We are deep into the short, chilly, snowy days of winter in many parts of the United States. But it’s not too early to start considering how your children will spend their summer – and how you’ll pay for it.
Camps, vacations and sports activities can add up, costing thousands of dollars in some cases. With a bit of planning and research, though, you should be able to plan a fun, safe, enriching summer for your kids without having to break into piggy banks, college funds or retirement accounts.
Here are a few ideas for saving on your children’s summer activities.
Recreation center programs. Depending on where you live, your town or city may offer free or low-cost activities, including day camps, at local parks and rec centers. The city of Philadelphia, for example, offers neighborhood day camps at playgrounds and specialized programs, such as performing arts, rowing and sports camps, at parks and rec centers.
Local nature centers may offer their own day camps as well.
Library programs. Check out your local public library to see what summer reading programs and classes they offer. Some library systems host book clubs, science activities, language classes and more for children and teenagers.
Non-profit camps. While summer camp rates can be steep, you may be able to send your kids into nature to enjoy swimming, campfires and canoeing for less by finding a non-profit organization offering lower-priced day or overnight camps.
The Girl Scouts and the YMCA, for example, may be worth exploring. Note that some camps offer early-bird registration savings that can trim the price a little more.
Scholarships. Check into camps or other activities that might interest your youngster and see if any financial aid is available. Some camps offer camperships to help enable more kids to participate. Don’t assume you earn too much to qualify for some assistance; if the camp’s tuition would be a stretch, you may be able to receive a financial award.
You also may find financial assistance elsewhere. The Summer Camp Scholarship Program in Palm Beach County, Florida, for example, offers full tuition and fees to participating camps for children in families with income at 150% of federal poverty guidelines or lower.
Shared Responsibility. See if you can get together with other parents and share summertime childcare expenses or duties, either by jointly hiring a nanny or babysitter or rotating the responsibility among yourselves.
Perhaps you can pay responsible, experienced neighborhood teens to run an unofficial camp for a few kids.
Budget Vacation. Being on a limited budget doesn’t mean your family has to forgo fun times together. State parks may offer the opportunity to hike, camp, roast marshmallows and play in nature for a few days without going into debt.
A day trip to the beach or a lake, or a staycation where you break out of your routine and try new places and activities near home – finding a bike trail, planning game nights, visiting museums and other tourist attractions, enjoying a regular family swim at a neighborhood pool – can provide good times.
Willing Relatives. Are the kids old enough to stay with Grandma or their favorite aunt or cousins for a few days?
Whether it’s a weekend, a week or a month, a long visit with beloved relatives can offer a fun, memorable experience with a world of new friends and adventures.
Tax savings. If your child is younger than 13, you may be able to claim the Child and Dependent Care Credit for money you spend on day camp, daycare and other providers watching your youngster while you work, possibly saving you hundreds or thousands of dollars.
If your employer offers a dependent care flexible savings account, you can save on your tax bill by contributing up to $5,000 in pre-tax dollars to use for day camps or other child care, thus lowering your taxable income.
You can sign up during your employer’s open enrollment period, but check with HR and your tax professional on the rules surrounding the FSA; these accounts generally require you to forfeit funds you haven’t used by year-end, but your employer may allow a brief grace period or, under legislation adopted during the pandemic, allow you to roll over funds you didn’t spend in 2021 to use in 2022.
You may not “double-dip” and claim a Child Care and Dependent Tax Credit for money spent from a Dependent Care FSA, so consider asking your accountant or HR how best to take advantage of these programs.
You may find your own creative, low-cost, fun summer activities for your children. For them, it’s not the amount of money you spend that matters but the happy experiences they have and the good memories they keep.
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