DETROIT — A night out used to mean dinner, a show or sporting event, and of course, a glass of wine.
Now that I'm a parent, date night is more likely to include my couch, Netflix and take-out.
Why? I'm too cheap to hire a baby sitter.
The question of what to pay a decent sitter comes up frequently on moms' Web sites.
It confounds parents of all experience levels. Should you pay one rate no matter how many kids you have? What if they'll be asleep most of the time you're away? And what's the base rate for our area?
Tricia Seabolt, 30, a mother of two in Chesterfield Township, Mich., searched online last month at Care.com and found the most common answer.
"Everyone on there wants between $10 to $20 an hour," Seabolt said. "I don't know if that's per kid, but it doesn't seem worth it."
It does, however, seem accurate. According to Care.com's rate calculator, stories from parents and insight from an expert, $10 an hour is indeed the Detroit area's average rate — even for only one child. (For Lexington, the average rate for one child is listed at $9 an hour.)
It used to be the only way to find a sitter was through word of mouth. Now, with a competitive marketplace of online sites vying for parents' frazzled attention, there are more — and pricier — options.
Leslie Toth, 39, a mother of two in South Lyon, Mich., said in her neighborhood, getting a word-of-mouth recommendation isn't an option.
"I found people wouldn't give us names, because if they had a good one, they'd hold onto them," Toth said. "People were basically hoarding baby sitters."
That's why earlier this year Toth opened the Detroit area's first Seekingsitters.com franchise, which matches sitters with job requests. Parents pay a one-time fee of $39.99. Then it's either $10 for a single use or $9.99 monthly for unlimited requests.
Toth said she makes things easy on the parents by connecting them quickly with qualified, certified sitters and arranging the payment upfront. Her users pay $11.50 for one child and $12.25 an hour for two.
Other subscription sites such as Care.com and Sittercity.com allow you to search personal ads that sitters create. Most sites show the sitter's photos, bios, rates and childcare philosophy for free. But you must pay to communicate with them.
And it's somewhat overwhelming. When I searched one site for a sitter in Royal Oak, Mich., it turned up more than 8,000 options. But with a free site like Craigslist.com, you just don't know whom you'll get.
Seabolt, who works part-time as a home care occupational therapist, looked on Craigslist last month when she briefly considered moving to a full-time position. She posted an ad for a sitter and got several replies, none promising. "One lady who replied was very persistent — almost annoyingly so," Seabolt said. "She e-mailed me in all caps, told me how much she charges. My husband and I were still talking about it, and three hours later, she wrote back saying, 'Are you still interested? I'll take wonderful care of your angel babies.' That's when I thought, 'You know, I don't know these people.'"
You can, of course, always ask a favor of someone you do know. Seabolt used a generous neighbor; I have both sets of grandparents on speed dial. Because sometimes another night on the couch just won't cut it.