Summer camp conundrum

It’s been two weeks already. Two weeks since my children got out of school for the summer. I am going mad. For one thing, they eat all day long like a swarm of locusts.

But my situation is my own fault. I thought my children, 10 and 13, might like to just hang around the house and relax. Plus, I’m frugal and didn’t want to pay for any more camp, since later this summer we plan to send them to swim, band, and theater camp that cost much more than I like.

What happened to the times when summer was filled with riding around the neighborhood on bikes, hanging at a friend’s house or going to the park – for free?

My grandmother never paid one penny for any camp for me or my brothers and sisters– ever!

But now with the school year ending, many parents are struggling with finding a camp for their kids. For some parents it’s a matter of availability. For others it’s a matter of affordability. 

M.P. Dunleavey, editorial director for Dailyworth.com, wrote a blog post recently that reminded me of my current situation. She’s 10 days away from her son’s summer camp beginning.

“When I discovered the camp gap a couple of weeks ago (I’m not slow—this is my first summer with a school-age child), I shrugged it off,” Dunleavey wrote. “I figured there would be a program or a playgroup that would offer some coverage during those working days. Um, no.”

Dunleavey said she was stunned by the outpouring of responses she received from readers about summer child-care hassles. she was surprised to get so many comments about her frustration.

That’s the summer camp conundrum.

As Dunleavey writes: “It’s emblematic of an issue that dogs us all: insufficient, overpriced, erratic child care choices for working families.”

Oh, and don’t get me started on teens. You get to a point where they are too old to attend the regular summer camps and too young to work or too young to drive to a job. My 16-year-old got a great job working at a summer camp. The problem is the state law for teen drivers doesn’t allow her to drive alone just yet. The camp ends at 3 p.m. and there are no bus lines that come close to our home. Either she’s got to catch a ride with another worker or I become her shuttle. That’s going to be very complicated with my work schedule.

Of course, the cost of camp is also an issue. Each year more than 11 million children and adults attend camp, according to the American Camp Association. The average weekly fee for resident camps ranges from $325 to $780 per week. The average day camp fee is $100 to $275 per week.

The association says nearly 4 percent of all students attend school year-round. I like the year-round school idea more and more.

Here’s this week’s Color of Money question: How have you cut down on the cost of summer camp? Send your tips to colorofmoney@washpost.com. Put in the subject line “Summer Camp Conundrum.” Be sure to include your full name, city and state.

Let’s Chat Tomorrow

I know. You were ready to chat with me today. But both my video and text chats have been moved to tomorrow. My nephew is graduating from high school and he’s the valedictorian, and I want to be there to celebrate his success.

So join me on Friday, June 17th at 11:45 a.m. for my video chat and at noon ET for my live text discussion. No guest. It will be just you and me.

Comments on Wedding Cost Chaos

Post advice columnist Carolyn Hax recently gave a reader advice on how to tactfully tell her son’s future mother-in-law that she isn’t able to contribute to his pricey wedding. She was asked to pay for the rehearsal dinner, limo ride and one hour of an open bar at the 200-person reception.

I wanted to know how you would handle this situation. Here’s what some of you had to say:

“She should not go into debt to see him get married, or possibly go without food or other basics out of misplaced pride,” wrote Irene Vartanoff of Hedgesville, W.Va. “But, in place of the money, she should think of something she can do for the couple to show her love for them and her happiness that they are marrying and have invited her to their celebration.”

“First and foremost, the groom should be painfully aware of his mother's financial condition,” says Larry Legare of Cayuta, N.Y. “Too many young people are growing up with the attitude that mom will pay for anything [they] want. . .”

Lorna M. Gilkey of Alexandria, Va. says she has two sons and may have to deal with this someday.

“People should not be wasting this much money on a wedding,” Gilkey said. “The important thing is the marriage. I would tell the bride's mom to turn that rehearsal dinner into a potluck where everyone brings a dish. Spread the [lack of] wealth around!”

“Been there, done that,” writes Jackie Bland of Reston, Va. “As the groom’s parents, late in the game when the bride went over her budget and her folks declined to cover her every whim, our son came begging for us to pay for $3,500 for flowers for this 100 person wedding.  We offered to help her find alternative floral arrangements that were more reasonably priced, but declined to foot the bill for her extravagances.  And that was the end of that conversation!  The wedding was beautiful and we paid for the things the groom’s parents traditionally do, and nothing more.”

Responses to New Mortgage Limits Proposed

As Post writer Dina ElBoghdady reported recently, Federal housing officials are introducing a new rule that loans not backed by the government will limit a borrower’s total debt to 36 percent of their gross monthly income.

It will also require homebuyers to have a 20 percent down payment and limit the mortgage payment to no more than 28 percent of the prospective borrower’s gross income. 

I wanted to know what your thoughts were on the proposed rules.

“The new mortgage limits are a terrible idea,” said Elise Irminger of Knoxville, TN. “My husband and I are sitting pretty in our home in which we have more than 20 percent equity.  In 2007, my husband put a 10 percent down payment on it.  We now are in the second year of our 15-year mortgage so we can save on interest. If that law had been passed years ago, I would not have my home.”

Alison Kent of Davis, Calif. is a renter and strongly in favor of the proposed bill.

“If people can't afford to put 20 percent down on a house, they probably can't afford one. For decades home ownership was part of the middle-class American dream, but since speculators and banks have used this dream as a way of artificially inflating house prices, I think we've gone from dream to nightmare. I fear this has disproportionately affected lower income and minority house buyers, but the fault for that lies with lenders.”

“One’s mortgage payment as a percentage of income is only part of the picture,” says Nick St. Amant of Glyndon, Md. “Years ago when we bought the house we still live in, we paid $70,000 with a $14,000 down payment. I was excited because I erroneously figured if the bank was willing to lend us $56,000, they must think I could repay it. What the bank never asked was my household situation. I was the sole support of my family. I can’t tell you how I struggled with that mortgage payment, and 38 years later I still owe more on my house than I paid for it. Over the years I had to borrow very creatively and finally am seeing light at the end of the tunnel.  Oh, I regret nothing.  It’s just that if the bank was to be equitable, they need to weigh in on more than income alone.”

“If I had been forced to supply a 20 percent down payment plus have sterling credit and little to no debt load to become a homeowner, I never would have been able to accrue enough cash to purchase my first home in 1997 and my second home,” wrote Anna Liisa Van Mantgem of Brunswick, Md. “Even though I am solidly in the middle class, if these new mortgage limits are implemented, my 19-year-old stepson might never own a home at all. These proposed new rules punish both impoverished and working class individuals as well as young individuals. I dread the thought of a future American society in which only the rich can own a home. On a final note, I should note that with my small down payment, my somewhat blemished credit record and my fairly high debt load as compared to the proposed standards, I have paid all of my mortgage payments on time and in full faithfully for nine years in a row.”

 

Tia Lewis contributed to this e-letter.

 You are welcome to e-mail comments and questions to singletarym@washpost.com . Please include your name and hometown; your comments may be used in a future column or newsletter unless otherwise requested. 

 

Michelle Singletary writes the nationally syndicated personal finance column, “The Color of Money.”
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