If you've ever priced out summer child care or summer camp, be prepared for sticker shock. I've found day camps as costly as $400 a week - per kid. Even tougher is my soon-to-be first grader isn't quite old enough for some of the local camp options. And I felt strongly enough that I didn't want to try to find a babysitter after losing three sitters for spring break who had committed and then backed out.
What's a working parent to do?
Here are a few ways we saved money on summer camps and summer child care:
1) Shop around. While the YMCA spring break camp close to home was $165 a week, we found another YMCA camp that was a 20-minute drive for a mere $100 a week. Multiply it by multiple kids, and throw in a carpool, and suddenly that deal looks even sweeter. And yes, I'm planning to take advantage of the summer drive for a week or so this summer, too, since that Y is in a district with a longer summer calendar than our local kids.
2) Volunteer. If you're blessed with patience and some extra vacation time, why not volunteer to offset the costs of a camp experience? This will be my third summer volunteering as a leader at Girl Scout camp, and by doing so - I send my daughter to Girl Scout camp for FREE, and my son goes to "little brother camp" for a mere $25. A steal.
3) Make a trade. There are a few weeks that, rather than spending hundreds on a camp experience, I am trading with a few of my stay-at-home friends. I take the kids to a Vacation Bible School in the morning and take care of the lunches, and they will watch the kids in the afternoon. Instant playdates for them, day care for me, without a summer-long commitment for either.
4) If you're patient, wait for a deal on Groupon, Deal Chicken or Living Social. My kids are going to a Pacers basketball camp for half the cost this summer. Groupon and like deals make camps affordable - particularly if the camp isn't quite a "full day" and you either have to take time off or pay for the "extended care."
5) Take advantage of wierd work schedules. My husband works retail hours, so on those weeks when our school isn't in session but the rest of the world is, my husband is planning to request days off during the week/trade so he works on weekends instead. The kids will hang out with Dad part-time, and I'll fill in the gaps with vacation time.
Also, we make a point of having a weekly budget for camp fees. If we went short one week we could justify spending a bit more on a camp we knew our children would love (i.e. tae kwon do camp) because we were still under our budget for the summer.
What works for you in lowering your summer day care options without sacrificing quality?