If you have young kids, coming up with the money to cover the cost of summer camp and other child care while school is out can be daunting. But even at the last minute, there are ways you can save.
A recent Bankrate survey found that nearly 1 in 5 parents spend more than $2,000 per child for care over the summer and estimated that parents spend an average of $998 per child. A 2018 analysis from the Center for American Progress put the average family's costs even higher, at $3,000 for two kids.
And many parents will be dealing with the costs of camp long after the kids are back in school. The Bankrate survey, which polled nearly 4,000 adults with children, found that one-third of parents take on debt to cover summer child care expenses. About 6 in 10 pay for summer costs using a credit card, and only a quarter will be able to pay off that balance immediately.
These four strategies can help you defray summer care costs.
Many camps offer scholarships and financial assistance—or "camperships"—according to the American Camp Association (ACA). Ask about aid as you look for a last-minute spot. Already signed up? It's still worth asking, especially if your financial situation has changed since you enrolled. A 2018 survey by the ACA, which accredits camps, found that 93% of programs surveyed offer some form of scholarship assistance.
Parents looking for high quality camps with bargain rates can find plenty of options at the local level. “Lots of towns have camps that are often subsidized by tax dollars, and there’s also the YMCA, churches, and other local organizations,” says Ted Rossman, a credit card analyst at Bankrate.com.
Check out openings at programs offered on a sliding scale, including the Boys & Girls Club of America and YMCAs. Although subsidized rates vary around the country, New York City YMCAs, for instance, offer a three-tier pricing system, so that families with financial need pay 10%-20% below the actual cost.
Such local programs often fill up fast, but it doesn’t hurt to ask about wait-lists and last-minute openings. Camps are trying to fill every last spot, and your child might be able to get in under the wire at a discount.
Ashleigh Lambert, a librarian, writer, and mom of three living in Minneapolis, takes an all-hands-on-deck approach to minimize her family’s summer costs. “My partner and I work different shifts so that we can both care for the kids,” says Lambert. “Aside from my daughter's camp, we have a sitter one evening a week and two mornings a week.” The kids' grandparents also pitch in.
If all else fails and you need to charge camp or other child-care expenses for this summer, consider opening up a zero-interest credit card. Though rates vary, an average credit card charges 17.82% interest, according to Bankrate. If you get a zero-interest deal on a new card, though, for a set amount of time, you pay no interest on purchases and/or balance transfers, where debt is moved from a high-interest card to your new zero-interest card. That can save you a lot of money in the long run.
Currently, these cards offer a max of 20 months of zero-interest for new purchases and 21 months for balance transfers, says Rossman. After that, regular rates kick in. That means you have nearly two years to pay off what you owe without building up high-interest debt. Rossman warns that to get approved for one of these cards you generally need "good to excellent" credit, which tends to mean a FICO score of 670 and above.
Now is also a good time to think ahead. Consider signing up for next summer's camp this September: Some camps give significant early bird discounts and offer structured payment plans so you can pay in installments throughout the year.
Or just set a savings goal for next summer, and start putting aside a little bit each month. “If you attach a specific name to a savings account, you actually end up saving more," Rossman says. "That can be a really powerful motivator for you.”
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