If you’ve got school age kids, you know what a challenge summer vacation can be, both on your wallet and your patience. Camps and other activities add up quickly and it can sometimes seem like a challenge to think of ways to cure boredom without spending money. Here are a few tips from this mom of five on how I keep summer vacation from eating up all my cash.
Start looking early for high quality, affordable camps. Many schools offer summer enrichment programs that include plenty of fun and games at a fair price, however these can fill up early. Your city or county’s parks and recreation system might also offer day camps, some even offer a sliding scale for fees.
Know that most camps require you to pay a non-refundable registration fee to reserve your child’s place in the program. These can be quite steep – I am paying $135 per child and it doesn’t apply towards the tuition! Some programs also require that the entire summer’s tuition is paid before camp begins. Be sure to clarify these costs with the camp before you sign up and ask about other little costs such as meals and snacks, field trip fees, special equipment and so on.
Kids that are at home all day can eat an astonishing amount of food. My rail thin 8 year old has been known to down 2 burgers and ask for a third! Here are a few tips I’ve found that help keep food costs manageable.
- Do set reasonable limits. For burger boy, we declined to give him a third (well, truth be told there were no more burgers, but even if there had been, I think two is more than enough) but gave him the option of eating some carrots or apples. Micromanaging your child’s eating will backfire, but you don’t have to let them eat chips and donuts all day, either.
- Fresh fruit and vegetables in season can be a very healthy and affordable snack, however children can be wasteful. Look for easy ways to avoid waste, for example, instead of giving whole apples that nobody will want after they have browning bite marks, slice them up and give each child a few.
- High protein snacks keep children satisfied longer. My children love anything carb-filled, however I’ve found it turns them into bottomless eating machines. A bit of protein keeps them satisfied for longer and reduces the whining for treats like cookies and chips. Cheese cubes, peanut butter and leftover roast chicken cubes are all big hits in this house. Some children also like hummus, tofu, hard boiled eggs and other stick-to-your-ribs protein filled snacks.
- We drink water and a reasonable amount of milk only. Period. Sugary drinks, even 100% fruit juice are expensive, usually not healthy and unnecessary and thus reserved as special occasion treats only.
- Popcorn is one of your best bets when the neighborhood herd swarms on your house. Instead of expensive microwave bags, try making a huge batch on the stove. The kids will love it!
- Make it a point to plan ahead and pack a lunch for days out. It’s so easy to be tempted by fast food when you’ve been in the hot sun and have a car full of whiny kids. Use a cooler to keep food safe and drinks cold and give yourself a pat on the back for being so proactive.
It’s easy to wax nostalgic about the old days when kids played outside all day and didn’t need adult help to stay busy, but the reality is that many of our kids are living in much different neighborhood situations than we did and aren’t as free to roam. Even in suburban areas with light traffic and lots of space to play, many of the other kids are in daycare all summer and it’s not a simple matter to find somebody to play ball or dolls with. Stay at home parents can also become bored – again, it’s not like the old days when Lucy had Ethel to keep her company all day.
Start making a list now of summer activities that would be fun to do with your children. This is a perfect time to work your social networking skills and ask everyone in your circle and beyond what cool things they’ve found for kids to do. Many larger cities will have entire sites that not only list local attractions but have free forums where parents can connect and share tips.
It’s amazing how many free activities you’ll start hearing about if you make an effort to get plugged in. For example, I became a fan of a local art museum on Facebook and get the head’s up on free family days with arts and crafts and demonstrations for the kids. I strike up conversation with other moms and dads at the park or school pick up and find out about a cool, hidden away playground in another neighborhood or a special offer to get discounts at the pool.
Make note of all the things you have researched and heard about and let your child help you plan a day out every week or so during the summer. Let them be in charge of some of the preparation like putting filled water bottles in the fridge the night before so you’ll have cold drinks to take with you or packing the backpack with sunscreen and bug spray so you won’t have to buy any while you’re out. This will teach them how to plan ahead and how to be frugal!
How do you keep summer vacation from busting the budget? What low or no cost activities do you do to fill the days?