Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Survival: Paying for Services

Hub's PI/ Mentor is a brilliant guy, tenured at MRU (Major Research U), and is married to an equally impressive wife (also tenured at MRU). Here's the kicker; they have 4 kids, two of which are pre-school aged. Minus the solved two-body problem, these folks have all of our problems, multiplied (raised to the power?). During a lab outing, Hub asked him how they did it. He said, we have a lot of help. What he meant was they hire away a lot of household work. For example, if the car needs to go to the shop in the middle of the day, they hire someone to do it, and don't waste their time on such things.


We are doing that to some degree. We have a young woman who comes in for four hours a week and does housework. That is very helpful, and keeps the invading ants at bay since I can't seem to manage getting all the food and dirty dishes taken care of while wrangling a toddler. By necessity, I have to hire a babysitter on average 1-2 times a week for the evenings (church league volleyball, yoga, evening meetings). I would like to hire someone to weed my yard/ garden, too, but haven't checked that off the list. These services do make life saner! I am very grateful that the help we have is reliable and good.

The weekend at Fun Place was another example of paying for conveniences/ services. We stayed on the premises of Fun Place, so we could simply walk out of the lobby and be there. No transporting stuff and a child, all of which adds to the chaos and wear-n-tear. We also used the Bell Staff and Valet, which again was so much easier.

This may be second nature to some. Some of you may be thinking "no duh". Hub's family is certainly amenable to the idea. But it engenders a bit of conflict in me. I grew up in a place where if someone "worked like a ranch hand" that was a high compliment. With two grandmothers who worked crappy jobs to put themselves through the great depression, there was a strong mentality that you didn't pay people to do things you can do yourself. As a teenager and college student, I spent many-a-school break under the car with my Dad repairing stuff on my clunker car. My folks remodeled their own house (and the results, though fine, were clearly NOT professional). This mentality obviously still lingers, as I find myself rolling my eyes at the friends I have that have nannies.

Moreover, a clear distinction between Hub's PI and us is, well, their income is a multiple of ours. Though services do make life more manageable, they cost. For us they cost a significant percentage of our income. For example:

Day care: $160 / week
Housecleaning: 4 hours * $10 per hour = $40 / week
Babysitting: approx 4 hours * $8 per hour = $32 / week

That doesn't include garden help or painters, etc.

So we pay on the range of $220-$250 / week for services i.e. $1000 per month!!!!

That's more than our mortgage, and about 1/4 of MY income!!! YIKES! (Hub makes less that I do.)

Is it worth it? Well, the day care is a given. Granted, I could cut it off in the summer and not work (the work I do in the summer is unpaid; read here, here, and here). But I want to keep working, especially to get ready for the semester I return from maternity leave. Besides, the days that I do have Boy alone all day (especially the unplanned ones) have convinced me that I am NOT stay-at-home Mom material (read here ).

Now that it's summer, I could drop the Housecleaning. Our person will be leaving in July, but the new baby is coming in August, and I simply can't imagine getting all that stuff done with a new baby and a toddler. ALONE. We *have* to hire someone then. Might as well just keep her on for another month and load up on organizational projects and stuff that won't get done for another couple of years.

The babysitting seems pretty important, otherwise I would not get out in the evenings. I felt so isolated and lonely this past semester that the evening socializing seems important, too- although this is a bit iffy. Do I REALLY need to be playing church league volleyball 7 months pregnant? eeeh. (but I LIKE it). The yoga is a definite yes. Absolutely. It makes me sooo happy. :) The other stuff is relatively rare.

There are several other considerations about frequent use of services:
1. It takes organization... so it still requires work
2. It changes your mentality about what you are willing to do... I do dishes less now even when I can. This is a dangerous slippery slope.
3. You have to find people you trust with your child and alone in your house.
4. It adds to Mommyguilt (i.e. some evening I see Boy for only 1 hour)
5. Its money that just "goes away" unlike spending on something you can resell later. It is NOT a good investment monetarily.

Right now, Hub and I chalk it up to simple survival. That seems right. I hope that in 3 or so years things will be manageable, and we can cut back... Or if Hub can COME HOME (or we can be together in some way). But right now, it certainly helps us survive.


  1. Students are cheap labor! I have landscaped my yard much faster than I would have done alone and much cheaper if I had hired a "professional". I found a student that spent summers working with landscapers so he had some experience....and hired him and a friend to work with me to get it done. I told them what I wanted done (bushes dug/pulled out...trimmed...weeds pulled, new plants planted mulched) and said I would pay them X bucks for the entire deal. And they jumped at the chance to get some cash. I have done this a couple of Saturdays and am so glad it is done.

  2. Just curious: why is paying for a nanny different than paying for day care?

  3. K- its true! And a college town is rich with college student labor. We may be a bit generous on our wages for our babysitter and ourbhousecleaner- both college students. They have both been with us for about a year now and are very reliable and faithful. No going back now, perhaps we will hire the next housecleaner at $8/hour instead of $10...

