How to Make a Low-Paid Babysitter Like You

How to Make a Low Paid Babysitter Like You

I get it. You’re on a budget.

Perhaps you’re like me and have a $15 date night budget.

And yet, if you add kids to the mix, just getting a babysitter for that much becomes a challenge. Of course, having kids means that getting OUT of the house and spending some one-on-one time with your husband becomes even more important! So what’s a couple on a tight budget to do?

My husband and I have set apart a weekly date night since we first got married. It has been a day I’ve looked forward to every single week for the last 5+ years. Even after the kids started showing up, we were blessed to have willing grandparents in town to watch them. We know that most families don’t have it that easy, so try not to take this arrangement for granted. Recently, however, my family has been out of town for several weeks and it gave us the opportunity to see what normal couples have to do (actually hire someone).

Paying $30 for babysitting is simply not in the cards for us, so we called up the extended relatives and teenage girls in town to see if anyone could be bribed with a few dollars and cheesecake or were interested in trading future babysitting favors. As a teenager, I grew up babysitting for several large families in town (with 6+ children) and got paid less than standard many times. It was fantastic mothering practice for me and worth its own weight in gold, so I don’t feel guilty asking around.

Of course, even if you are helping a teenage girl with life skills, if you’re paying less than standard it becomes your responsibility to make their job as easy on them as possible… Maybe even fun! (That way they come back!) So here are a few ideas.

1) Be flexible with the location. Ask if it would be easier for them to watch your kids at their home or at yours? If you have babies who will need to be put down to bed, be sure you take this into consideration. Knowing it might be easier at your home may be the deciding factor for them.

2) Have dinner ready! Throw something in the crockpot that will be tasty, easy to serve, and easy to clean up after. (Like this tater tot casserole!) Assuming the kids are being watched at your home, have the eating utensils and napkins set out for easy access. Paper plates and utensils make things even easier. If you’re hiring a college student or someone who lives alone, a hearty, hot dinner may be a bribe in itself!

3) Since you’re not paying much, don’t expect them to do extra. They’re here to watch your kids. If the living room has toys everywhere and the dinner dishes are still out when you come home, don’t be resentful. The important thing is that you had time with your husband and the kids are alive and well.

4) Leave a list of Things to Do. As in, FUN things. No one likes to entertain a bored, restless toddler or preschooler for hours. Here’s an example of the list I left with my volunteer sister-in-law for the two hours they were awake with her:

  • Read Together
  • Play with Blocks
  • Color with Crayons
  • Eat Popsicles and Play on the Porch
  • Play Dodge Ball with the Couch Pillows (Gabriel’s favorite!)
  • Watch Phineas & Ferb or Curious George on Netflix

5) Gather any supplies they’ll need. This means all the paper, crayons, favorite reading books, and blocks. Be sure to make the popsicles easy to grab in the freezer and teach your sitter how to use the television before you leave. Don’t forget the diapers and wipes!

6) It probably goes without saying, but be sure the sitter has your phone number and is encouraged to call or text if they have ANY questions. Sometimes just knowing you’re more-than-willing to pick up is a relief in itself.

7) Leave discipline guidelines. I’m a firm believer that no one should be left with your child who doesn’t have the ability to reign them in if they need it. Explain how you respond to toy-snatching, shoving, lying, or direct disobeying. If you use corporal punishment in your home, keep in mind that not all sitters are comfortable doing that. Specify time-out spot alternatives or privilege losses that work well.

8) If they’ll be putting the kids down to bed, write down the bedtime routine along with any warnings. Does the baby need to be changed first? Do you rock him to sleep or does he just need a blanket and special stuffed animal? Do you pray, read, or put music on? Do you have a particular preschooler *cough, Gabriel, cough* who likes to pull out every excuse in the book once bedtime rolls around? (If he suddenly becomes hungry, thirsty, scared, or needing the bathroom 18 times at the strike of 8pm, he’s just faking).

9) A chocolate bar or slice of cheesecake go a long way. After the kids go down, encourage the sitter to relax and enjoy themselves. Introduce them to your DVD collection ahead of time. Have a dessert-related gesture of gratefulness for their hard work set apart for them. Even if it’s not a wad of cash, people like to have their work acknowledged.

