Can A Housekeeper Fit Your Budget?

By Shirley Kawa-Jump

At the end of the workday, after dealing with a thousand different mini-crises, rush-hour traffic, soccer practice and the grocery store, the last thing you want to do is scrub down the bathrooms or dust the curio cabinet. Even unloading the dishwasher can seem like one more insurmountable task on an already packed to-do list. Mrs. Brady had Alice to pick up after the kids and keep the floors clean. While on the surface, a housekeeper may seem like a luxury, this service can actually be more economical than you think.

Kathy Fitzgerald Sherman, author of A Housekeeper Is Cheaper Than a Divorce says a housekeeper can even be a money-saving strategy by preserving household harmony.

"Conflicts over housework are rapidly joining the 'big two' causes of arguments (sex and money) in two-career families." While researching her book, Sherman found that household chores account for an average of 35 hours a week in families with children. Not surprisingly, the burden of housework falls on women. "After trying, and failing, to get their husbands to take on an equal share of this workload, women are paying the price through increased stress levels, loss of leisure time, and damage to their marriages because of rising levels of anger and resentment towards their spouses," she says.

The Time Factor
The first thing to determine, says Karen Lovett, an accountant in Jasper, Ala., is the amount of time you will gain from not doing the work yourself. "What would you do with that additional time? Work a few extra hours? Spend time with your family? What are these things worth to you?"

Lovett says it's not about how much the housekeeping service costs, but what it gives you back. She recommends weighing your hourly pay rate against the cleaning time saved. Busy moms, who try to play SuperMom, often end up spending money on conveniences, like pre-packaged meals, babysitters and dry cleaning in an effort to save time. If the housekeeping service gives you back five hours a week in non-cleaning time, then other conveniences aren't necessarily needed.

"How often do you get the luxury of buying more time?" asks Greg Longe, president and CEO of Molly Maids, a housekeeping franchise company headquartered in Ann Arbor, Mich. He says busy parents are running to and from daycare or school during the week, leaving their weekends for cleaning duty. This takes up the few precious hours of family time with work, not activities.

Sheri Wallace, a freelance writer who works out of her home in Tuscon, Ariz., says she opted for a cleaning service to give her more time to work. "I hired a housekeeper because I can make as much money as I pay her, and in less than the time it takes her to clean my house." Wallace says she sees the housekeeping service as exactly that - a service, not an extravagance. "She's necessary for me to work at home and to enjoy my free time."

Jill Waddell, who owns Covenant Escrow Services in Germantown, Tenn., with her husband, says she has employed a service twice a month for many years. The biggest bonus, says Waddell, is the complete elimination of arguments about chores. "It was a battle that just wasn't worth the fight."

The Cost of Convenience
Depending on the part of the country where you live, a cleaning from a service like Molly Maids, which sends in a two-person team, runs $70 to $90 for a 2500-square foot, four-bedroom, three-bathroom house. A daily maid service costs $13,000 to $45,000 annually, according to the Health Care Job Store. However, if you work out of your home, the office portion of the cleaning bill is tax-deductible, says Lovett.

A cleaner who is not affiliated with a service or national company can be cheaper, but may not be licensed and bonded. If something is broken or stolen, the homeowner is left with the bill, not the uninsured service. With an insured service, any broken or stolen items are replaced at the service's cost, with no charge to the homeowner. However, make sure the service has enough insurance to cover any precious valuables you own, like antiques or jewelry. If they don't, you likely won't receive full replacement cost.

Not checking legalities can also lead to a tax snafu, similar to the one Secretary of Labor nominee Linda Chavez found herself in a few years ago. If the service doesn't take care of taxes, the homeowner is supposed to-something most people aren't aware of. An unregulated service may also hire illegal aliens, again putting the homeowner at the forefront of responsibility for reporting issues. Bonded services also offer workers' compensation plans to their employees, making the company, not the homeowner responsible for any accidents. "Licensing and bonding gives you the added layer of protection you need," says Longe. "You are opening up your home to the service and you need to be sure it will be taken care of."

Making it Fit the Budget
Lovett says, although it would be nice, it isn't necessary to hire someone to come in every day. "Start with once a month. Then, as you see the savings or have an increase in income, you can put that aside to pay for the services that are allowing that money."

In the end, the luxury of time and reduced stress is worth more than the cost of the service, says Longe. "There are an awful lot of families today where mom is working just as hard as dad," he says. "Why can't mom come home and relax at the end of the day? This kind of service allows everyone to have more free time."

Things to Consider When Hiring a Cleaning Service
Before hiring a service, ask the following questions, advises Greg Longe, CEO of Molly Maids. This helps ensure any broken items, cleaning mishaps or other problems are covered financially:

  1. Ask for written proof of liability insurance and bonding
  2. Make sure the service provides workers' compensation insurance
  3. Inquire about how taxes will be handled
  4. Ask for references
  5. Ask for a list of cleaning products used
  6. Do a trial run and provide specifics on what's to be cleaned and what's not
  7. Determine security issues: how will the service gain access to the house?
  8. Check work quality often

Recommended Reading:

  • A Housekeeper Is Cheaper Than a Divorce by Kathy Fitzgerald Sherman

    Also see:

  • Reduce your household clutter and cleaning time
  • Get out of debt
  • Whatever happened to the day of rest?
  • Six tips to saving money at the checkout counter

    Shirley Kawa-Jump is a freelance writer and the author of How To Publish Your Articles: A Complete Guide To Making The Right Publication Say Yes.