Why I Won’t Pay $15 an Hour for a Babysitter

When my husband and I moved to a slightly more upscale area a few years ago, we didn’t know a soul. He had a few friends at work, yeah, but we didn’t know any of our neighbors yet, nor had we made any local friends.

When we finally settled in our new home and winter was over, however, we were more than ready to get outside and have some fun without the kids. For us, that usually meant getting a babysitter once or twice a month so we could go out to dinner, hit a local festival, see a movie, or simply enjoy some alone time together.

Since I wasn’t sure where to look for a new babysitter, I started with our local town’s Facebook page. After posting a basic ad describing what I was looking for – and the age of our kids at the time (2 and 4), I received several responses right away.

As I skimmed through those first messages from potential babysitters, I couldn’t believe what I saw. Where we had paid babysitters in our old town $6-$7 per hour, the girls in our new neighborhood were asking for $14-$16 an hour! Worse, some of the young ladies who responded wanted an additional $3-$4 per hour to watch a second child – not for four, five, or six children, which I would totally understand. Nope, just a second child!

I mean, I live in Central Indiana – not New York City or Boston, for heaven’s sake. A nice three-bedroom ranch home can cost as little as $100,000 in my neck of the woods, and full-time daycare can run as low as $100 per week. But, some babysitters wanted to charge what amounts to $60 for a four-hour date?

I have to admit, I thought they must be kidding at first. Most of the high school kids in the area are likely making minimum wage, which currently sits at $7.25 per hour. Why would a date-night babysitting shift – pretty cushy compared to a fast-food or retail job – pay twice as much?

A few potential babysitters who responded to my initial ad did give details on why they charged a higher rate. One was CPR certified and wanted to become a teacher, she said. The other, who had just graduated from high school, was working as a preschool teacher at a local daycare.

Those responses stood out to me as ones where some extra pay should be warranted. Obviously, CPR certification is a plus when you’re watching young children, and having real-world experience with small kids is also a bonus.

exasperated baby
“$15 an hour? That’s crazy!” Photo: Donnie Ray Jones

Four Reasons $15 an Hour is Too Much for This Mom

But I could not – and still cannot – bring myself to pay $15 or more per hour for a babysitter to warm up a pre-made dinner, put my kids in bed, and collapse on my couch to watch Netflix until we get home. And to be completely honest, I think it’s wrong to do so on so many levels. Here’s why:

Reason #1: It’s not a realistic wage for the job.

Before I started writing full-time, I worked in the mortuary industry for almost seven years. During that time, I cultivated a diverse skill set that encompassed both customer service responsibilities and technical knowledge. After seven years at that job, I had finally worked my way up to $17 per hour – and we’re not talking about 10 or 20 years ago, here. I left in 2012.

A job that requires little more than playing with kids, maybe making mac-n-cheese, and putting them to bed shouldn’t demand the same payment as one that requires in-depth knowledge of software programs and filing systems, plus seven years of experience. Sorry, it just shouldn’t.

Reason #2: Paying $15 per hour gives kids an unrealistic expectation of the value of their labor in the real world.

Speaking, of that, what happens when teens who earn $15 an hour babysitting in lieu of a traditional teenage job transition into the real world?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the bottom 10% of kindergarten teachers (which is mostly comprised of new and first-year teachers) earned an annual mean wage of $33,460 in 2014. That works out to around $643 per week, or $16 per hour for a 40-hour week. However, as we all know, kindergarten teachers need a four-year degree and a teaching license to find even entry-level work.

As small business owners, my husband and I also have a virtual assistant. She does data entry for us, writes and edits on our website, and creates computer graphics using complex software. She makes $15 an hour, which is the going rate for this type of work – and she’s an adult with several years of experience and some serious web skills.

In my eyes, we’re setting up our kids with unrealistic expectations of what their labor is really worth. Almost all of us must start at the bottom professionally — even high-powered CEOs like Warren Buffett, Michael Dell, and Marissa Mayer. Billionaire Buffett owes his first paycheck to a paper route; Dell’s first job was washing dishes in a restaurant; and Mayer, like Oprah Winfrey, started out working at a grocery store.

Reason #3: ‘Babysitting is hard work’ is not a good excuse.

I’ve heard time and time again from parents that “babysitting is hard work.” I don’t disagree with that premise, considering the fact that I’ve had two children just two years apart for the last five years.

Watching them – and doing a good job of it – requires a lot of patience and a whole lot of stamina. And we all know that bed times can be particularly difficult, especially for teen sitters who aren’t used to telling young kids what to do and sticking to their guns.

But, is watching two kids on a Saturday night really hard enough to warrant $15-$16 an hour in Central Indiana? I’d argue not. This isn’t a full-time nanny job, where you’re expected to entertain and educate energetic children for an entire day, and there are no diapers to change at this age. We have a sitter come over at 7pm, and the kids go to bed at 8pm; the bulk of a four-hour shift involves sitting on the couch and watching TV or catching up on homework.

Consider the fact that a Private E1 in the Army – someone who works in extremely harsh conditions and might actually need to risk their life – earns a base salary of just $18,378 until they have two years of experience, and then tell me how difficult babysitting is.

Reason #4: It’s a case of supply and demand gone awry.

When everyone else in the area is willing to pay $15 per hour or more for babysitting, it feels like you should too. The kids are certainly loving the easy money, and parents don’t want to look cheap or like they’re not willing to hire the best for their kids.

But we aren’t doing our teens any favors by paying the going rate blindly. The fact that some kids are pulling in $15 an hour to babysit doesn’t mean the service is worth it, and offering something closer to the minimum wage isn’t cheap; it’s practical.

I would argue that this is simply a case of supply and demand gone wrong. Kids get away with the boosted wages because no one wants to appear cheap in front of their peers, or feel like lesser parents because they can’t afford to pay a premium for child care. It’s as simple as that.

Final Thoughts

While I was shocked at the high babysitting wages in my area at first, I’m happy to report that there are actually plenty of affordable, trustworthy babysitters in my area who ask for around $8 an hour. We just didn’t know about them until we got to know more people here and met a few in person. And we didn’t hear from them initially because they were busy enough with babysitting jobs that they don’t need to respond to online message boards to find work.

I would never hire a babysitter I don’t trust just to save a buck. But those two things aren’t mutually exclusive. The lesson is, don’t immediately resign yourself to paying a premium for date-night child care if it’s more than you can afford. It’s easy to find high-priced babysitters, but dig a little deeper and there are bound to be some reliable, affordable sitters out there as well.

In my eyes, the local minimum wage is a fair one for a teenage babysitter living at home with their parents. (This can range from $7.25 to as high as $15 in cities such as New York or Seattle.) Bonus points — and higher pay — go to someone who is CPR-certified and has taken courses in early childhood development. And I’m always willing to pay a little more for someone who engages with my children, makes sure they brush their teeth and hair before bed, and does a good job cleaning up at the end of the night.

But I won’t pay $15 an hour for someone to sit on my couch and watch movies while my kids sleep. If my only choice was paying $60 for a four-hour date with my husband, I would just stay home.

What is the going rate for babysitting in your area? Do you feel like $15 an hour is too much – or too little?

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Holly Johnson

Contributing Writer

Holly Johnson is a frugality expert and award-winning writer who is obsessed with personal finance and getting the most out of life. A lifelong resident of Indiana, she enjoys gardening, reading, and traveling the world with her husband and two children. In addition to The Simple Dollar, Holly writes for well-known publications such as U.S. News & World Report Travel, PolicyGenius, Travel Pulse, and Frugal Travel Guy. Holly also owns Club Thrifty.