What about you? Any tips to make the babysitting job any easier?

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8 thoughts on “How to Make a Low-Paid Babysitter Like You

  1. I have to admit when I first read the title I was very skeptical! After reading, however, I am impressed by your suggestions. In fact I am sitting here thinking that I would babysit your kids in exchange for a hot meal that I didn’t have to cook!! Being a military wife I am almost never near family so easy access to good babysitters is difficult to come by. One thing my friends and I have done in the past is to trade babysitting services. This works especially great if your friend has children the same age as yours! Thanks for the tips Kelsey!

  2. Jeanine says:

    Great ideas! And then before you know it, you’ll be in the next season of not having to get an outside babysitter!

  3. Libby says:

    As a former babysitter myself, I would add a couple things:

    1. Make sure it’s clear to your sitter in advance that you won’t be paying her much. If she’s expecting $10/hour and you come home after 3 hours and only pay her $15, she is highly unlikely to ever come back. Discussing rates in advance is actually a good plan no matter how much you pay.

    2. Make sure what you pay is reasonable according to your kids’ behavior. Do you have one or two mellow kids? Ok, no problem if she’s underpaid. Do you have three plus kids or just one or two but they are a handful? She deserves to make a little more. You need to assess this as honestly as possible (ask your siblings for an honest assessment — if they’ve spent time with your kids, they’ll have an answer!). There were families with three kids who I would babysit any day of the week for minimum wage, and families with one kid who I wouldn’t have come back if you had paid me $50 an hour. Make sure your kids understand that the sitter deserves just as much respect as mom and dad. I’m not saying your kids have to be perfect, but if they already respect your rules and boundaries, she’ll be able to handle issues easily and will probably be willing to come back.

    • I'm Kelsey! says:

      Great tips, Libby! Yes, rates would be discussed in advance and I try to make it a goal to have respectful children anyway. 😉 Thanks for reading!

  4. Lauren Johnson says:

    Hi Kelsey,

    I have a question.

    My sister-in-laws (ages 15 and 17) are my usual babysitters for my 16 month old. They have always been willing to babysit without being paid, so I do my best to make things easy: I bring my daughter to their house as often as possible, I pay them gas money if they have to drive here, I have dinner ready if they are staying over the dinner hour, I never ask extras (like clean up, dishes, or bath time) and try to have anything they need readily available. They are loving babysitters and sweet to help without being paid.

    However, when they babysit at my house, I almost always come home to a filthy mess. Food plastered all over the highchair, food left on the countertop (so I have to throw it away), food on the floor, food on my daughter’s face and in her hair, dishes strewn on the table and countertops, toys everywhere, and even the occasional dirty diaper on the floor. I haven’t said anything to them since I appreciate their free babysitting and know they grew up with much different cleanliness standards than mine, but I am at the point where I just can’t stand the mess.

    I am ready to pay them in order to get some level of cleanliness. Do you think it would be reasonable to pay them each $5/hour if dinner is cleaned up (highchair wiped, food put away, dishes washed, floor swept if needed, and my daughter cleaned off), any trash thrown away, and toys contained to one area? Should I offer to pay them more than that? How do I go about this in a way that doesn’t hurt their feelings or make them think I’ve been unappreciative of their past efforts?

    Any suggestions would be helpful.


    • I'm Kelsey! says:

      Hm, that’s a hard one. Personally, if someone’s volunteering their time/services for free, I don’t expect more than keeping my kids alive while I’m gone. If the mess is really getting to you, though, I’d probably offer to pay them extra for going the extra mile. I’m much more willing to leave a list of expectations for someone I’m actually paying. Depending on your location, a tax-free $5 might be close to minimum wage anyway or it might not be worth much of anything. Ultimately, keep your sister-in-laws feeling appreciated. Diapers on the floor and sticky countertops might take an hour of frustration for you when you get home, but alone-time with your husband might be worth it!

      Sorry that’s not more helpful!

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