Recession watch: $10,000 for summer camp? Not this year

This post is part of a series about real-life signs we're in a recession.

When I was a kid, summers were spent playing in the backyard with my brothers and sister and about two dozen children who lived in my neighborhood, a small farming town in New Jersey. If you look around the suburban neighborhood where I live now on a summer day, it's devoid of children. Kids as young as three gear up every morning and head to day camp. If you have a couple of kids enrolled for four to six weeks, as many are, summer camp can set you back more than $10,000.

The thing that kills me is that my kids don't really like going to camp. Last summer they each spent two weeks at an ESF Camp (which has locations in Delaware, CT, PA and NJ) and one week at a nature day camp at our local Audubon Center. Three weeks of camp cost just under $3,000.

It seems like a waste of money, given that I usually ship them off to camp because there are no kids around to play with! I'm not the only one with summer camp sticker shock. This year, I plan to cut back on camp expenses by skipping camp altogether or finding less expensive ones. For example, I'm looking into a town-run baseball camp that one of my son's buddies is attending for $400 for two weeks and my daughter may sign up for a similarly priced art and music camp.

That begs the question: how will I entertain my kids the rest of the summer and still manage to get some work done (I'm a freelance writer and editor)? Let's not forgot that I'd like to still be sane come September.

Given the state of the economy, I'm guessing there are some other like-minded parents loathe to fork over thousands for camp this summer. We have a pool, and I'm pretty certain that if we invite kids over for swim play dates, we'll get takers. We don't have big vacation plans but we own a time share, so I put in a request for a large three bedroom unit in Vermont. If my husband can't go, I'll invite some girlfriends and their kids. That will cost $164 for the exchange fee, plus food and other expenses similar to those incurred at home since there's a kitchen where I can cook. Otherwise, I'll line up day trips to places like the beach (free) and the Bronx Zoo where we already have an annual membership. And I'll still have some money left over to pay a babysitter once or twice a week so I can get some work done.

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