MONEY Kids and Money

How to Save on Your Kid’s First Cell Phone

Children are getting phones at younger ages than ever. But the earlier you give in, the longer you'll be paying wireless bills.

When Dallas mom Jan Valecka’s twins hit that contentious tween age, the rite of passage she dreaded most was a relatively new one: when to get them cell phones.

“They were starting to see all their friends get smartphones and iPads,” says Valecka, a financial planner at her own firm. “They started lobbying hard.”

She caved when they started 5th grade and got them basic cell phones. The boy-and-girl twins are now 13 and in 7th grade. Their upgrade to smartphones costs Valecka about $75 a month each.

Valecka is hardly alone in dealing with the emotional and financial consequences of giving kids smartphones. A quarter of U.S. 8-and 9-year-olds now have them, according to the 2015 Parents, Kids & Money survey by Baltimore money managers T. Rowe Price. And a new study from Pew Research Center discovered that only 12% of American teens age 13 to 17 do not have a cell phones of any type.

To make the correct call, though, do the math to be sure you are ready for far-reaching consequences. After all, it’s not just a one-time purchase that parents are agreeing to, but a stiff monthly charge that could last for many years to come.

If you get your 12-year-old a plan that costs, say, $50 a month, that will set you back $4,200 though age 18. And that’s not even including any ancillary costs like equipment and upgrades, repairs and app purchases. Data overages, especially if your kids are heavy video watchers, could inflict significant extra damage.

Indeed, 23% of households report paying much more for their kids’ phone plans than they originally expected, according to a study by the National Consumers League.

That doesn’t have to be the case if you are thoughtful about how your decisions will affect household finances. Here are some suggestions:

1. Start with baby steps

A basic cell with phone and texting capability can be very reasonable indeed; Sprint, for instance, offers a WeGo starter phone for only $9.99 a month.

There are also prepaid plans available, with varying restrictions on minutes and data, and low-cost handsets. T-Mobile, for instance, offers a $40-a-month prepaid plan with unlimited talk, text and data on its own network, and 1 GB of nationwide LTE data. With hard limits in place, parents are essentially saving themselves from any unwanted bill surprises.

Consider it something of a trial period: If your kids prove responsible with their new gadgets, and aren’t constantly calling or texting their buddies late into the night, then you can talk about graduating to more elaborate phones and plans.

When you are all ready, every major carrier offers a version of a family share plan, like Verizon’s More Everything and AT&T’s Mobile Share Value. Additional lines cost less money than standalone packages, but contracts are often involved.

At that point the training wheels are off—and if you are sharing your family data package with your teenager, be prepared to blow through some usage limits.

2. Have the money talk

“The question that must always be discussed is, ‘Who will pay for what?'” says Mark La Spisa, a planner with Vermillion Financial in South Barrington, Illinois. “It’s critical to talk about it in advance of a child receiving their first phone.”

For an 8- or 9-year-old, it is unfair to expect anything beyond a token contribution. But teens who have their own income from part-time or summer work can start chipping in to cover part of the bill.

Also consider who the phone is really benefiting. If it is mainly for the parents’ peace of mind, that’s one thing. But if it is only for their enjoyment, and parents are not deriving any benefit at all, then “then they should be footing the bill,” says personal finance expert Gail Vaz-Oxlade, author of Money Rules.

3. Resist the lure of the constant upgrade

For her own kids, Vaz-Oxlade pays the bills, because she wants to get in touch with them. But she draws the line at hopping on the “hamster wheel” of getting them the latest-and-greatest gadgets on the market. That’s just throwing away money, in her opinion.

As a result she, her son and her daughter are all still using trusty iPhone 4s they got a few years ago.

MONEY Kids and Money

4 Important Lessons to Teach on Take Your Kids to Work Day

Girl on phone in medical lab office
Stanislas Merlin—Getty Images

On the fourth Thursday of April, working parents all across America take their children to work with them so they can see what Mom or Dad do for a living.

April 23, 2015 marks the 22nd year of ‘Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work’ Day.

Some companies have organized activities for their young visitors; others have little or no planning. Regardless of how things work at your office, you can use your workplace to teach kids about the value of money.

Of course, your lessons must be age-appropriate. It’s difficult, if not impossible, to teach your toddler about the stock market, and older children will be bored with simplistic discussions. With that in mind, here are a few ideas that can spur your thinking on appropriate lessons for your kids.

Salary – You can give younger children an analogy of worth and value by equating your work time to money and purchases. Give them a frame of reference by how much of your work time it takes to buy an ice cream cone or a bike.

Beware of two unintended consequences — make sure your children do not think that just because you work a certain amount of time they will get an ice cream cone or a bike, and make sure they understand that your salary is private. You do not want them relaying their newfound information to everybody they meet in the hallway or the elevator.

Profit – If you work in a manufacturing environment, you can show your children the products you make and talk about profit in general — how it takes money to make the products and how your company has to charge more to be able to pay employees and stay in business. Make the discussion age-appropriate and do not use actual company numbers unless you’ve cleared it with your manager (and even then, it’s not a good idea to be specific).

You can extend the profit discussion to retail jobs as well. It may be harder to illustrate in an office environment, but it’s not impossible to do so.

