Money can't buy you love, but spent on a good babysitter, it can get you and your spouse a few hours of the couple-time you crave. Here's what you need to know to find a sitter you can trust at a price you can afford.
Don't pay more than the going rate.
Average babysitting rates vary dramatically from one part of the country to another, so ask a few local parents what they usually pay. For example, the hourly rate for caring for one child in Columbus, Ohio, can run between $5 and $9, while the rate in Boston is upwards of $8 to $12. Remember, though, that you'll pay more if your child has special dietary or other needs, or if you have three or more kids. Hourly rates bottom out if the sitter is under 18, while experienced nurses, teachers, and other professionals will command top dollar.
Paying more won't guarantee a better babysitter.
Even if a sitter comes with experience and good credentials, you should always do a thorough interview, ask for several recent references, and then call them to ask about the sitter's performance. In the interview, discuss the candidate's childcare experience, and ask what she'd do in several hypothetical problem situations. Most importantly, listen to your gut.
Hire college students and save.
Some colleges have babysitting services offering experienced sitters at reasonable rates (plus transportation back to campus). In New York City, almost half of Barnard College's 2,200 female students babysit, and other colleges have similar lists of available students (some schools even have training programs). Another resource: Try asking a friend's daycare provider or baby "gym" teacher if she wants some extra cash for sitting.
Get more for your money.
If you develop a regular relationship with a sitter, consider sending her to a babysitting course. Many are run by hospitals and Red Cross centers and cost as little as $30. You'll truly relax on your night out if you know that your babysitter can handle basic first aid, spot a safety hazard, and perform infant CPR.