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How to Make “Debt Free Summer” a Family Goal

The summer months should be a time to relax and enjoy beautiful weather. For Canadian parents with tight budgets, though, summer can be stressful. How do you  keep your kids happy, engaged, and well-cared for while you’re working — without adding to your debt?

Juggling summer expenses can be challenging to say the least. Many options for all-day child care cost more in the summer, and camps can be financially out of reach. This has led to a segment of financially-strapped families “who can’t afford summer”; stuck between work and a budget that just can’t afford all-day care.

It’s not just child care, either. A 2015 BMO survey found that the average Canadian family spends $2,735 per month on social outings, entertaining, groceries and gas during the summer — double the spending from non-summer months.

It’s likely that the average family’s summer spending has decreased over the last few years, but reality is, summer can still be expensive for families.

For many parents, taking on additional debt over the summer will just add to their financial stress. Especially since summer is capped off by back-to-school shopping — another expensive period for families with school-aged children.

A 2017 study showed that parents expect to spend twice as much on back-to-school supplies and fashion as they will on holiday gifts!

Here are a few ideas for decreasing the financial stress without sacrificing family fun this summer.

Start the warmer months with a spending action plan that includes one important family goal: to be debt-free all summer long. With a  solid plan, you have a better chance of keeping your spending on track.

Begin with balancing needs and wants. There’s no doubt that summer expenses can stretch your household budget. With kids at home, you’ll likely be paying more for groceries (no school lunches), gas (to get them around), and of course summer activities and outings. Add these needs to your budget and balance them with your wants, such as a family vacation, camps, and other summer extras.

Start with your expected income over the next three months. Subtract your costs of living and budget with what’s left over. Ideally, this should include some money left for payments that can help with existing debt.

Now it’s time to make a few decisions about your summer spending.

Don’t compare your summer with others. Social media isn’t just a playground for young people anymore. Increasingly, parents in their 30s and 40s are on Facebook and Instagram, and that makes it tempting to start comparing with other parents in your friend circle.

Try not to get caught up in these comparisons. Stay confident that you’re doing the right thing for your family by achieving a debt-free summer.

Help your kids manage their own expectations by involving them in summer budget conversations. Summer is a great time to have an honest conversation with your kids about the envy they may be feeling when they see what friends are doing with their summer vacation.

Common Cents Mom blogger Hollie Pollard suggests using summer as a financial literacy opportunity.

A lemonade stand, real-life shopping trips, and rewards can serve two purposes: your kids will learn a few valuable money lessons and they’ll be active participants in the family’s debt-free summer goals.

Replace vacation with an activity close to home. Sometimes the toughest cutback to summer plans is the family vacation. After a long winter, having some time off to travel is an important part of summer for many Canadian families.

In the BMO survey mentioned above, 45 per cent of Canadian families say they want their kids to have the best summer possible, but 36 per cent haven’t set a summer budget.

This is where early planning really helps. Your summer budget should include reasonable and realistic expectations for your summer travel.

If an expensive getaway is too steep for your budget, look for an affordable vacation spot closer to home. Organize a family camping trip instead of a staying at a pricier family resort. Get the kids involved and decide on a vacation you can all enjoy, without blowing your budget.

Sticking to your goal of a debt-free summer can really ease the stress you’re feeling about summer expenses. And it may even may inspire future plans for a debt-free back-to-school and a debt-free holiday season!

Looking for loads of ideas for inexpensive fun this summer?  Try a few of these outdoor activities from the parenting website Yummy Mummy Club.

Have other tips for making it a debt-free summer? Join the conversation on social media using the hashtags #DebtSolutions and #Parenting.

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