Summer Camp In The Neighborhood: How To Get A Collective Of Parents Together To Save A Ton Of Money On Daycare During The Summer

A while back, I made an offhand reference to

a neighborhood summer camp:

All of the children three and over are attending a rotating day camp at the different houses of their parents. Each week, one set of parents uses a week of vacation, hosts the camp at their house, and watches all of the kids while finding fun activities for them. If daycare costs $100 a week per child that you have and you have two children, this can save $2,600 over a thirteen week summer.

If you happen to live in a suburban area with a lot of families with children nearby, this type of arrangement can save all of the families involved a mint.

I asked one of the people involved with this a few questions about it. Here’s how it works.

Fourteen families on the block with children ages three to twelve agreed to have a “summer camp.” Each week, the parents in one of the families would take a week’s vacation to run the summer camp. For those five weekdays, that family would “host” the summer camp – they would watch all of the children, provide meals for them, and come up with numerous activities to fill their days.

Isn’t that a lot of kids for one couple? There were also three older girls on the block, ages fourteen to seventeen, who were hired to help manage all of the kids. For the week, the parent in charge of the camp paid those three girls about $150-200 each (I don’t recall the exact amount) in cash. This turned out to be a lucrative summer for the girls, as they raked in north of $2,000 in cash each.

What about safety? Obviously, with lots of kids, there are going to occasionally be bumps and scrapes. They all signed a legal agreement (drawn up by one of the members who was a lawyer) where all of the families involved basically agreed not to sue and trusted the others to take care of their children. I would imagine that something like this could easily be drawn up, basically entrusting the family watching your child as being a babysitter with very limited liability. This does require some trust of the neighbor, which is why this works in a suburban neighborhood with children all roughly the same age that already play together – the parents already know each other.

What did they do? Basically everything you can imagine. There were lemonade stands, slip and slides across the front yard, giant cardboard castles, countless games of hide and seek and red rover, and so on. They made many batches of cookies and brownies. They made Father’s Day gifts one week where they actually made clocks that incorporated pictures of themselves and their dads on the clock faces (painted and decorated, of course). They planned and hosted a Fourth of July party in the park for all of the parents where the kids set everything up, served hot dogs and beverages, and cleaned up everything. They had tournaments for every game you could imagine throughout the summer with a “point” system so that a “king/queen of the neighborhood” could be crowned (this really got some of the older kids involved). One week, they planned a parade, made “floats” for it out of various materials and wagons, and had a parade on Saturday afternoon right down the main street of the neighborhood. There was a “Christmas in July” where they decorated a Christmas tree and had a big gift exchange (bring two gifts under $5 each, each child gets two gifts at random).

How did they plan? There were apparently several meetings in the weeks leading up to summer vacation to get these ideas in order and make sure there were no allergy issues and nothing that would bother particular parents.

How much did it save? The person I talked to estimated that their week cost them about $700, but they were paying about $300 a week for daycare for their two kids combined, so over the fourteen weeks of summer, they saved about $3,500. That’s a lot of savings, even if it means one exhausting week.

If you live in an area with a lot of children of appropriate age (between three and twelve, let’s say) and you know and trust many of the families, this sort of “summer camp” can save a lot of money for everyone in the neighborhood.

Trent Hamm

Founder of The Simple Dollar

Trent Hamm founded The Simple Dollar in 2006 after developing innovative financial strategies to get out of debt. Since then, he’s written three books (published by Simon & Schuster and Financial Times Press), contributed to Business Insider, US News & World Report, Yahoo Finance, and Lifehacker, and been featured in The New York Times, TIME, Forbes, The Guardian, and elsewhere.