Hi, Maddie here. When I first became an au pair host mom I really struggled with the obligation to cover expenses for my au pair. The agency fees seemed astronomical, but there was nothing I could do about it. The direct expenses, on the other hand, I could control to some degree.
At first I turned to Google. This is one of the few times Google let me down. All I could find were vague guidelines on the au pair agency sites and general references to “room and board.”
Over time, I found that my au pair actually helped me keep the worst of my household expenses in check. Having a third adult to share in meal planning, preparation, and clean up helps us to eat at home. Also, my au pair has time during the day to run to the store and she largely sticks to the shopping list. My worries about the small expenses eased once these other larger expenses were under control.
Who pays for what can get a little complicated. I have put together the following lists as a guide to who is typically responsible for a given expense. In general, expenses fall into three categories:
- Education requirements, room, and board, which are the responsibility of the host family.
- Expenses incurred in the care of the children, which are the responsibility of the host family.
- Personal expenses, which are the responsibility of the au pair.
Below is a list of all the expenses, and also a discussion on how I’ve kept things straight.
If you have an expense in question, reach out to other host families in the My Au Pair and Me Facebook Community. You can also contact your local au pair counselor for advice.
What expenses should the host family cover for an au pair?
Au pair host families should pay for education expenses, room and board, and any expenses incurred in the care of the children.
- $500 towards education expenses (tuition, fees, books, etc.).
- Local transportation to and from classes.
Room and Board
- Rent/mortgage and any associated housing costs (HOA dues, wear and tear, etc.).
- Car purchase/payments, maintenance, and insurance (if the family owns the vehicle).
- Utilities (power, water, internet, tv/Netflix, etc.).
- Home phone or a basic cell phone with a cell phone plan.
- Furnishings for the au pair’s room (furniture, mirror, bedding, hangers, etc.).
- Basics for the au pair’s bathroom (towels, mats, toothbrush holder, etc.).
- Meals at home.
- Snacks and beverages kept in the kitchen.
- Household products (light bulbs, toilet paper, hand soap, tissues, laundry soap, cleaning supplies, etc.)
Child care expenses
Child care expenses are a special category. These expenses are the obligation of the host family only if they are for the care of the children. In the corporate world these expenses are analogous to business expenses.
- First attempt at the drivers tests and the drivers licenses fees. (If you require your au pair to drive.)
- Transportation costs when working or with the family (gas, tolls, parking, bus, Uber, etc.).
- Supplies for the children.
- Activities when working or with the family.
- Meals out when working or with the family.
- Vacation expenses (if you require your au pair to work at any point during the trip – airfare, hotel, meals, etc.)
- Any fees related to the children – even if you felt the au pair was responsible (children lose the library books, etc.)
What expenses should the au pair pay for?
Of course you can always offer to help your au pair with a personal expense or two. Some families cover expenses like a gym membership or bath products as an added bonus for their au pair. But you are by no means obligated to cover them.
- Program fees billed to the au pair.
- Personal expenses (clothes, bath products, cosmetics, etc.).
- Personal activities (gym, concerts, sports, etc.).
- Meals out when not with the family.
- Transportation costs when not with the family (gas, tolls, parking, bus, Uber, etc.).
- Fees, fines, and tickets (parking and traffic violations, late fees, bank fees, etc.).
- Alcohol, energy drinks, fancy beverages.
- Snacks and beverages kept in the au pair’s room.
- Food for the au pair’s friends.
- Personal vacations.
- Cell phone extras (apps, overage charges, roaming charges, international calls, etc).
- Damage to the car and home beyond normal wear and tear (up to the agency limit).
- Expenses over the $500 provided for education (tuition, fees, books, etc.).
- Medical and dental costs (they have their own insurance).
- Income tax.
- Excess baggage fees and/or shipping costs to bring their belongings home.
How do you keep the money straight?
It is important to set expectations about expenses and keep the money straight with your au pair. Managing expenses poorly can quickly drive a wedge between you and your au pair. I do everything I can to make expenses easy to manage and transparent to my au pair.
Set expectations for expenses
The best time to discuss expectations for expenses is before your au pair arrives. By addressing it early your au pair can better plan for her year with your family. It also prevents conflicts and hurt feelings over money. We created this expense responsibility guide for you to share with your au pair.
Responsible party pays for the expense when incurred
The best way to keep expenses straight is to have the responsible party pay for the expense at the point of sale. If you are with your au pair they can pay for their own personal expenses at the register. That way there is no debt to settle between you and your au pair.
Inevitably, your au pair will need to spend money while in the care of your children. This may be for art supplies for your kids, picking up a few groceries for the family, or taking the kids to the museum. It is unfair to expect your au pair to front these costs on your behalf.
Instead, provide your au pair with a mechanism to keep the family expenses separate. I issue a low limit credit card to my au pairs which we closely track. Abbie gives her au pairs a pre-paid card which she can load with funds as needed. Another option is to give your au pair the necessary petty cash ahead of time. You can ask her to bring you the change and receipts.
Whichever mechanism you choose for your family, keep an eye on the spending of your au pair. If your au pair spends money that you don’t expect, address it right away.
Work out a plan for shared expenses ahead of time
Some expenses, like gas for the car or cell phone charges, aren’t easy to divide. For these expenses, it is best to work out the details and expectations with your au pair ahead of time.
Over the years, we have managed paying for gas for the car in two different ways. Sometimes it has been easiest for us to pay for every other tank of gas for our au pairs car. Other times it has been easier for our au pair to fill the tank on our card at the end of her work week. Then fill the tank again with her card at the beginning of her work week.
Cell phones are an essential expense in modern life and are another shared expense you will need to address ahead of time. Because your au pair needs to call you in case of an emergency, you need to provide a cell phone and pay for a basic plan. Do you require your au pair to drive? If so, you will also need to pay for some amount of data for GPS navigation if it is not available in the au pair’s vehicle. You may also want your au pair to be able to take pictures and send them to you at work.
Cell phones can be expensive. The cost of the phone, the accessories, and the usage plan really add up. But there are a few ways to keep these costs straight and in check. See our blog 3 Tips for Controlling Au Pair Cell Phone Expenses for the details.
Always pay your au pair the entire weekly stipend
The US Department of State requires host families to provide their au pair with a weekly stipend of at least $195.75. You need to pay your au pair their full stipend every week regardless of whether they owe you for money. If you pay the weekly stipend to your au pair in cash, we recommend the use of a payment log.
Download the Free Au Pair Time Sheet PDF to keep track of your au pair’s hours worked. Also, document when and how much your au pair was paid. Also, see our downloads page for a list of all the My Au Pair and Me documents.
Pay day may be a good opportunity to reconcile personal expenses with your au pair. The repayment of expenses needs to be a separate transaction from the payment of the stipend. In other words, make the full payment first (and record it), then have her/him pay you back. Do NOT pay a reduced paycheck.
How much should I expect to spend on an au pair?
The short answer is “it depends.” The cost of expenses for an au pair can vary widely. The cost of goods and services in your area and how generous you choose to be drive the majority of the differences.
We break down the host family costs in our blog How much does an au pair cost.
Did we miss something?
Are we missing something off our lists? Share your experience with au pair expenses in the comments below.
Have a question about who should cover a particular expense? Join our group of host parents in the My Au Pair and Me Facebook Community. We would love to hear from you!