For you, it may be having the young adult role model, or the international exchange, or the cheery disposition, that makes the au pair option work best for you.  Whatever your priorities, it helps to know that you’re not underpaying your au pair, and you’re not chintzing out on your kids’ care either.

Let me know in the comments, below, if I missed any costs, or calculated incorrectly, or clearly need more caffeine. Also, if you found this post useful, use the “Share this” link below to email it to a friend . It’s really easy to do. And, think about how you might help me find our 100th Host Mom subscriber 🙂

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