Paying for child care over the summer is no joke for American families. Childcare can easily consume 10% or more of a families income. Summer camps - especially specialized camps - can cost a fortune. If you don't want to shell out half your kids' college education fund for summertime child care, use these options to save:
1. Opt for a younger sitter. Many families get by with a college-aged baby sitter most of the summer. If you're comfortable with it, you could instead hire an older high school student. You may not get the benefit of a sitter who can drive kids to activities. However, less experienced sitters command a lower rate, saving you money.
For instance, the Care.com salary calculator says that a two-kid family in Indianapolis, Indiana, should pay a sitter with less than one year of experience around $460 per week for full-time care. That same family could expect to pay $500 per week to a sitter with two to five years of experience.
Caveats: This is a great money-saving option, but only if you are very confident in your inexperienced sitter. Teenagers need to be exceptionally mature to handle even one or two kids for a full day's worth of activities. But if you know a local teenager well, this can be a great way to cut down on your child care costs.
2. Share a sitter. If you have only one to three kids, you could consider sharing a baby sitter with a neighbor or friend. The sitter will earn more money for watching more children, but you'll pay relatively less.
For instance, Care.com says that a somewhat experienced sitter in Indianapolis watching four or more kids could expect to earn $580 per week. If the sitter is watching your two kids along with your neighbor's two kids, you could each put $290, saving almost $200 per week.
Caveats: This works best if the kids in question are close in age and generally get along well. You'll also need to consider where the sitter will watch the kids, whether at your home, your neighbor's or a mix of the two.
3. Consider swapping services. Is your work schedule somewhat flexible? If so, consider swapping baby-sitting services with another local parent who also has a flexible schedule. If, for instance, you can both squeeze work into four days a week during the summer, you can take turns watching one another's kids on your days off. It's an exhausting arrangement, but it could save you a fortune by knocking paid child care needs down to three days a week.
Another option is to swap care with a neighbor who works a different shift from you. For instance, if your neighbor works 7 a.m. to 3 p.m., and you work 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., you can act as "before care" and your neighbor can act as "after care." Share a sitter during the hours your work schedules overlap, and you'll dramatically reduce the overall hours for which you need a sitter.
One final swap to consider: local stay-at-home parents. Oftentimes, stay-at-home parents would love to have a kid-free day to run errands. Offer to watch a neighbor parent's children for weekend hours if he or she will take your kids just one day a week.
Caveats: This is one of the more exhausting options. Basically, you'll extend your work schedule by watching your kids and other people's children during some of the hours you're not actually at work. However, it has the potential to yield big summer savings.
4. Check out nonprofits. Nonprofit camps and daycares often offer more affordable summer care arrangements. Check around in your area to determine what's available. Increasingly, public and private schools are offering affordable summer care options, as are public parks and recreation departments.
Small nonprofit programs can offer family-like environments where kids can build strong relationships. Larger nonprofits can even offer relatively affordable enrichment camps - art camps, sports camps, and the like.
Caveats: Smaller programs and nonprofits may not offer as many enrichment options for your kids. These programs may also fill up quickly.
5. Pick just one enrichment camp. What if you really want to use the summer as an opportunity for your kids to explore new interests or develop budding skills? It's tempting to sign kids up for a variety of enrichment camps because there are so many great options available today. But these are the most expensive child care options.
Still, you can allow kids to explore interests without spending a fortune by having them choose just one enrichment camp. It can be a tough choice, but a great enrichment camp can be an experience to remember, rather than just another way to fill time in the summer.
Caveat: Kids may resist picking just one of these exciting options, especially if their friends are in enrichment camps all summer.
6. Reap the tax benefits. You've got a few tax options that could work to your benefit when you pay for summertime care. If both parents work and/or go to school full time, you can write off at least part of your child care expenses. According to the IRS, you may be able to count the cost of daytime child care toward your dependent care credit. You also may be able to use an employer-provided Flexible Spending Account to help pay for summertime child care.
Caveats: Be sure to consult with your accountant about how to write off part or all of you child care expenses this summer.