Hi, Abbie here! My husband is a teacher (and teachers never get paid what they’re worth). After a lay off two years ago, I alternated between unemployment and contract jobs. Now I have an amazing job I love, but we have some debt we need to pay down. We can’t afford to give our au pair a raise like Maddie and her husband. However, there are things I can do to reward my au pair and show her how much I appreciate everything she does for us.
Note: This article is about raising your au pair’s compensation above and beyond the minimum requirements. It goes without saying that you need to follow the program rules about how many hours your au pair works. You also need to provide basics like room, living expenses, and anything required for caring for your children like phone and transportation.
The power of thank you
One of the easiest things to do that doesn’t cost anything is saying thank you. Say it often and with specific examples.
It’s fun to have the kids write our au pairs thank you notes and reminding them to tell her thank you. I also tell them how lucky they are because of something she did for them.
Sometimes I’ll randomly text my au pair a thank you. Maybe it will be for getting to the bottom of the kids laundry pile. Or for how nice the children’s room looks because I know my boys forgot to make their beds (again). Yes, it’s her job but I still appreciate her work.
Think like a startup employer
Our au pairs are part of our family, but there is still a bit of an employer-employee relationship. As such, some of the things I learned from my time as a contractor gave me ideas for how I can reward my au pair without a raise.
At one of my contract jobs, the pay was lower than I would have liked. On the up side they were all about the free snacks in the break room and quarterly team-building events. Another previous employer was very liberal with thank you notes including movie tickets.
Searching the internet gives some good ideas, too. Like this article about 121 creative ways to reward employees.
Reward your au pair with a bonus instead of a raise
The bad (good?) part of a raise is that it’s permanent. Once you increase wages, they’re there for the rest of the year (and possibly the extension year).
A bonus is a nice one-time way of giving monetary compensation when you are not sure you can commit to raise. Try timing your au pair’s bonus after you receive your bonus payout. Depending on how much you receive, you can carve off some as a bonus for your au pair.
If you give your au pair money as a gift for birthday or holidays instead of a bonus, then it’s not wages and she doesn’t have to include it in taxes.
The other nice thing about a bonus is that it feels more substantial when you give the entire amount at one time.
Reward your au pair with extra time off
All our au pairs have had very liberal vacations to jaunt around the country. Our second au pair, from Europe, got to take an amazing trip to Peru and see Macchu Picchu.
All of our au pairs have taken advantage of three-day weekends to take short road trips in our area.
We’re also super-mindful to make sure our au pair has plenty of time to hang out with her friends (or boyfriend). It shows we care about them, and we recognize how much they care about us.
Reward your au pair by paying for something extra
The bad part for au pairs about both a bonus and a raise is that they will have to pay taxes on the extra income. If your au pair is not the planning-ahead type, that extra income might add stress come taxes April.
Instead of paying your au pair directly, consider paying for something instead. As an example, we don’t ask our au pair to pay for gas when she uses the car in her personal time unless it becomes excessive. (It helps we have a Prius and she’s pretty reasonable about not putting too many miles on the car.)
Is her favorite band coming to town? Consider picking up two tickets (and make sure she is off duty that night and the next morning).
Sometimes I see things that I know my au pair “needs” so I make sure she has them. For example, Costco had these things that slip on over your shoes to give you extra traction when walking on ice. Without making a big deal, I put them on the desk in her room and let her know they were hers if she wanted.
Our first au pair had a certain brand of tea she liked from back home in Japan. Even though the rest of us didn’t drink it, we always made sure to include it in the family grocery list. Keeping her supplied in tea made her happy, and wasn’t that much extra in the grand scheme of things.
Six credits usually cost more than the $500 we’re required to pay. Some families pay for all six credits without making the au pair pay the extra difference. I’ve also heard of families paying for the au pair’s extension fee, or at least part of it.
Reward your au pair without costing you money
Rewarding your au pair doesn’t even have to be money that comes out of pocket. My credit card earns airline miles that I can’t use yet. (Taking a family of six on an airplane is a lot of miles!) When my au pair decided to take a weekend course out of state, I used my airline miles. That’s money she saves and doesn’t “cost” me anything.
Another example would be to look through your kitchen drawer for unused gift cards. I still had some of those movie gift cards from my previous employer so I treated my au pair and her boyfriend.
Find a great buy one get one free deal? Gift the second item to your au pair if it is something she would appreciate.
What makes you feel appreciated?
Think about your own job. How do you like to be recognized at work? What are some things your company does to reward employees other than giving a raise? Leave a comment below with your experience, we’d love to hear them.
Or if you’re a host family, pop on over to our My Au Pair and Me Host Family Community on Facebook. It’s nice to talk to other host families and know you’re not alone!