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Doing the Math: When Does Hiring Domestic Help Make Economic Sense?


To many of us women, hiring domestic help seems like a terrible extravagance. We feel guilty about spending the money for extra help, and we feel we should be able to handle it all--career, family, marriage and housework--while still somehow maintaining our sanity. But there is a case to be made for outsourcing your domestic chores. Basically, you need to do the math and discover just what your time is worth, and if it makes sense to get help with domestic services.

How Much Housework Do You Do?

To start, actually write down how many hours per week you spend on housework. Average it over a few weeks for accuracy. Calculate the time you spend on everything from dusting to grocery shopping to cooking. Once you have a number, you may be shocked at how much time you really spend housekeeping. Studies differ, but the average American woman spends between 17 and 21 hours per week on chores.

What Is Your Hourly Rate?

The next step is to calculate your hourly billable rate. For some WAHMs who charge an hourly rate for their services, this is easy. For others, the math may be trickier. Fortunately, there are money/time/value calculators available online, so it's worth googling to find one you can use.

Do the Math

Now that you have your billable rate in hand, take a long hard look at how much time you spend on housekeeping. Is it worthwhile financially to hire a maid or a babysitter to come in and help? If you are still unclear, ask yourself if a professional housekeeper could do the same job in less time. If you are divvying your time between your career and your chores, you may end up spending three times as long on household chores than someone who is dedicated solely to those tasks. In the end, it may be cheaper to hire someone else to help.

What Are Your Options?

If hiring a housekeeper or maid seems out of reach, ask yourself what your options are. If you are a single parent or a dual-income family, you may not have the options that a single-income, dual parent family has. If so, you may want to investigate other options. You may be able to hire your neighbors to watch your children. You may be able to find help through Craigslist or a local bulletin board. You may even want to form a co-op with other families and trade-off housecleaning or babysitting duties to save cash.

What Is the Trade-Off?

If you hire someone to help with domestic services, there are trade-offs to consider. For many women, it frees up their time so they can enjoy playing with their kids instead of trying to watch the kids while working or cleaning. It may mean more quality time with your spouse once the kids are asleep, if you aren't trying to catch up on housekeeping. It may mean more time to exercise or pursue a hobby. Who knows, you might even have time for yoga!

It is worthwhile to sit down and do the math, and see if you are able to hire a housekeeper. You might be surprised at the answer, and even more pleased at the outcome!


Sarah Baker is a documentary filmmaker and writer currently living in New Bern, NC. Her first book, Lucky Stars: Janet Gaynor and Charles Farrell, will be published December 2009. Read more about her.sar

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