If you didn’t realize how much kids cost before schools shut down, you probably have a better idea of it now.
Between the Chromebooks, at-home school supplies and extra snacks (how much can that child eat?!?), you may have watched your credit card balance grow even faster than your kid.
You aren’t alone — 56% of parents have gone into debt due to the coronavirus pandemic, according to a LendingTree survey.
And now that camps have canceled or greatly reduced capacity, you’re not sure how you and your family are going to survive the summer without relying on the plastic.
Don’t despair. We talked to Mary Bell Carlson, a CFP and AFC known as the Chief Financial Mom, for financial strategies to help you survive summer while keeping your financial head above water.
4 Ways to Avoid Overspending if There’s No Summer Camp
Whether your summer camp was canceled, reduced its capacity or you simply don’t feel comfortable sending your kids there right now, the problem is the same: What can you do to keep from spending your way through this summer?
There’s no use whining about it (said every parent ever) — here are four strategies to help you avoid racking up debt.
1. Be Realistic About Your Plan
Don’t try to be the supermom or dad who solves all your family’s problems. You need a plan, and should include everyone if it’s going to work.
“Present it as a problem for the whole family to solve so that kids have input, the parents have input,” Carlson said. “Let’s try to solve this problem together instead of a parent just trying to figure out some fun games for their kids to play on for eight hours a day.”
It’s not too early to start planning for the next school year. Determine if any of last year’s supplies are reusable, organize a virtual uniform swap at your school and start budgeting for the rest.
Your kids’ votes don’t have to be the deciding factor (even if they outnumber you), but if they are given a voice and a little insight into the family’s financial picture, it can help them make more realistic requests for how to spend the summer.
“If you don’t have a system, you need to find one,” said Carlson, who emphasized that it’s essential to honestly assess your monthly spending. “We all think we spent $200 to feed our family of five — but there’s no way.”
2. Don’t Try to Buy Your Way Out of Summer Doldrums
If your kids are stuck at home, it may be tempting to buy the newest must-have item to make up for everything they’re missing.
“We can go to Amazon and spend the same money we were going to spend on summer camp, but is that really going to entertain your kids for the whole eight or 10 hours a day they were going to spend at summer camp?” Carlson said. “I have yet to find something that entertains my 3- and 5-year-old for more than 30 minutes.”
Got friends or relatives your kids can’t see in person? Plan a craft or print out free activities they can work on together over a video chat. We have seven free services to help you connect.
Instead, Carlson suggested assessing resources you may be able to tap besides money, including time and energy.
So rather than trying to fill your kids’ days with things, can you adjust your work schedule so you can take breaks for a family walk or to play a board game?
And instead of buying another toy, what about trying a new (free) experience — discover a new park to explore or find activities you can try out in the backyard.
3. Double Up: Saving Money as Entertainment
If your kids don’t get why you can’t just buy them a new Xbox One to help them survive summer, perhaps your “camp” could be a financial literacy one.
OK, teaching your kids how to balance a checkbook might not pique your third-grader’s interest. But just like that spinach you baked into the chocolate chip cookies last week, you can slip financial lessons into money-saving activities.
Rather than struggling on your own trying to figure out how to stretch your dollars given the leap in grocery prices, for instance, turn it into a weekly challenge for your kids.
Let them help you find a recipe that incorporates ingredients you already have in the house. When they complain about what’s (not) in the fridge and pantry, use the moment to teach them about using more parts of your produce, substituting one ingredient for another or participating in a pantry challenge.
If they’re a little older — and tech savvy — up the ante by asking them to record themselves as they cook, explaining the ingredients and preparation techniques. Now you have a cooking show to watch later.
Even if your kids are simply using leftover vegetables to make a salad, it’s time spent engaging their brain without draining your account.
4. Stop Checking Social Media
Consider this a final but essential piece of advice: FOMO is real, but so is FOBABP (fear of being a bad parent).
So if you’re constantly checking in with the “perfect” family’s latest post on their yoga/calculus tutoring/craft project from the mountain retreat they rented for the summer, you’re bound to feel like you’re not doing enough as a parent.
Pool your resources with other neighborhood families to swap your kids for “mini camps.” Even if it’s just one day a week, it can break the boredom and offer you a few free hours.
If you don’t see what you’re “missing,” then you’re less tempted to go chasing after it with money you don’t need to be spending. And if your kids aren’t constantly entertained, constantly mentally stimulated, constantly improving humanity? Yeah, that happens.
Maybe you could cut yourself some slack and celebrate your family’s decision not to overspend your way through this summer.
Tiffany Wendeln Connors is a staff writer/editor at The Penny Hoarder. Read her bio and other work here, then catch her on Twitter @TiffanyWendeln.