Summer break is quickly approaching. Last year, I was worried about how I would keep the kids entertained; this year, I vacillate between two ends of the emotional spectrum — being excited and feeling a little overwhelmed.
Excited, because I say “adios” to the early morning bus routine and the backpack-and-lunchbox ritual for a few glorious weeks. And socks. They quit wearing socks in the summer. (Can I get a “hallelujah”?)
But I am feeling a little overwhelmed too. The sock shenanigans at my house get replaced with drinking glasses and copious Go-Gurt wrappers all over the kitchen counters sticky with spilled lemonade.
Yep, there's nothing like a few weeks of summer vacation to make me long for a clean house (even if it's just for a few hours) and some peace.
What's the solution? Kids' activities like sports camps or arts and crafts.
But here's the challenge: budgeting for the extra expense.
Find free activities first
As with any product or service, it's easier to budget something when it's free. Last year, for five weeks, my kids attended a free day camp at their school that was funded by a grant. Check with your local school or library to see if they plan to offer something similar.
Since the free day camp will not be offered this year, I am trying to come up with my own ideas for free activities.
I'm throwing an epic “Capture the Flag” event for my son and his friends one day. My daughter has yet to choose her activity, but she will get to have her friends over for a long day of fun too.
(This will only exacerbate my sticky lemonade problems, but I think of my kids' friends' moms enjoying their clean houses — haha!)
For more activity ideas, you can check out the post I wrote last year about different summer activities for kids (and check out the comments for some really great suggestions).
Envision your summer
Think through (and ask your kids) how you want the summer to feel. Here's what I mean: I prefer a flexible summer, so we don't schedule a lot of lengthy activities. However, I like to have lots of options for daily activities that I can do easily if the kids need a change of scenery. We are also moderately restricted by budget, so we can't do everything.
So, the questions:
- How much can you afford to budget?
- What are the available options?
Living in a rural community means our options are limited.
- What are your child's interests?
Match up your available options to your child's interests. (If you are like us, the limited options force you to get creative!)
- How much time can you (and your child) afford to spend at these activities?
Our family does best with structure and lots of downtime. So we try not to over-schedule ourselves. Prioritizing what is most important to your family is helpful when deciding on which activities to accept or decline.
- Are there transportation costs?
Consider both time spent at the event and time off work for a parent to drive the child to and from the activity, as well as the cost of gas or public transportation.
Budgeting for summer activities
Once you decide on which camps or activities, it's time to plan how to pay for it.
First, check to see if your chosen summer activity offers a scholarship program that defrays all or part of the scholarship cost. Are there any other discounts available?
Once you know the bottom dollar, you may want to use some of the ideas below:
- When I was in high school, I worked at a bank. One of their most popular products was a Christmas Club savings account. Customers saved small amounts each week ($1 or $5) to have money for gifts at Christmas. You could employ a similar savings tactic in an online savings account to budget for summer camp.
- Throw all your change in a jar all year long. When summer finally comes around, put that money toward camp.
- Ask your kids to contribute. This is slightly off-topic, but it is amazing how kids' wants change when it's their money that will be paying for it. If you are ambivalent about whether or not to send your child to camp or another activity, asking the child to help pay for it may show you how interested the child truly is.
- This next idea isn't really budgeting, but maybe a grandparent, aunt or uncle is looking for a suitable gift idea for your child. Enter summer camp.
- If you get a tax refund, bonus or other irregular infusion of cash, earmark a portion of it for summer activities.
Same old, same old
No matter what you are saving for, the concepts are the same: bank any extra, cut corners somewhere else, earn more if you can … you've heard it all before. However, this is one area where I think asking your child to contribute part of the expense is totally reasonable. And it could be educational for them as well.
Do you expect higher expenses in the summer due to your children's activities? How do you plan to pay for them? And I have to know, does anyone else have sock reproduction happening at their house, or is it just us?
Lisa Aberle is a college professor by day and a freelance writer by night. Always an aspiring writer with an interest in money, she once ironically misspelled “mortgage” during a spelling bee. Most of her current adventures take place on the four-acre mini-farm she shares with her husband in the rural Midwest (where she writes with gel pens whenever possible).