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School’s out: The cost of summers with kids

Gail Johnson
Photo by: Thinkstock
No-guilt mom fail: I let the kids totally slack during summer "
Every summer, my school-aged children are told to visit math websites and do umpteen 'suggested' worksheets in order to keep their minds sharp over the summer. We ignore it all. I think summertime is all about a break from school; that's the point. So far my kids haven't been at all behind come September, although I accept that one of these years, back-to-school may be an unpleasant surprise. I hope not. But for now, I'm willing to take that risk, and enjoy lazy summer afternoons with my kids without having to harangue about homework even once." - Amy Wilson of When Did I Get Like This?
For more mom fails I don't feel guilty about, visit Babble!

Jennifer Ng admits she’s not one to plan ahead. So even though her two kids will be finished school in a couple of weeks, she hasn’t lined up a single summer activity for them.

“I can’t believe it’s almost the end of June,” says the Burnaby mom, whose children are nine and seven years old. “I’m not sure what we’re going to get up to. I’ve probably missed the boat on camps, because they fill up so quickly.”

Besides being potentially sold out, summer programs for kids can also be pricey. Sign up one, two, or more of your young’uns in swimming lessons, LEGO camp, cooking school, and bike sessions, and the costs quickly add up. Then there are child-care expenses for working parents.

In fact, the average per-child cost for summer activities — which could include child care — is US $601, according to a 2012 American Express Spending and Saving Tracker survey. “Affluent” families, defined as those with a household income of at least US$100,000 a year, spend nearly double that: $1,116.

“Unless you plan ahead, they [kids’ summer programs] can cost a bundle,” says Jeffrey F. Schwartz, executive director of Consolidated Credit Counseling Services of Canada, Inc.

“Try and budget or plan ahead; then you reduce the risk of overspending. If you have an idea of what you have available for their activities, plan on how to utilize that money to the best of everyone’s advantage by finding the deals out there. You don’t want to head into back-to-school season with a mountain of debt.”

Here’s how to keep the kids occupied this summer without going broke.

Do your research
Sure, that outdoor-adventure camp sounds incredible, but can you find a similar program elsewhere for less? Check out program guides from community and recreation centres in your own and nearby districts for alternatives to privately-run courses.

In other words, even if you’re feeling desperate, avoid signing up for the first camp you see. Shop around, just as you would for a new mattress or pair of shoes.

Get the kids involved
A lot of people tune out when the word “budgeting” comes up, but turn summer planning into a family activity by sitting down with the kids and poring over options with them.

Go through program guides and write a list of camps or courses that your kids are interested in. Next to each, jot down the price, as well as the amount you have or wish to spend. Have your kids work through the process of elimination to come up with a plan that has them excited and you less stressed about the fees.

Use up some holiday time
If you’re able to take time off work, you’re instantly cutting down on child-care and summer-camp costs. Homes with two working parents who are willing to take a break from work at different times can really take advantage of the savings.

Be a tourist in your own town
A lot of people equate time off work with splitting town, but chances are there’s much to be discovered in your own back yard. And a lot of it is probably free. Maybe it’s a park on the other side of the city that parents in that hood rave about or an outdoor community concert series.

Sign up for deal sites like Groupon
It’s not just restaurants and spas that use this type of site to lure new customers. You might find a sporting activity, tourist attraction, or creative class that the kids would love, all at a discounted price.

“If you get the kids involved and let them come up with some ideas, they take ownership of it,” Schwartz says. “That makes for more enriching experiences.”