Parents, give yourselves the gift of an early resolution: Snag a sitter pronto for New Year's Eve and expect to open those wallets wide.
The hunt for child care on the year's most lucrative night for sitters began in June for some parents, though the more usual approach is to wait until the last minute, panic and shell out top dollar.
"Most people will book the week before New Year's Eve. We're still a society of procrastinators, for sure," said Melissa Marchwick, a spokeswoman in Chicago for the caregiver match service Sittercity.com.
Hourly rates for the big night can more than double, she said. Some sitters are looking for extra incentives like fatter tips, festive food and safe, cost-free passage home amid the craziness.
"The parents who start looking earlier have more of their pick and there's less competition," Marchwick said. "They can get those sitters at a more normal rate."
Marchwick's site, which charges membership fees but offers a free, seven-day trial, has about a million caregivers available nationwide. The site helps parents check references, conduct interviews and use free access to background checks.
The race for New Year's Eve kid care is fierce because many sitters like to celebrate, too. College kids are on break from classes — living la vida loca — and fewer high schoolers baby-sit at all, consumed by lives of academics, sports and extracurriculars.
"We're seeing an older and older sitter," Marchwick said. "The average now is 27 years old, much more experienced."
Want a sitter but can't afford double time? Pay for two or three hours and add a flat $100 to spend the night. If that's too much, share a sitter with friends and try to negotiate, but don't forget the tip.
"I kind of think New Year's is overrated," said Samantha Haviser, a 24-year-old volunteer coordinator for a nonprofit in Washington, D.C. She plans to baby-sit the night away.
"I'm getting hassled by friends right now for being lame and not wanting to go out but hey, I work for a nonprofit. I can use the cash," she said.
Haviser is asking for $25 to $30 an hour. Use Sittercity's calculator — www.sittercity.com/rates — to get a read on the rule of thumb in your Zip code, then double it or more for the holiday. The tool factors in the age of a sitter, experience level and number of children involved.
Mom Laura Ceriello, 41, in New York City, said making merry en masse like the Times Square scene means the night belongs mostly to amateurs. She and her husband had two party invitations, one that included kids and one for adults only. They chose to bring their 5-year-old daughter along.
"Maybe I'm just too old," she said.
Tracy Ferry's feeling frisky in suburban D.C. She usually spends $12 to $15 an hour for a sitter. She and her husband are throwing a party for New Year's and she found care for the children of friends when she booked her own help at an hourly rate of $30.
"I just wanted them to be able to come to the party," Ferry said. "We know how difficult it is to solidify child care on New Year's Eve. It's more expensive than I was anticipating, but it's worth it."