The Thrifty Parent’s Guide to Surviving Summer

happy african american mother and daughter piggyback outdoorsCan you believe it’s June? School’s almost out and that means that the kids are nearly home. Day camps cost $300-$500 a week and I don’t even want to talk about how much sleep-away camps run. (HINT: more than my mortgage.) Here are some ideas for keeping summer low-cost for you and enjoyable for your child.

For the parent that works outside the home:

  1. Ask your employer for help. If your family is experiencing issues with childcare, it will most likely affect your performance at work. Explain your problem to your employer in terms that she or he will understand — i.e., how it could affect the bottom line. Also, have some concrete ideas for how your workplace could support you. If you work for a large company, maybe they could subsidize an on-site summer childcare program for its employees. If that’s out of reach, subsidies for individuals to help pay for care, or an option to adjust your schedule for the summer, may be possible.
  2. Change your working hours. Speaking of adjusting your schedule, if you are self-employed, freelance, or otherwise already have flexibility in your job, you may be able to conquer a good chunk of your childcare needs by adjusting your work schedule. For example, maybe you could work four longer days instead of five, so that you have one fewer day to find care for. If you have a co-parent that could do this, too, then you could cut down your childcare needs even more.
  3. Consider a nanny camp. Similar to a nanny share, but just for the summer, a so-called nanny camp requires a few families to pool their funds to hire a nanny to lead a summer-camp style program for their children. Each family pays less, and the nanny ultimately makes more than he or she would when looking after just one family, plus the children get built-in learning and socializing time — it’s a win for everyone.

The stay-at-home parent has different needs. You may not need a full-time childcare solution, but odds are you are still looking for ways to get through the summer in a way that will preserve both your sanity and your pocketbook. Here are some suggestions:

  1. Embrace unstructured time. There can be a lot of pressure to schedule crafts and elaborate activities for your children every day of the summer. But being home with your kids does not mean you need to be a summer camp director. Kids need unstructured time in order to be creative and to have the space to see their own ideas and projects through to completion. And it’s not just conventional wisdom that tells us children need time to play in the dirt with little supervision — more and more research supports the importance of unstructured play at any age.
  2. Make your everyday errands and chores into learning opportunities. As a stay at home parent, you have more than just childcare on your plate. It requires a bit of a mindset shift, but if you can see chores such as going to the grocery store and cooking dinner as opportunities to get your kids involved, you can still keep your household running while keeping your children engaged.
  3. Swap babysitting with friends and neighbors. If you can handle adding one or two kids to your day once or twice a week, then maybe a friend or neighbor could do the same for you. It will give you a chance to go to appointments or do errands that are difficult to do with children, and it will provide a fun playdate for your children.

Have a fun summer. See you on the other side!

Tiffany Frye 2Tiffany Frye manages a small but growing childcare and coworking cooperative and works as a managing editor for science publications. She lives in Durham, NC, with her husband and daughter.




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