    Anon 9:50 Tues: I have never really looked into a nanny. Having a full-time private babysitter seems very expensive to me. I could be totally wrong, because I AM uninformed. Its just something, in my fully irrational prejudices, that only "rich" people do (and perhaps my reading of the Nanny Diaries, lol). That paragraph IS about my irrational view on services based on my upbringing... are nannys affordable?

  4. Hi PUI --- Anon 9:50 Tues here. Your assumption about the cost of a nanny is spot-on; they are very expensive! However, it is definitely not the case that only "rich" people hire nannies. I am a PhD student and my husband is a post-doc, and we have a full-time nanny for our one-year-old. In fact, many of my fellow graduate students also have full-time nannies. My entire stipend goes to the nanny (and we are *barely* scraping by on my husband's post-doc salary), but it is totally worth it to me because I could not be happier with the care my child is getting. I tried a few different arrangements before hiring the nanny, and I found this arrangement to be the only one that allowed me the peace of mind to continue my work. I guess what I'm trying to say is that every parent's situation is different, and that everyone should be able to choose the childcare arrangement that works best for them without fear of judgment.

    I was intrigued by your comment about friends who hire nannies because, to me, it seemed like your immediately prior point was about paying people to do things you *could* do yourself. In that regard, it seems like *how much* you pay for childcare and what form it takes is sort of beside the point.

    Anyway, I wasn't trying to pick a fight - I just found your comment interesting, as I am generally interested in how different people make this whole thing work. No matter how you slice it, the work/life balance and the mommy guilt are hard.

  5. Thanks so much Anon. Though I DO like the day care for my 19 month old- he loves it there- I AM nervous about putting a 4 mo. old in there in the spring. I never really considered a nanny, as noted, for irrational uninformed reasons. But after reading your note, I am reconsidering. I will do some research...

    I mean this blog to be mostly self-effacing and NOT judgmental (well... sometimes the students deserve it). I certainly don't mean to come across as judgmental when it comes to parenting. God knows I don't feel like I've got the answers!!!! :) Thanks again for your comment!

  6. I'm just impressed by how little your daycare costs! We are looking at 3000/month for our infant and 2000/month for our 2 year old.
    Do that math!

  7. EGADS! I hope you salary is commensurate with that.
    Our daycare isn't "special" in anyway- but its very close and the staff are stable and very, very warm. We are happy, and now that I know what daycare costs in other places, grateful. :)

  8. Hi, stumbled over from a random link somewhere...

    LabMom's day care costs seem really high to me. We pay about $1600/month for an infant and about $1200/month for a 3 year old. This is at an excellent center in an expensive city (San Diego- but our labor costs are all screwy due to being close to the border, so I don't really know if our day care is more or less expensive than in other cities).

    I am not an academic. I am an industry scientist/manager and my husband is a software engineer. We pay for services to make our lives easier, too, but not nearly as much as I'd like. My husband has a cultural problem with it. The reasons for his issues are a long story- but it sounds like you fall into a similar sort of background. I obviously have no advice for getting over that hump, since we're stuck in it, too.

    Anyway, my general approach is to prioritize family and work. Anything else is up for outsourcing in my opinion. Now, if only I could convince Hubby of that.

  9. NAEYC accredited center about 20 miles outside a big Northeastern city (so fairly expensive cost of living)

    $1225 for 2y4m old (still in toddler class)
    $927 for 4 yo (preK)--get 10% discount off his tuition of $1015 due to sibling discount

    Daycare eats a huge chunk of my take home salary, but I also can't imagine not working. I have 3+ months off in the summer where we don't have daycare costs so it sort of balances things out a bit.

  10. Day care: $160 / week

    Can I please move where you are?
    We are at $1,400/month for a baby...

    I like daycare centers: I am paranoid about nannies, plus when a teacher at the center gets sick the center worries about replacement.

  11. GMP, good point about the illness thing. If you subscribe to the hygiene hypothesis, there is another advantage to daycare...

    Yes, cheap to live here. Beautiful here. VERY friendly here. Great Mom-n-Pop ethnic restaurants here. Only one non-chain clothing store here. High end dining? Drive 30 minutes. Opera? Dance? Modern art? Public Transpo? Fuhgeddaboutit.

  12. LabMom's day care costs seem really high to me. We pay about $1600/month for an infant and about $1200/month for a 3 year old. This is at an excellent center in an expensive city (San Diego- but our labor costs are all screwy due to being close to the border, so I don't really know if our day care is more or less expensive than in other cities.)
    I am in a major metropolitan city on the east coast. Mine is also a NAYEC 5-star rated center. Low ratios, in the downtown area.

    I could probably knock 500$/month off the rates if we moved farther out but not much more than that. I couldn't get away for less than say, 50K a year.

    I constantly wonder how people on minimum wage make it work, but our state does have an extensive childcare subsidy/voucher system, so I guess that is how.