15/11/2013 08:23 GMT | Updated 23/01/2014 18:58 GMT

How I Avoid Pay Rate Awkwardness with Babysitters

For many of us, the decision on an hourly rate for babysitters often poses a conundrum. Consider that rare event of the married world, the date night. You've booked the restaurant table, you've found the ideal local babysitter (and for tips on that, look here), and you are planning your outfit for that special few hours alone with your other half. (Remember him/her? I know, it's been a while since you held a glance outside of the mad school run, work rush, parenting routine...).

The first ever babysitter we used was a reliable and straight-talking mother of two.

"I'll do the babysitting for £7.00 an hour, but if you'd like the ironing fairy to visit while you are out, make it £9.00 per hour."

It didn't take long to agree to £9.00 per hour. A far cry from the £3 I used to make. But a night out - and freshly pressed shirts - seemed well worth it.

Fast forward ten years to today and my children still need a babysitter when my other half and I head out for those (infrequent) date nights. And how I long for that straight-talking iron-fairy. How many of us recognise this conversation with a potential sitter:

"We would love to have you mind the kids a few nights a month. What is your hourly rate?"

"I don't know. Whatever you want to pay me."

"Well, how much do you make for other families?"

"£8 an hour. But they have 3 kids. You have 2."

And then you're left with a dilemma. You don't want to be the neighbourhood Scrooge, but you also don't want to lose a great sitter - and the chance at going out.

The problem is, you have been so preoccupied with the planning of this special event that you have overlooked one or two practical issues... what to pay her and what food you should have in your pantry for her and the children to rummage through (I mean, isn't that what babysitting is all about?!)

We all know that childcare costs in the UK are high. Everyone from Karren Brady to the Chancellor comments on it. It is very likely that these high costs are a barrier to women returning to work. But are they also a barrier to keeping our social calendars and relationships alive? (Probably). It's vital to understand exactly what a reasonable rate is. Knowing what your neighbours with 2 children are paying will get rid of that awkward conversation. Instead, it can go like this:

"We would love to have you sit for the kids. We pay £6 an hour."

Sitter: "Sounds great. That's what I usually make."

How did I know her rate?

This tool shows the babysitting pay rates in all of the UK. In this infographic, you can see that London comes out as the most expensive urban area at £7.74, with Birmingham, Leeds, Sheffield and Glasgow coming out between £6.03 and £6.45.

However, what counts is the going rate in your area. And it's always fair to include years of experience and the number of children you have as cost factors.

And if you are a carer, you could do worse than follow the example of a super organized sitter I know who keeps a note of all rates agreed on her smartphone and then sends an email with her bank details after the babysitting. That way, everyone has a written record of what is due and when, which helps with tax and national insurance -- as well as your own peace of mind.

What do you pay a carer for an hourly rate? And do you tip her and cover her dinner too? Please share.