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Sunday, October 25, 2009

Clutter and Bargains: The Example of Babysitting

1968: I am 14 years old. My father is self-employed and his business is doing pretty well, so my mother is also working full-time. This is why I am going to buy my back-to-school clothing myself. In those days, a teenager could proffer a store credit card (visas et al were in the future for most families) and say "My mother said I could use this." In those innocent days, the teenager would be believed.

However, I tried to pay for as much as I could with my babysitting money. I had just raised my price from 50 cents an hour to 75 cents. I had lost a few customers to the price increase, including one family that fired me for not cleaning the house while I was there, but there were lots of children. Even at 75 cents, babysitting was so cheap that many of the moms left for hours on end on school days, often telling me that they were taking a course in "crafts." Or the couples went out at night for 8 or more hours. Little did I know that for some of these families, the 60s had arrived, with a full complement of John Updike-style infidelity during the day and "swinging" at night.

Anyway, I took the bus to A & S, a mid-priced department store that is probably no more. In fact, that whole genre seems to have disappeared. There I bought 4 items: a tan corduroy skirt, a tan and brown diagonal plaid skirt, a cream fisherman style sweater, and a brown v-neck sweater. You can tell that I was trying to mix and match, having probably read an article to that effect in Seventeen. So proud was I of my self-sufficiency that I remember the prices: $6.00, $8.00, $10.00, $6.00, for a grand total of $30.00. Except for the corduroy skirt, these items were probably synthetics, since the natural fibers movement of the 60s did not really hit till the 70s.

In other words, 40 hours of babysitting, which probably took me 3 or 4 weeks.

My daughter was 14 in 2005, owing to my late start on children. There are not too many kids around, so babysitting is in short supply. Happily, some children appeared across the street and Miss Em walked over to announce her availability. We wondered what to charge and guessed that $6.00 an hour would be the going rate. Much to her surprise, before she could announce her rates, she was given $60.00 for her 6 hours. We learned that $10.00 an hour was standard!

If Miss Em went to Target or Ross, she could buy clothing for about what I spent so many years ago. But her 4 items would only have taken 3 hours of work. Is it any wonder that our closets are overflowing and that the floors of most teenage rooms are dotted with clean and dirty piles of clothing?

Is it any wonder also that thrift stores are filled with near-new clothing? When I first went to thrift stores many years ago, the pickings were indeed slim. Now, I must keep myself from overbuying.

Sadly, the things that are really important, education and, most important, health care, are out of reach for many. These don't mess up your house either. Both have risen way faster than inflation, while clothing, plastic toys, and other junk are so cheap that it's easy to accumulate.

Last summer, Miss Em was asked to babysit for two kids while she was staying with my mother in Massachusetts. The east coast rate is even higher: she was paid $15.00 an hour and netted $120.00 for 8 hours of work.


FB @ said...


I should be a part-time babysitter LOL

Yeah that sounds about right. My brother pays $10/hour for babysitting, PLUS expenses paid to take my nephews out to the cinema, etc.


This line is the best If Miss Em went to Target or Ross, she could buy clothing for about what I spent so many years ago. But her 4 items would only have taken 3 hours of work.

Is it any wonder that our closets are overflowing and that the floors of most teenage rooms are dotted with clean and dirty piles of clothing?

It is so true... ! If only I could have talked to my 13-year old self who had delivered newspapers for so long

Frugal Scholar said...

@FB--I wouldn't mind part-time babysitting...always a possibility. And don't be too hard on your 13 yo self!

Over the Cubicle Wall said...

Very intersting thoughts. To take it another step, the people that made the clothes you bought in the 1960s probably made significantly more than the babysitter wages you were earning. Today, the people that make the clothes make significantly less than today's baby sitter wages, and probably even significantly less than those of the 60's.

Duchesse said...

Cheap offshore labour is what makes the H&M, WalMart, Target etc clothes disposable. (your '60s clothes were likely mostly made by union US workers.)

I often see the same "more" mentality among parents. My mother's closet was far, far sparser than mine or my friends'.

Funny about Money said...

Isn't that interesting! Duchesse's point is well taken: back in the dark ages, clothing was made by Americans who earned a living wage.

I recall shopping in those much-lamented bygone department stores (remember the tea rooms they had on the second or third floor, patronized exclusively by women shoppers? remember when "customer service" meant someone act like they were happy to be polite to you?). Though the blouses and shirts were often synthetic (wash-&-wear was THE big thing), it seems to me that sweaters were usually wool, skirts and slacks were wool or (rarely) linen, and pedal-pushers, shorts, and casual pants were cotton. Maybe cotton-synthetic mother used to make me do the ironing, and it seems to me almost all of it (except the shirts) was cotton.

When my son was about 8 or 10, we stumbled upon a woman who was (hang onto your hat) an RN and chair of the department of nursing at one of the (large!) community colleges here. She babysat in her spare time, partly because she enjoyed children and partly because she earned good pay (often under the table). Come to think of it, it's not a bad idea, eh?

Frugal Scholar said...

@Cubicle--You're right. I remember all my clothes with the ILGWU label.

@Duchesse--Ditto--as above.

@Funny--i remember the fabric. I'm quite sure it was synthetic!