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Babysitter wars: What desperate parents will do to snag a sitter for New Year's Eve

Dec. 28, 2012 at 12:07 PM ET

That first kiss of the New Year isn’t so romantic if you’re stuck at home with a screaming baby. That’s why parents go to incredible lengths to bribe and beg their babysitters — and sometimes strangers off the street — to watch their kids.

“New Year’s Eve is the most in demand night for babysitters across the country,” says Lynn Perkins, founder and CEO of UrbanSitter, an online service that books sitters through parents’ existing connections and affiliations. “It can be difficult to find a sitter and quite expensive.”

She warns that parents should expect to pay 1.5 to 2 times the normal babysitting rate on New Year’s Eve.

Sometimes, it’s worth it. Atlanta father David Bakke, editor of Money Crashers Personal Finance, asked his regular babysitter how much she thought the evening would cost her. When she took into account a new outfit, the restaurant tab, and celebrating, it was easily over $100. He offered to pay the same amount to watch his son for the evening, essentially making her $200.

She went for it.

“I had never paid her this much for an evening of babysitting, but it was really important for my wife and me to celebrate,” Bakke says.

The night’s hype means some people will pay anything to get the night off.

Desperate parents offered Philadelphia babysitter Jami Stilson all kinds of perks. One stay-at-home mom and her construction worker husband offered to pay her $25 an hour — more than double her normal rate of $10 an hour — plus a $100 bonus to watch their two children. When Stilson declined, the mom said she’d pay Stilson that rate just to recruit a friend to do the sitting.

Another couple with a 5-year-old son gave Stilson a free week’s vacation at a timeshare in Rehoboth Beach. When she’s working with children, complete strangers sometimes approach her, ask her to babysit their kids and frantically scribble down her phone number.

Some parents lure unsuspecting sitters with their adorable children.

When Felicia Alexander was out for dinner with her husband and 5-year-old son, she noticed that the next table was filled with outgoing, smiling high school girls. “We live in an area of Los Angeles where it is hard to find sitters and people are very protective of their sitters,” says Alexander. “These girls looked like ideal sitters so we sent over our cute and outgoing son to ask if any of them babysit!”

The move paid off, as one of the girls happened to live down the street from them and ended up being a regular babysitter — after Alexander talked with her parents.

Courting a new sitter can be as nerve-wracking as trying to find a date, as Nate Jones, a vice president at a digital media company in San Francisco, can attest. He scouted his local haunts to find sitters for his now 4- and 7-year-old kids.

First, he snagged Megan, the barista at his neighborhood Starbucks. “I worked up to it for several months—ordering up tall lattes, bringing the kids in with me until I finally popped the question, ‘Do you babysit?’” Jones jokes. Luckily, she said “yes.”

He found his second sitter while shopping at a local Restoration Hardware. “One of the sales girls always seemed to be a good multitasker - meeting the needs of her store customers and keeping our kids occupied while we shopped in the store,” Jones says. He decided to pop the question once again and it worked!

We’ve all heard the horror stories of poached sitters. Bakke admits that he’s “borrowed” a babysitter. After listening to a fellow parent always bragging about his awesome babysitter, he tracked down the woman’s phone number and contacted her discretely. So far, he's suffered no social consequences for poaching.

If you’re not up for stealing a friend’s sitter or spending a fortune, there’s still hope for a champagne toast and a round of “Auld Lang Syne.”

“Parents should not feel resigned to a night on the sofa -- there are lots of ways to find a great sitter for New Year’s Eve,” says Perkins of UrbanSitter. Here are her tips:

Share a sitter with another family. Team up with a family that lives nearby or one you are going out with and share a sitter. 

Focus on college kids who are home for the holidays. Use babysitting websites or a local community chat board to search for college sitters who are in your area for winter break. 

Host a party at your home. Invite other families, and hire two high school aged sitters to conduct activities with the kids while the adults enjoy themselves. The sitters will enjoy babysitting with a friend and parents can hire sitters that may be younger, and more willing to work on New Year’s Eve, since the parents will be in the home too. Let the kids celebrate New Year’s Eve on a time zone ahead of your own and turn it into a slumber party for the children, while the parents celebrate together.

Offer a premium rate for the evening. Babysitters expect to make more than their usual hourly rate on New Year’s Eve. If you are comfortable offering one and a half to two times their regular wage, you are more likely to attract a sitter for New Year’s Eve. Adding in a paid cab ride home or a car service is a plus and ensures that your sitter will make it home safely, and you don’t need to worry about driving.

“Worst case scenario, adjust your plans to come home early or celebrate the night before,” says Perkins. “Some sitters don’t want to miss New Year’s Eve with their friends but they may be willing to babysit until ten or eleven.”

Corey Binns writes about parenting, health and science. You can follow her @coreybinns.

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