The so-called lazy days of summer aren’t quite that laid-back for working parents of young children. Summer means no school for the kids for three full months—and instead, a complex patchwork of childcare or different summer camps. All this extra care can get expensive, too, if you’re not careful.
Some tips on saving money on childcare this summer:
1. Tap dependent care funds. If your family deposits money into a dependent care account through an employer, don’t forget that kids’ summer camps and classes count as reimbursable expenses if they occur during times when you’re usually working.
If you forgot to set aside enough money for this summer’s camps and daycare, keep track of what you spend and plan to have more money deposited into your dependent care account for next summer. Families with two working parents can spend thousands on childcare in June, July, and August, so having this money withheld from your paycheck and exempt from taxes can really add up.
2. Plan August first. Many camps stop offering sessions by mid-August because their camp counselors—who are often college students—are headed back to school by then. If you need care for your child all the way through the start of the school year, consider taking your own vacation in late August to be with the kids, or look for other options.
3. Start at your child’s school. Many schools contract out their before- and after-care during the school year, and the companies they hire also offer summer programs. They may be less exciting than, say, a canoeing or basketball camp, but these school camps are good fillers for late August or other weeks when you can’t find a program for your child.
Because it may be less expensive than specialty camps, your school’s summer program can also help you balance your costs. Let your child choose one or two summer camps that really excite him or her, then fill the rest of your weeks with the bargain-priced school program. School camps also have the benefit of being held in a place familiar to your child. Some of your kid’s classmates may be attending, too.
4. Don’t forget to budget for before- and after-camp care. Many kids’ summer programs run from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.—not exactly enough to cover a full workday. You’ll likely pay extra for morning and afternoon care, but it may be worth it.
5. Ask about scholarships and discounts. Camps run by nonprofits and museums may offer financial help to families with multiple kids in attendance, who are members of their organization, or who are having trouble affording summer care. Don’t be embarrassed to ask: Financial help is available for working parents, too—not just for families in dire straits.
6. Get creative. Camps aren’t right for every child, and it may be tough to find one for every week of the summer. In that case, talk with other parents about sharing a nanny for all or part of the summer—perhaps switching off at whose house the kids and nanny will stay—or hiring a college student majoring in education who wants experience with kids. Do you know a stay-at-home parent who’d like to make some extra money? Ask if he or she would be interested in watching your kids too.
Some parents with flexible work schedules even create their own rotating camps: Each parent takes a day off per week to watch a collective group of kids. The next day, the kids go to a different home and are supervised by a different parent. This arrangement can be a lot of work, but it can save you a lot of money. It’s also a smart solution for the last couple of weeks of August, when camps are hard to find.