According to a survey by TODAY Parents, 44% of parents think that summer is more stressful than the rest of the year. There is another study by Seeker that shows that during the summer months stress increases because of pressure to keep children occupied, extended family time, managing busy social calendars, packed weekends, and work piling up after an extended vacation. I believe that summer vacation can be even more stressful for single moms because of the added stress of finding affordable and reliable childcare. There’s also increased financial stress from the pressure to figure out educational, enjoyable, and safe options for children.
According to the American Psychological Association, almost three-quarters of Americans are experiencing financial stress at least some of the time, and nearly a quarter of us are experiencing extreme financial stress. Financial stress can lead to anxiety, depression, heart disease, and other illnesses. It can also lead to low-birth-weight babies in pregnant women. The study by Seeker shows that during the summer, parents sleep less, eat less healthy, and have more trouble with time management. If this stress is left unchecked, it can be detrimental to the health of the mom and increase the stress in the household, which can impact the children. It’s truly a public health issue.
Although you can’t force your child(ren)’s school district to switch to a year-round program or shorten the summer vacation, there are things that you can do to help to reduce your financial stress during the summer months. This post will share how you can save money during the summer and also find time to practice self-care so that you stay sane and avoid overspending.
Re-examine your budget to ensure that your summer budget includes the increase in costs due to summer activities. As you prepare your summer budget, take the time to create a schedule. Grab a calendar and fill it in week by week with your child(ren)’s summer activities so you are clear on what they are doing and how much things will cost. As you calculate the costs and create the schedule, allow room for flexibility just in case plans change or you decide to do something different. Two added benefits are: you will avoid surprises and you will be able to plan your vacation time effectively. Once you add the activities in your budget, you will get clarity on where you stand financially and if you need to make any adjustments so you can afford your summer plans and avoid financially overextending yourself.
Get your children involved
The top three sources of stress for parents according to the TODAY Parents survey was:
- Children having too much screen time (television, electronics, etc.)
- Having to always entertain their children
- The children saying the annoying statement, “I’m bored”
You can help to avoid (not stop) some of the above version of nails on the chalkboard by getting your children involved in the summer planning. Talk to your children to understand what is most important to them during the summer and what they want to do. For example, what if you think that they want to go to camp, but they would rather do a different age-appropriate activity that costs less money? By understanding what they want to do, combined with your parental insight and knowledge of your budget, you can come up with a plan together to see what you can afford and what is really important to them.
Avoid the debt
I’m going to be totally transparent here. This one sounds easier than it may be in practice, because if you are faced with the need to go to work, a child that you have to arrange care for, and do not have a large support system then you may have to pay for care. Depending on your income and current expense levels, this could put a huge strain on your budget. My inner finance nerd wants to tell you, “If you can’t afford it, then don’t spend it.” However, my reality as a single mom tells me that sometimes you are faced with financial challenges that lead to spending money that you don’t necessarily have in order to take care of your obligations because going without may not be a viable option. To help mitigate this, there are things that you can do in advance such as building up a savings cushion or saving up throughout the school year for your summer expenses. However, what if you didn’t do that and now that it’s May you are looking ahead to the next month when summer vacation starts? What now? There are a couple of things that you can do:
- Start saving what you can now. If you are wondering what to do, then check out this post (click HERE) to learn how to save and to quickly cut your expenses to free up cash.
- Evaluate ways to increase your income to cover the cost of childcare and activities. Also, if your children are old enough to earn money, then look at ways that they can contribute to the cost of the care by starting a business.
- Look into taking out a personal loan from a credit union. Although I don’t like the idea of taking out debt, sometimes it is unavoidable if you are in a bind. I like this option because these loans typically have lower rates than a credit card, they may have more flexible repayment options, and they are way less expensive than other predatory lending organizations like payday lenders. This should not be your first option. Your first option is to evaluate all of your options, decide on the best course of action, and look for ways to earn more money or cut your expenses to afford the care without the debt.
Fill the calendar with as much free stuff as possible
Taking advantage of free and low-cost activities for the summer will drastically help you to save money during the summer. Although some of these ideas aren’t all day and still may leave the challenge of childcare unsolved, these activities are still a great starting point for parents looking for low-cost summer activities and, in some cases, summer enrichment as well.
- Check out the programming at your local community center because there will be a mix of free and low-cost programming.
- Look into free days for your local zoo, museums, and other attractions.
- Check out your local park and recreation centers for free or deeply discounted activities and camps. When you inquire, also see if they have scholarships for families in need.
- Summer reading club
- Go to a matinee at the movies
- Check out a restaurant where kids eat free. Here is a post from the Passionate Penny Pincher that lists 87 restaurants where kids eat free.
- Free summer movie nights, concerts, and festivals
- Outdoor movie night. The summertime is a great time to explore the outdoors and some cities even have movie night underneath of the stars. This is a fun and oftentimes free way to have some recreation.
- Look online to or in your local newspaper for local festivals. Many of them will be free to attend and may even have activities for children.
- Play dates with other families. Look for ways to alternate who hosts the play date to minimize the time for any one family.
Look for educational, fun, and cost-effective childcare options
Although I just provided some options for free and low-cost activities, I recognize that for many of you, your biggest summer challenge is childcare because during the school year you don’t have to worry about who is watching your children. In that case, I want to provide you with a few options. One of the biggest advantages is to start as early as possible to plan out these activities because some of the options fill up early.
