[MOTHER OF INVENTION] The Real Cost of Summer

Rita Mauceri

Recently, I started wondering what the true cost of summer was for parents. In Los Angeles, even the cheaper day camps price out at around $400 and up per child (often for only a few hours per day), while high-end classics like Tom Sawyer move you into the area of $3,000 or more per week.

Ironically, more and more of today’s parents—myself included—yearn to give their children summers that aren’t over-scheduled—summers similar to those we enjoyed as kids. We ran around barefoot all day shooting hoops, hopscotching, hiking, skateboarding, swimming (if you were lucky enough to have a friend with a pool or access to a local swimming hole). The cost? Pretty much whatever ice cream and other summery snacks we scarfed down, plus maybe a new pair of flip-flops and a few outings to see summer flicks with friends. Chump change.

As much as we may wish that kind of simple summer for our kids, today’s reality is very different.

Last summer, as I signed my kids up for an array of day camps, I realized that our summers were becoming increasingly booked and increasingly expensive. Even if I signed my kids up for only four weeks of day camp, we were looking at nearly $5,000 all-in. My children attend public school, so summertime was becoming our “big ticket” time of year.

But in reality, what we shell out pales in comparison to the most expensive camps nationwide. Several years ago, Stylecaster.com profiled some of the priciest in America with programs starting at $10,000 and up.

More recently, Town & Country listed 19 institutions that they referred to as “the Ivy League” of summer camps.

“With amenities like rescue-diver training, gluten-free kitchens and 3D-printing classes,” they wrote, “these summer getaways have ambitious millennials in mind.”

Somehow, the fact that the high-cost camps were mostly in Maine, New York, and Pennsylvania made me feel slightly better. Maybe it’s an East Coast thing, I thought…while deep down knowing it’s more of a 2017 thing. Times have clearly changed.

Even those kids who have a stay-at-home parent and don’t have to go to summer camp, want to go. It’s become an expected part of their school vacation. For parents, that means budgeting for summer has become a process in and of itself, before you even get to things like family trips.

Here are a few tips and resources that may help you get through the season without dipping into your kid’s college savings:

Look into local scholarships at places like Griffith Park Boys Camp.

Check a local rec center like Silver Lake or YMCA Hollywood for affordable day camps and classes.

Los Angeles public libraries offer a wealth of summer programs for free, for every age from toddlers to teens. Check your nearest branch for details.

Last but not least, do what feels right for you and your kids, regardless of what everyone else is doing. For my gang, a half-scheduled and half-spontaneous summer seems to work best. The kids want time to “just hang” and I need to get work done, so we’ve found that a little bit of camp mixed with a little bit of old-fashioned, “being bored” time is the ideal formula for a fun summer.

Cue Alice Cooper… “School’s. Out. For. Summer…”

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