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The biggest mistakes nannies make when determining pay

Robyn Correll
Aug. 29, 2018

The first question most new nannies have: How much should I charge?

There are a lot of factors to consider when determining your pay rate, including your experience, education, how many kids you’ll be caring for and your location. There are also common mistakes you can avoid so you don’t get stuck with an undervalued rate down the road. These include things like not factoring in the whole workload or not getting everything down in writing.

“Everything about money in the beginning is awkward,” says Virginia-based nanny Kattia Morales, adding that this is especially true with families you might not know well.

That discomfort can lead some nannies to over- or under-estimate how much they should charge for their services.

Here are five common mistakes to avoid when setting your pay rate.

1. Failing to take extra tasks and expenses into account

One of the biggest mistakes nannies make is forgetting to ask about — and charge for — additional responsibilities you’re expected to do that are above and beyond just caring for the child.  For example, if you’re asked to use your own car to transport children, you’ll have to cover the cost of things like gas and routine maintenance due to the added wear and tear.

“It is suggested that families pay a mileage rate for any on-the-job driving a nanny does for the family if she is driving her own vehicle,” says Gabriela Gerhart, founder and president at Motherhood Center, a Houston-based organization that trains nannies and pairs them with families throughout the area.

The same goes for major tasks done for the whole family, like cooking dinners or doing the household laundry — neither of which are considered routine for nannies. In those instances, Gerhart recommends tacking on an extra dollar or two to your hourly rate.  

Another instance you might want to consider is when you might be asked to occasionally care for school-aged siblings. If you’re hired to care for an infant, for example, and then older siblings are in your care all day during spring break, holidays and summertime, it’s important to talk with the family about getting paid for that work, either in the form of an hourly rate increase or a bonus during that time period.

2. Aiming too low

Another common mistake nannies often make is underestimating their worth, says nanny Melodie Peachey.  

“I’ve seen several situations where nannies accepted a rate with hope for financial growth in the future but were taken advantage of once they fell in love with a child and didn’t want to leave,” Peachey says.  

She recommends doing research before telling a family your pay requirements. That way, you feel confident that what you’re asking for is fair, based on your experience and average rates in the area.

However, there are times when accepting a lower rate might make sense, Morales says. For example, if the family allows you to bring your own child into work with you or gives you paid vacation or sick time, you may find this is a suitable tradeoff. You shouldn’t, however, accept a rate that is too low for the work involved.

3. Aiming too high

Don’t sell yourself short, but don’t inflate your worth either. Setting your hourly rate too high can be a huge turnoff for families and make you look like you don’t know what you’re doing — or worse, that you’re trying to take advantage of them.

Gerhart says one of the biggest mistakes new nannies often make is asking for too much too soon.

“Some nannies enter the profession assuming because families live in big houses or have high-paying careers that they can ask for a much higher rate than market value,” Gerhart says. “I have encountered nannies that have one or two years of experience and no college degree who ask to be paid $25 to $30 per hour, which is a mistake.”

She says it’s important for nannies to base their rate on their own education and experience, rather than let misconceptions skew their idea of what’s fair. Generally speaking, nannies working with Houston’s Motherhood Center make around $15 to $25 per hour, with less experienced nannies typically earning on the lower end of that scale.

Even long-time nannies can make this mistake, Gerhart says. She sometimes sees experienced nannies who — after a decade or so with a family — expect to start over with a new family at the same rate. But that higher rate can be much harder to justify to a family you just met.

“Be prepared to ask for a fair wage based on experience, job duties and number of children — and not on what your previous family paid you,” Gerhart says.

4. Not including opportunities for raises into the nanny contract

It’s fairly customary for nannies to get a pay raise each year, Gerhart says, but it can vary from family to family or even from year to year. That can leave some nannies wondering if they should bring it up or let it ride until the family thinks they’ve earned an increase.

Take the guessing game out of raises by making sure opportunities for them — such as annual performance reviews — are written into the work agreement or nanny contract. That way, everyone knows what to expect, Gerhart says.

You might also want to list in the contract other situations that may warrant a raise throughout the year, such as if a new baby arrives for you to care for or if you’ve earned any additional education or certification related to childcare.

Some nannies don’t ask for more money, even if they think they should, because they feel uncomfortable bringing it up — especially in the beginning. That’s where contracts can come in handy. Morales says having a written agreement can make discussions about pay a little less awkward because you can point to a document everyone has already agreed to.

“It’s always good to have something written down,” she says.

5. Not charging for additional responsibilities as they arise

Even if you aren’t asked to do extra tasks from the outset, over time, nannies often pick up small responsibilities beyond what they initially agreed to. These tasks might not seem like a big deal at the time, but little by little, they can really add to your workload while offering no additional pay.

Consider this scenario: You signed your nanny contract and agreed on an hourly rate based on a defined set of responsibilities. You’re feeling pretty good about it, until one day, the family asks you to unload the dishwasher. Not wanting to rock the boat, you say, “Sure!” After all, it will only take a few minutes. No harm done.

The next week, they ask you to do it again, and then the next... until, not-so-suddenly, unloading the dishwasher is now one of your responsibilities. A couple months later, you’re asked to wash the family’s breakfast dishes, and that, too, slowly becomes your job. Before long, doing dishes, cleaning up the kitchen and doing meal prep all must be squeezed into your day, along with tending to the child you’ve been hired to care for. This slow accumulation of responsibilities (without additional pay) is called scope creep, and it’s an important thing to watch out for if you don’t want to lose value for your work.

As a neat, organized person, Morales says she doesn’t mind doing a little extra tidying, and she almost never charges for it.

“I like to help,” Morales says. “If I see that a family needs help with that, I’ll do it.”

If the extra housework starts to get out of hand, however, she says she’ll bring it up with the family. She says nannies should be aware of small tasks that start to make their way into their daily workload and either communicate their boundaries or ask for fair compensation in exchange for the new responsibilities.

Read next: Why you should use a nanny contract

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