How Much Should You Pay the Babysitter?

My daughter, the one who wants to get her ears pierced, charges $2/hour. She began her childcare career as a mother’s helper, playing with her little brother’s friend while a parent was at home. But now she’s a full-fledged babysitter. She’s taken a “When I’m in Charge” class at the American Red Cross and she has lots of experience with her younger siblings. She would know what to do in an emergency and she’s very responsible. She’s the kind of babysitter, I imagine, who puts the toys away and tidies the kitchen after the kids are in bed.

“I think you should raise your rates,” I suggested when Hesperus came home after a two-hour babysitting stint with four singles.

“Ut uh,” she shook her head. “Two dollars an hour is plenty. Besides, it’s not a good time for them to be paying me more.” (The parents of the 7-year-old she’s been sitting for most often are going through a temporary separation, and feeling the pinch of the economy.)

I remember my friend Katelyn remarking that it was cheaper to hire a sitter to watch her son while she cleaned her own house than to hire someone to clean. Yet we would all agree that having someone take care of our kids is more important than vacuuming the corner dust bunnies. Wouldn’t we?

Twelve years ago when we lived in Atlanta, I earned $12/hour caring for a 3-month-old (who slept for two to three hours every morning) when I lived in Atlanta. Today we live in a small city in southern Oregon where the rates tend to be much lower.

When I asked our current sitter how much she charged, she said, “Five dollars for the first child and a dollar an hour more for each child after that.” She’s in high school. She lives at home. She’s happy to have the extra money. Her rates are so reasonable I worry she’s being underpaid. Even so, our finances have been less than enviable lately and I’m often daunted by how much it costs to hire a sitter for more than a few hours.

Maybe it’s partly because I have mixed feelings about childcare in general (having spent a good chunk of my childhood missing my own mom and being cared for by nannies), but I’m often reluctant to pay someone for the job I feel James and I should be doing ourselves.

Readers, how much do you pay the babysitter? What do you think is a fair wage for childcare? How do you juggle the need for quality care with your financial situation? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

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