It’s one of the greatest mysteries of child care: What should you pay your babysitter?

A friend of mine has two sitters and she pays them each differently. When she asked the first sitter what she charged, the sitter quoted $10/hour. “OK,” my friend thought, “sounds reasonable.” So when she asked her other sitter what she charged, she expected a number in that range. However, she didn’t get a number at all! The sitter just said, “Oh, whatever you think.”

“I think I had a mini panic attack,” laughed my friend. Completely caught off guard, she ended up paying that sitter $15/hour, since her child was sick and she felt guilty. That has now become the sitter’s rate, even though the $10/hour sitter is more experienced and a better fit for the family.

“I always wonder what I would have said if I actually had an idea of the going rate for babysitters …” my friend admits. “Child care rates have always been a mystery.” Let’s settle this mystery once and for all.

National Rates Averages

Before we examine the factors that can affect a babysitter’s rate, we need a base to start from. Here are the national averages. (Remember to think of these as loose benchmarks rather than steadfast rules; there are always exceptions.)

  • College sitters: $12/hour
  • High school sitters: $10/hour
  • Grade school sitters: $8/hour

Factors Affecting Rates

Different factors can make those average rates shoot up or dwindle down. There’s no “right” rate to pay a babysitter, as long as you’re both comfortable with the decided-upon fee, but here are a few things to consider when trying to reach that magic number.

  • Location. The closer you are to a metro area, the more you’ll have to stick to the $10-12 national average, though parents in the ‘burbs may be able to get away with $1-2/hour less than those in the city.
  • Babysitter’s age/experience. It’s no shock that a sitter’s age ties directly into experience … and the more experience she has, the more valuable she is to your family. Even more so if she has training and skills such as CPR or first aid. More experienced sitters are simply paid higher rates.
  • Number of children and ages. Three or more children close in age can translate into a challenge for any sitter, so entice her
    with a slightly higher rate. There’s no need to pay double the hourly rate for two kids, but an extra $2 or $3 per hour makes a big
    difference.
  • Job responsibilities. Many, many years ago when I was a sitter, a family advanced me a higher rate because they had just installed a trampoline in the backyard. I thought I made out big, but after four hours of vaulting kids, broken pots, and an unusual incident with a bird feeder, I felt like I had earned every single penny. Lesson learned: Job responsibilities play a big part in determining rates.
  • Housekeeping extras. Cleaning up after herself and the children is included in the base rate, but if you would like your sitter to do housekeeping beyond that — such as folding the laundry, vacuuming the family room, making all the beds in the house, etc. — the rate should increase by $2-5/hour. Keep in mind that the more time the sitter spends caring for your home, the less time she can spend caring for your child. If you have a decent amount of housekeeping chores, consider hiring a separate housekeeper so your sitter can remain focused on the children.
  • Transportation extras. Most sitters don’t mind a long commute if the job is long enough to offset the cost of gas. If it’s not, consider factoring in a gas rate at the IRS standard mileage rate of 55 cents per mile, assuming you’ve found the perfect sitter who just happens to live a little farther away.

Confirm your rates

Once you have an idea of what you’d like to pay a babysitter, there are a few quick ways you can confirm your rate to make sure it falls within a reasonable range.

  • Talk to friends. Ask your friends, neighbors, or colleagues what they are paying for their babysitters to help frame your own offer and keep it competitive. Just remember to ask local friends to make sure you get a rate that’s fair in your area.
  • Ask the babysitter herself. Many sitters are able to state a $5 range, but you can’t always expect one to give a firm quote, as my friend discovered. That’s why you’ll want to do the research so you’re never caught off guard.
  • Look online. Sittercity.com has a Babysitter Rate Calculator, where you enter a few quick facts about your family and sitter, and it pulls from a database of jobs to give you an average rate in your local area.

Genevieve Thiers is the founder and CEO of Sittercity.com, the country’s largest and most trusted online source for child care. Through Sittercity, she has been able to transform her vast child care experience into an award-winning company and the industry leader in online care. She also literally wrote the book on child care, titled “Love at First Sit.”