My son Luke is 14-months-old, so our summer child care plan follows our fall, spring and winter's—that is to say, we'll be sticking with our nanny share. Mrs. Tepper and I aren't particularly thrilled to see so much of our income siphoned away for this purpose, but at least we don't have to figure out an entirely new care arrangement from June through August.
Parents of school-aged children aren't so lucky.
With spring barely in the air, this is the time of year that many working moms and dads are hustling for stopgap measures. "Summer care is this mishmash, patchwork quilt," says Care.com's Katie Herrick Bugbee. "It can be incredibly stressful for parents."
And expensive. Babysitters earned a nationwide average of $13.44 an hour last year, according to a recent report from Care.com, up more than 11% in 2013. At that rate, assuming you get coverage for 40 hours a week—because of course you'll leave at 5 p.m. each day—for 14 weeks, you're dropping $7,500 easy. Day camps average $304 per week, according to the American Camp Association, but can hit as high as $1000—and that's not including the sitter you'll need to pick up and mind your kid until you return from work. Sleep-away offerings can set you back even more.
Year-long schooling suddenly seems more reasonable.
In empathy for my more veteran compatriots in parenting, I asked Bugbee to offer some suggestions to help navigating this challenge.
Think of Camp as Dessert
While summer camp is still a few years away for Luke, I did some preliminary research to get a sense of the market. A cooking camp in Manhattan ran $430 for the week, a Brooklyn music camp would set me back $630 a week, while a nature camp on the New York/ New Jersey border cost about $1,000 a week. All three would let him out at 4pm or earlier—the relatively affordable cooking option ended at noon—which meant that we'd have to arrange for after-camp child care, too.
There are a few strategies you can enlist to make camp a bit cheaper, says Bugbee.
If you have the flexibility to leave work early one day a week to participate, you'll save a lot by not hiring someone to collect your child. But also get to know the parents of your kid's camp-mates. "If you can't do a 3 p.m. pickup everyday, you'll need to find carpool arrangements," she says.
Another option recommended by Bugbee is to scour silent auctions offered by your kid's school and other schools in the neighborhood for camp discounts. Bugbee herself has bid on a couple weeks of camp.
Hire the Best Babysitter for Your Buck
If camp is out of your budget, or only doable for a week or two, you'll need to look for a full-time summer nanny. And the time to start your search is nigh.
"This is the time of year when we start to see huge increases in summer care positions," says Bugbee, who estimates that there are 30 times more openings in April than March.
Which means that it's a sitter's market. Based on the national average hourly wage, expect to shell out $110 a day, or $550 a week.
Just because sitters or nannies are in demand, though, doesn't mean you have to accept bottom of the barrel. Look to friends and other families in your communities for referrals, but don't stop there. "Run a background check, go through a lengthy interview process and check references rather than just relying on referrals," says Bugbee. Only 36% of families run a background check, per Care.com.
Especially if you can't afford camp too, you'll want to look for a nanny that will be active with your kids. You could get at this by asking a prospective candidate for five activities to make a day more fun, or what he or she would do with your children on a rainy day. "Empower this person to come up with a plan," says Bugbee.
Also, don't hesitate to add on additional responsibilities—like light children's laundry and cooking a few healthful meals a week—that will help ease your burden and stretch your dollar.
Create Your Own Camp-Lite
You can also hook up your nanny with other caregivers in the neighborhood to create a kind of nanny-camp collective.
Bugbee, for instance, lived in a community with lots of nannies. So she created a Google Drive spreadsheet, and each nanny signed up for a day to host the other kids.
On Monday, the neighborhood kids could gather at one house for a sprinkler party, while Tuesdays would entail a trip to the zoo. "Whoever wanted to show up, this is what they were doing," says Bugbee. "It was special. The kids felt like they always had friends around, there was always something going on, and no one was sitting in the living room watching television."
Plus it didn't involve any extra money.
Of course, your caregiver needs to be on board with such a proactive schedule. Look to college RAs home for the summer, applicants with camp counselor experience and teachers looking for supplemental income.
Get Help from Uncle Sam
You can make up for some of your costs with a few simple tax steps. If your kids are under 13, sign up for a dependent-care flexible spending account at work. You can use pretax dollars to pay up to $5,000 of child-care bills—equivalent to a little more than eight weeks of sitting in our example. You'll save around $1,400 in the 28% bracket.
If your employer doesn't offer an FSA, you claim the child-care tax credit for up to $3,000 in expenses for one kid, $6,000 for two. A married couple filing jointly with adjusted gross income over $43,000 can write-off 20% up to these amounts.
I'm sure that when the time comes in a few years that Mrs. Tepper and I will need to figure out what to do with Luke for the summer, we'll attack the issue with the same vigilance we do with every other facet of his life. With Bugbee's advice in mind, we'll look early for a camp or two, extensively interview prospective part-time nannies and help coordinate playtime with other kids on the blocks.
Just another parenting stress to look forward to.