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The Christmas bills are paid, RRSP season is in full swing and the tax filing deadline looms. But for working parents with school-aged kids, February brings an additional annual pain: booking and paying for summer camps.

From September to June, childcare is easier to arrange; between school and after-school programs, parents can usually work it out. Come July, though, there are about nine weeks of school vacation and parents look to summer day and overnight camps to keep their kids occupied and cared for.

The cost for a week of summer day camp varies depending on where you are. In Toronto, where I live, camps usually start at around $250 a week, while specialty camps are higher. For example, coding camps can run $500 a week, as can some dance camps, while hockey camps can top $600 a week. Let’s say the average is about $400 a week.

Overnight camp is a lot more expensive: a week away will cost at least $1,000 but can top $3,000, although again, it really varies.

The quick math shows that a full summer of day camp – around nine weeks at $400 – adds up to about $3,600 per child. Extended care, busing and lunch are extra. And if your child spends two weeks at overnight camp, you’ll need to budget for a bit more.

The summer vacation childcare challenge can start as early as age five, since many childcare centres only accept children up to preschool age. All in, parents face paying for up to 10 years of summer camp. If they send their children to day camp all summer, they can expect a total cost of roughly $36,000.

Of course, many parents take vacation in the summer, at least a couple of weeks. And some people are fortunate to have family around to help out, especially grandparents. If you can cut the number of summer camps from nine weeks to five, that’s a cost savings of about $1,600 per child.

There are other creative ways for parents to lower costs. For example, they could alternate vacation weeks – one parent takes the first week off, the next parent takes the second and so on. If each has three holiday weeks to burn, that would cover off most of the summer. Of course, this means no vacation together as a family and possibly little time off the rest of the year. And for single parents, this obviously isn’t an option.

Finding babysitters is another possibility. High school and postsecondary students might be looking to earn some money during the summer. Although this also comes with a cost, it’s likely to be more affordable than sending two or more kids to camp – and a big bonus is that you don’t have to drop them off and pick them up every day, which can be a big stressor. If you work from home, perhaps a younger teen can help you out on a part-time basis.

Other families in your neighbourhood are probably experiencing the same challenge as you. Look into the possibility of sharing a babysitter or a nanny, especially if you both have just one child who needs care.

For parents who do send their kids to camp in the summer, a little advanced planning can reduce the financial strain. Budget for them throughout the year by setting aside a monthly sum to help offset the fees when they show up on your credit card.

Fortunately, summer camp qualifies as a childcare expense which means a parent can deduct it from their income for tax reasons, resulting in some savings. This can certainly help defray the cost. The maximum that can be claimed is $8,000 for kids aged six and under and $5,000 a year for older children.

Anita Bruinsma is a Toronto-based financial coach and a parent of two teenage boys. You can find her at Clarity Personal Finance.

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