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Planning for Summer Child Care

— Summer will be here before you know it. Our little ones are counting down the days until school lets out . When that happens, families will have to fill anywhere from eight to ten hours a day of child care. Summer isn't only a difficult time to plan and arrange child care, it's also the most expensive part of the year.

The average family can spend up $7,000 per child during the summer months. That's half of their annual child care budget! I asked our members if they planned on cutting back for the summer. In this economy, it wasn't surprising to see that 75 percent planned to find money-saving alternatives this year.

In the past, Ron (my husband) and I always put our boys into summer camps. But, this year, with the economic downturn, we've chatted about some other creative ways to cut costs while still making sure our 9-year-old son, Adam, enjoys his summer. For example, Adam would love to go to a baseball camp, but that quickly gets pricey. Our local town camp is a great alternative since it's more economical and many of his school friends would be there, too. Of course, with the local camp, we'd have to figure out after-camp babysitting... planning just never ends, does it?

If you're thinking about your child care plans for the summer, I've put together some ideas to keep the season fun for your little ones, while staying friendly to your family's budget.

Enlist Backup Babysitters

We ran another poll within the last few weeks asking members what kind of child care they'll need for the summer. The biggest response? A babysitter.

Before you hire a sitter, make sure you check the market rate. With college students looking for work, babysitting rates may be lower than other times of year. This handy salary calculator can keep you up-to-date on the local babysitting rates.

In the summertime, schedules can get crazy between work and the kids' activities, so prepare a backup list of caregivers. Sitters get sick (or take vacation), so you'll need extra help.

If you can, try using friends or relatives. Maybe they won't be your primary babysitters, but just using them as alternates can save money. You'll just have to help them out in return.

Share Sitters

Share the cost and split a summer sitter with a neighbor or two! This works great, especially if you're like my family and only have one child who needs a sitter. With the economy the way it is, most regular babysitters are used to these cost-saving arrangements, but you still want to be sure not to overload them with too many children. Try not to have them watch more than three kids under age 6, four kids under age 12, or more than five of any age.

Co-operation is key!

Care exchanges or swaps are great for setting up playdates and saving some money. They help parents connect with other families looking to share sitter services (for kids and pets). They're also an easy way to meet a family like yours and trade off babysitting shifts. However you set up an exchange, remember this--one day a week of free child care equals a 20 percent savings over the whole summer.

Summer Camp Savings

Many families are concerned about summer camp's cost. There are low-cost alternatives, though. Day camps can be great money-saving alternatives to overnight camps. And church or community camps often attract a wide range of local children, are usually pretty affordable and have a ton of activities for kids of all ages.

School's Out, Education Isn't

It's summer break for teachers too, you know. Many of them spend their summers as a tutor to pay the bills. Instead of camp, why not hire one for a day each week to teach hobbies and skills? Make it fun for your kids so they don't think it's a chore--pick a subject they're already interested in and create playdates by inviting friends. They'll enjoy themselves and their brains won't go to mush (which makes moms like me happy).

I hope these tips have been helpful! Let me know what you're planning to do this summer. If you have any questions, I'd be happy to help find answers that'll fit your family.

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