- Summer Camp. Depending on what you choose this can get expensive. However, there are also lower cost options for camp. For example, look into summer camp offered through your school district, the YMCA, Boy Scouts/Girl Scouts, a local college/university, businesses, or the park district. Also, there are other summer enrichment camps, sports/dance, gymnastics, art, etc. If you decide to send your children to camp, check to see if meals or field trips are included in the pricing or if that is an additional fee. If it is included, then ask if children can bring their own food for less. If you want to send your children to camp, but can’t afford it, then think about how many weeks per month that you can afford to send them. Maybe you can just send for 1 week out of each month or just for one month. Also, ask about discounts or financial assistance to see if that can lower the cost of camp.
- Time with grandparents or other relatives
- Find a sitter. There are a few ways to find a sitter. I love word of mouth references, but you can also check out Care.com. Regardless of how you find your sitter, be sure that you interview them and thoroughly vet the person and make sure they will interact will with your child
- Depending on the age of your child, some early care and education centers have summer programming options
- Check out your church to see if they offer summer childcare
- Library programming: Check out your local library. Some libraries offer free summer camps for children. These camps fill up quickly so register as soon as the schedule is released.
- Vacation Bible School. This is a great way for your children to experience Biblical education and do fun activities. Many of these camps are not expensive so they provide a great alternative to traditional camp.
As you start to think about what you want to enroll your child in for the summer, talk to trusted friends, family, and fellow church members to see what they are doing to get ideas about full-time options so your child will have a safe and great summer. Also, as you prepare for the summer, use your vacation time during the year strategically so you can have time to spend with your child. Also, ask your job for a flexible schedule for the summer that may include half days or days that you work from home.
Don’t forget that you matter too
With all of the options and trying to find the best mix of activities for the summer, it can be very easy to forget that you matter too. Therefore, I urge you to remember to add yourself to the calendar. Me-time is essential to help you avoid stress, overwhelm, and exhaustion. When you take time for yourself, I want you to do it and have peace. Remember that refusing to rest is a sign of disobedience because it says you believe you have to do everything. This squeezes out God. God created the standard in Genesis 2:2 because even He rested after He created the heavens and the earth.
“By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.” – Genesis 2:2
Here are a few ways that you can squeeze in time for you. Some of these are really just moments to center yourself and to regroup, so you can focus on your energy and your spirit. It’s amazing what just taking a few moments to honor yourself and God will do to recharge you.
Go for a walk
If possible, go on a walk either before/after work or during your lunch break at work so you can totally recharge and also get some exercise. If a walk without your children isn’t possible, then take them. I remember hearing something that said that just being outside and being in nature will help to shift your energy and mood. Your children may love the experience too.
Deep breathing has so many benefits, which include:
- Reduced anxiety and depression
- Lower/stabilized blood pressure
- Increased energy levels
- Muscle relaxation
- Decreased feelings of stress and overwhelm
I adapted the above benefits from the article, “Breathing for Life: The Mind-Body Healing Benefits of Pranayama” and I highly encourage you to read this article because it provides more details of the medical benefits of deep breathing and also lists different forms of breathing techniques. I love deep breathing and, no exaggeration, just 3 deep breaths can dramatically produce a higher level of calm. Deep breathing is so effective, that even child development experts like Becky Baily, author of Easy to Love, Difficult to Discipline (which is an excellent book) recommend using deep breathing techniques as a way to help calm an angry child down. Even if you don’t have much time, take a few moments throughout the day to breathe deeply and focus on releasing any tension that you may feel.
Meditation doesn’t have to be something formal or time-consuming. When you meditate just take the time to be with God, read His Word, and clear your mind. Focus on the things you want instead of what you don’t want. Also, focus on what is going well instead of what isn’t going well. This will help you to shift your energy and perspective.
Reward yourself monthly
Do something just for you at least once in a month. This activity can be free such as a free day at a museum, reading a book, napping, or doing nothing. Alternatively, it can be low cost such as visiting a spa using a deal that you found on Groupon, going to the nail salon, or attending a movie (don’t forget the matinee). Make a list of the things that you would love to do and the things that you are putting off so you can find something to do that you enjoy without the children.
Find a way to connect with friends so you can still feel human
This one is critical because as moms we can get so busy being a mom and running the household that we forget that we are human. Find ways to stay in touch with your friends and nourish your (godly) relationships outside of your children. This will help you to avoid the single mom isolation that can occur.
Hopefully, these suggestions will help make your summer a bit less stressful and more cost effective. Also, if you haven’t had a chance to check out the interview where I was asked about this topic, then check it out here.
Leave a comment in the Phenomenal Moms Facebook Group to let me know how this helps you!
Aisha Taylor is a single mom of twins, personal financial coach, work from home entrepreneur, and #1 Amazon Best Selling Author of the book “5+5 FNPhenomenal Ways to Save $100 This Week Without Killing Your Lifestyle.” Aisha has been featured in ESSENCE, Jet Magazine, and Black Enterprise. She is also the Founder of FNPhenomenal (Frugal –n- Phenomenal), a movement designed to help single moms create a vision for their lives, craft a financial strategy to support that vision, and show them that phenomenal living is possible. It’s time for you to be Financially Phenomenal!
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