As much joy as parenthood brings, it also requires parents to shell out big bucks for childcare. In the United States, the average cost of Monday-through-Friday daycare adds up to a staggering $11,666 per year, or about $972 each month. Remember, that’s the average price tag — some parents will pay even more to have someone look after their child while they work.
Surprisingly, there’s another option, and it’s one that’s just as reputable as the local daycare center or a well-reviewed nanny. On top of that, it doesn’t cost nearly as much as traditional avenues — and your family might get a bit of a cultural experience out of it to boot.
What Is It?
Since World War II, Europeans have been enlisting the help of au pairs to help raise their children. The program started as women began coming into their own and seeking ways to make a living. At the same time, middle-class families struggled to find help because the number of available domestic workers decreased at the time. As such, the idea of an au pair came to be, and it helped both groups to get on their feet.
Nowadays, the idea of the au pair has made its way from Europe to the United States and beyond. Typically, families hire a childminder from another country who can provide great care while teaching the little ones another language or the culture of another country.
Saving Money with An Au Pair
What Does an Au Pair Do?
An au pair might, at first, seem comparable to a nanny, but they’ll come to your home through a government-regulated agency to ensure both you and the au pair are well taken care of throughout their stay.
For starters, an au pair is tasked with sharing his or her culture and language with the family with whom they stay. Let’s say you want your children to learn Spanish — hiring an au pair from Spain would be a great way to make sure. These assets are the most valuable that an au pair provides, and they separate them from a typical nanny. Of course, you can hire a nanny who speaks another language, but an au pair makes it part of their mission to enlighten little ones about other parts of the world while providing care.
To that end, the rest of an au pair’s to-dos look a lot like a traditional nanny’s. In most agreements, the au pair will work for 45 hours a week, during which they can helm the childcare services you need — everything from infant care to cooking to light cleaning can be included. Don’t expect your au pair to do full-on house cleaning, however, as their contract will ensure that they’re only handling child-related cleaning. This duty list can include laundry and toy pick-up, for example, but they won’t be deep-cleaning any of the spaces in your home.
Au pairs are great resources for families on the go too. Since they’ll live with you — more on that later — they can come with you on trips to help you take care of your brood. All of these services come with a longer commitment than what you can get from some nannies. Your au pair will likely sign a one-year contract, so you can rest easy knowing that your employee won’t just quit and leave you in the lurch.
How Do I Get an Au Pair?
As previously mentioned, the state department regulates au pair programs to ensure that both families and hired childcare providers are safe. You’ll have to make sure your home has the potential to accommodate an in-house childcare provider. Au pairs will move in with your family for the duration of their contract, so they should have their own bedroom with a window and closet as well as access to a bathroom.
You’ll also have to provide him or her with a weekly stipend of about $200, full board and at least 1.5 days off per week. Some au pairs will come to America to learn English while they provide childcare — if your contract requires it, you might have to drive your au pair to and from such lessons as well.
Meet with an Agency
A slew of agencies exist to connect families with the right au pair. Most of the time, you’ll post online and share a bit about you and your family. Then, you can peruse available childcare providers — and they can search for your profile too. Once you find one with whom you connect, you can suss out the details of your contract with the agency. Usually, they charge application fees, and you’ll have to pay a bit more once you find the right person for the job.
Even with the agency costs, application fees and weekly stipend, hiring an au pair can be a much more cost-effective option than nannies or daycare centers. Plus, you and your children will benefit from the cultural experience — and you might just make a lifelong connection with the young man or woman who comes to care for your children. It’s a wonder that au pairs are so often overlooked as a way to care for children — now that you know the secret, you might just be ready to find a foreign caretaker to look after your little ones.
Jennifer Landis is the Mindful Mama behind the blog of (almost) the same name – Mindfulness Mama. She hopes to help other mamas make more out of mom life by sharing her expertise in parenting, budgeting basics, and healthy living. Follow her on Twitter @JenniferELandis.