“Just wanted to say thanks, you have a great web site, and I found an awesome family very quickly.”
Already fretting about what to do with the kids this summer? Money’s tight. Camps and day care are expensive. So what’s a frugal family to do? Hire a nanny, says Candi Wingate, a national expert on all things childcare. She has worked as a nanny, owned a nanny agency, authored a book, “100 Tips for Nannies & Families.” and founded three online nanny databases, including Nannies4Hire.com. “In these tough economic times, we’re all being cautious with our spending,” she says. “Parents may be worried about hiring a nanny, thinking it’s too luxurious in light of the current downturn. What you may not know is that hiring a nanny can actually save families money over other childcare options. “Many parents debate the merits of hiring a nanny versus putting their children in daycare. If you have two or more children, it’s often more cost-effective to hire a nanny, as day cares charge per child and will be more expensive than paying a nanny to come to your home. There are other bonuses. “With a nanny, parents don’t have to leave work - potentially missing a day’s pay - when their child is sick, like they would with day care. Your nanny can stay home with your children while you work. As an added benefit, you may have healthier children if you keep them out of daycare and away from other kids’ germs.” Another way to cut costs is nanny-sharing, says Wingate. Possible scenarios include having one nanny watch children from several families or having a nanny work part-time for two different families. “It really simplifies a family’s life,” she says. And in some cases, it can ease the pain on a wallet. Nannies typically earn $300-$700 per week, depending on location, chores and hours. Day care or camps can cost more. Before taking the first steps to hiring help, it’s important to know what you want. Unlike au pairs, generally young foreign students on a one-year exchange program, nannies are salaried professionals. They can work full- or part-time, live in or out, travel on family vacations or stay at your home and house sit. Household chores, such as cleaning, laundry, meal preparation and organizing children’s rooms, are negotiable. The most important aspect in hiring a nanny is communication. “Ensure a smooth relationship with your summer nanny by clearly communicating your expectations and outlining their responsibilities,” advises Wingate. “Be clear about household expectations. Do you want your nanny to fold laundry during your baby’s nap? Should all toys be put away before dinner?” “Before you hire a summer nanny, decide if you need special skills, such as someone who is lifeguard-certified, especially relevant if they’ll be spending time at the beach or pool with your children,” says Wingate. “Some families also prefer a nanny that has CPR/First Aid certification.” But how do you find a nanny? Web sites, such as Wingate’s Nannies4Hire, offer pre-screened candidates (the cost for the service starts at $129). Often, college students will be eager for work. Teachers and others with summers off may be seeking extra work. Ask around and check bulletin boards. Wingate advises families to start early and do a lot of research before committing to a nanny. “Give yourself enough time to conduct a search,” she says. “You don’t want to be second guessing yourself.” She recommends preliminary phone interviews, followed by face-to-face meetings if things go well. What should you ask a potential nanny? Wingate says to find out about experience, schedule and conflicts, first aid training and child care philosophy. References are a must. Wingate encourages nannies to provide land-line, rather than cell phone, numbers, as it’s easier to check on the credibility of references. “You’d then negotiate a salary, introduce the nanny to the children and have a trial period of maybe a few hours,” she says. Wingate advises deciding up front who will plan your children’s summertime activities. Many nannies enjoy the responsibility of planning outings, craft projects, play-dates and other adventures, she says. And, remember, this is a new routine for children, so be sure to help them transition to the summertime nanny. “Mom should spend a day or two at home with the new nanny to demonstrate a typical day, explain the children’s routines and answer questions,” says Wingate. It’s important to be up front about the business arrangement. Wingate says families should have a contract (which can be downloaded from the Internet) specifying hours, duties, paydays and tax arrangements. Understand that nannies are employees; withholding and tax forms are a necessary part of the arrangement. Nannies often go above and beyond the call of duty, says Wingate. In those times, a little extra cash is always welcome. But even more appreciated, she says, is a simple thank you or acknowledgement. “It really goes a long way.” Whether it’s a summer arrangement or several years of service, a nanny can be an important part of a family. “Nannies are there to help families raise children,” she says.