Frugal Options for Families with Kids during Summer Months

In the United States planning summer activities is a necessity for families with kids during the months of June through August. Researching activities for the summer break is indeed taxing and some families start the preparation process in January. Come summer break, the populous can be broadly categorized as:
  1. At least one or both parents are available to be home with the kids during the weekdays, or
  2. Neither parent is around - kids need day care during the time parent(s) are at work.
We were in the latter group for a number of years through 2007. From last year we graduated to the first option on a semi-basis, as one of us works out of home now.

Summer provides the ideal setting to channel energy into developing a close-knit family. It is also the time to bond with your extended family – siblings, grand-parents, etc on both sides. Working parents can opt to use their vacation hours during this period and spend time with the entire family. Siblings usually enjoy getting their kids to develop strong bonds with their cousins under one roof and warmly appreciate the return favor. Grandparents in close-knit families look forward to inviting their grandkids over at least for a short stay. These options are great for the emotional development of kids too, as they realize the iron hand and velvet glove are universal in parenting.

For people with a frugal mind-set, this setup can be a big cost-saver compared to signing up for activities and/or day camps provided the family members are a hop skip and jump away. Certainly, this is not practical for all as airline tickets could prove steep. However, when the side-benefit of nurturing a close-knit extended family is factored in, most will come ahead in spite of the flight tickets. Some consider this approach with close friends as it is usually more convenient, but there are pitfalls:
  • unless you know the “friends” inside-out and who they hang out with, there are risks associated in arranging for kids spending time at the “friends” place, and
  • Chances are low for friends to reprimand another’s kid as needed, although there are exceptions.
Generally the extended care provided in conjunction with the school is very likely to offer summer programs. Compared to outside choices these are usually more palatable to the wallet. Also, many parents opt out of the regular extra-curricular activities the kids are engaged in through the school year, during the summer months. The oft cited reason is that the summer schedule conflicts with set regular commitment. The drawback with this approach is that it hinders improvement - it is important that the kids are in touch with whatever activity they are registered for. Also, most instructors are willing to prorate if given advance notice – although, it might cost slightly more per class than the usual.

A lightly structured day with fillers and outlets amply suffice an elementary kid’s summer break day. Library reading programs, pursuing hobbies or discovering new ones, outdoor activity that packs in exercise, communing with nature all qualify as excellent choices for fillers. Many business giants such as Starbucks, Borders etc., also offer free kids reading programs or similar activities. Summer is also a good time to take advantage of any yearly membership programs such as the zoo, or science/art museums. Such places also offer special summer programs that are either free or discounted for families with an annual membership.

The local community center is a great resource for the whole family, especially if the facilities are great (pool, tennis, ping-pong tables, etc.). Many businesses offer heavily discounted summer deals. Chief among them are local cinema chains and/or video/game rental centers.

Our plan over the years has been to do a combination of the above things as we aim to give the kids and ourselves a great summer experience while minimizing the expenses. The kids generally get to stay two weeks with each of their grandparents abroad. We also ensure they spent quality time with our siblings. Most of our vacation days are used up during this period as we indulge in family trips. A daily agenda is in place for the kids (with their buy-in) to help facilitate the progress of the day. This is indeed a time saver for the parent working from home as the kids are responsible and accountable for honoring their end of the bargain. The family trips and other associated expenses are not exactly pocket change, but by combining our vacation plans, visits to our extended family, and choosing activities that are light on the wallet yet pleasing, we keep it manageable.

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