How to keep child care debt-free this summer - KPTV - FOX 12

How to keep child care debt-free this summer

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iStockphoto.com / M. Eric Honeycutt iStockphoto.com / M. Eric Honeycutt


By Andrew Housser

With summer vacation just around the corner, thousands of families are scrambling to figure out how to keep their children supervised and entertained throughout the summer.  Families can spend thousands of dollars on child care during the summer. Often, the summer cost can total half of the annual child care budget. Day camps cost an average of $271 per week, and sleep-away camp averages more than $700 per week. Some families spend more than they can afford, and wind up going into debt to keep their children safe and happy through the summer. Instead of putting your finances in jeopardy this summer, consider these eight options. 

1. Do not keep up with the Joneses. The nation’s most expensive camps cost as much as $12,000 for a summer of fun. To put that in perspective, the federal poverty level for a household of two is an annual income of $16,020. How many woodsy memories and woven lanyards are worth that price? Just because it seems others around you are sending their kids to a sleep-away palace, choose summer activities based on your budget, not your neighbors’ budget.

2. Swap child care with other families. Some households pinch pennies during the summer by using vacation or personal time instead of paying a babysitter. One way to do this productivity is to join forces with several other parents. If each parent takes on several kids for a week at a time, you can have fun while avoiding the high costs of summer babysitting. A family with access to a community pool could host swim week, for example. Another with a family membership to a local natural museum could have a dinosaur week, and the house with the biggest lawn can offer sports days. Be sure to agree on safety rules for parents and kids before you begin. Alternatively, join a formally established co-op where parents volunteer time in exchange for child care. 

3. Line up backup sitters. Scour your circle and neighborhood for babysitting, nanny share and other child care options. College students returning home for the summer may be hungry for work. Grandparents may cherish extra time with little ones. Look into some tutoring time to keep math and other skills sharp. 

4. Price-compare local camps. Local organizations and schools often offer day camps with snacks, crafts and music that are a good value. The YMCA often offers high-value day and overnight camps, and some public schools offer summer-time-off programs. The Boys and Girls Clubs have summer programs in many neighborhoods. Even if spots are taken already, ask about waitlists and any last-minute discounts. The American Camp Association's camp-finder tool allows you to search within price limits.

5. Ask for a scholarship. If you cannot afford a camp for which your child would be a perfect fit, ask about financial assistance and scholarships. Many camps have funds to cover some or all of the cost for kids from underserved areas or families that qualify. Sometimes, camps offer discounts to families who volunteer for the camp, too. 

6. Check into other local options. Many local libraries offer reading programs, craft classes or music programs during the day. Municipal recreation centers sometimes offer discounted programs. And some school districts and libraries provide a free-lunch program to schoolchildren throughout the summer. 

7. Think outside the box for vacations instead of sending kids to camp. Families may be able to take a vacation together for the same price as sending kids to camp for a week or two. Or, get creative in finding fun ways to enjoy summer at home. Go camping for a few nights. Set a goal of trying every ice cream shop in town and rating them on a chart. See who can get a high score in backyard badminton or spot the greatest variety of birds at the local park. 

8. Plan ahead. If camp is in your sights for next summer, start saving now. Set aside $50 or $100 per month in a dedicated savings account so that you can have greater freedom in choosing summer activities next year. Whatever you do, work hard to avoid going into debt, and don’t let summer get you off track in debt repayment or retirement savings plans you have in place. Keep your long-term financial well-being as your priority.

Andrew Housser is a co-founder and CEO of Bills.com, a free one-stop online portal where consumers can educate themselves about personal finance issues and compare financial products and services. He also is co-CEO of Freedom Financial Network, LLC providing comprehensive consumer credit advocacy and debt relief services. Housser holds a Master of Business Administration degree from Stanford University and Bachelor of Arts degree from Dartmouth College.
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