Sales – If you’re in a retail environment, you may be able to show your children how transactions take place. When ringing up a customer’s cash purchase, you can go over basic math skills with younger children by letting them “help” you make change and hand it out to the customer. You can engage your older children with discussions about credit cards and debit cards — how they work, what the difference is between the two, and pros and cons of each.

Taxes – If you can keep out your own biases (and we all have them), you can teach your kids about taxes. For example, in the retail environment, you can explain why the customer pays more than the price on the price tag because of taxes, where the tax money goes, and how it’s spent.

Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day isn’t for everybody. If your workplace is hostile to the idea, you don’t think you can pay sufficient attention to your child and still do your job, or you can’t keep them from disrupting the office, then don’t participate. A bad experience at the office is worse than no experience at the office.

However, you should spend extra time with your children later on and talk to them about what you do at work. You can use that time for teachable moments about money. They may not pay close attention or seem to appreciate the effort now, but as they grow up, you’re more likely to see the fruits of your efforts. Take the extra time to teach your kids about money, and they’ll reward you by staying out of trouble (and out of debt) with their good money-management habits.

MONEY Taxes

How Your Kids Can Help Cut Your Tax Bill

father with son at daycare
Sandro Di Carlo Darsa—Getty Images A little bundle of potential tax breaks.

As you rush to finish your tax return this year, don't overlook the ways your children (or grandchildren) can save you money.

As a busy parent, you may feel fortunate just to finish your income tax returns by April 15, let alone find the time to investigate ways to reduce your state and federal income tax bills

But devoting a few extra minutes of your precious time to these potential tax breaks could save hundreds or thousands of dollars on what you owe to Uncle Sam for 2014, as well as in the years to come.

1. Think Broadly About Who Depends on You

Each dependent you declare on your 2014 tax return can reduce your taxable income by $3,950. In the 25% federal tax bracket, that’s a tax savings of almost $1,000. And the IRS allows a broader scope of this definition than what you might imagine.

The dependent must be a U.S. citizen or resident and can’t be declared as a dependent by anyone but you. He also can’t file a joint tax return with someone else (i.e. the dependent’s spouse).

Children have to be related to you via birth, adoption, “step-” status, or under certain types of foster care. Children of all of these people (i.e. your grandchildren) may qualify as your dependents as well, if the other standards are met.

Qualifying dependents usually have to live with you for at least half of the year, and be under age 19 (age 24 if they are full-time students). Although they can earn money, you have to provide at least half of their support.

2. Make Sure Your Child Has a Social Security Number

With the child tax credit, you can reduce your tax bill by as much as $1,000 for every child under your care who was under age 17 at the end of 2014—if you meet a few conditions.

You must be able to claim the child as a dependent, and she can’t have provided more than half of her support. She also must have lived with you for at least half of the year.

Last but not least, she must have a federal taxpayer identity number (usually the child’s Social Security number), so this is a good motivator for parents of a newborn baby to get going on that process as soon as possible.

Your ability to claim this credit may also be limited by your income. For married couples filing jointly, the credit starts to be phased out when modified gross income (MAGI) hits $110,000 ($75,000 for single filers).

Also, you have to file form 1040, 1040A, or 1040NR to receive the credit—using the 1040EZ form won’t cut it. For more information download Publication 972 and Schedule 8812 at IRS.gov.

3. Don’t Overlook Any Helpers

The child and dependent care credit delivers another big tax cut to parents who work outside of the home and pay someone to care for children who were age 12 and under at the end of the tax year. Money paid to caregivers who are your spouse, the child’s parent, a dependent of yours, or your child is not eligible.

The limit on qualifying expenses is $3,000 for one child, and $6,000 total for multiple children. The tax credit ranges from 20% to 35% of the qualifying amount, depending on your income.

The expense can’t exceed the lesser of your (or your spouse’s) earned income. If you withhold any pre-tax funds from your paycheck to a dependent day care flexible spending account, you must use any tax-free distributions from that account against the $3,000/$6,000 limits of the tax credit.

Best of all, as long as your situation meets the aforementioned criteria, you can include last summer’s day camp expenses in the total, even if the camp focused on a particular athletic or skill development. Unfortunately, overnight camp costs, summer school, and tutoring expenses don’t qualify.

For more information download Publication 503 (Child and Dependent Care Expenses) at IRS.gov.

Kevin McKinley is a financial planner and owner of McKinley Money LLC, a registered investment advisor in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. He’s also the author of Make Your Kid a Millionaire.

MONEY Taxes

What Happened When I Did My Taxes With My 10-Year-Old

What I learned about my kid—and what she learned about money—when we filled out the Form 1040 together.

This past weekend, I asked my 10-year-old daughter Lucy to help me do our family’s taxes. She read off from my W-2 and our 1099 forms as I filled in the boxes on the tax prep website we use. This meant, of course, that she got to see exactly how much her parents earn.

I expected that this was going to feel like the Big Reveal of a closely guarded secret. As I probably should have known, the numbers at first meant nothing to her. Annual incomes are an abstraction to a kid who has never written a rent check.

The real talk came a couple of days later, when Lucy and I had a chance to look over the actual 1040 I sent to the IRS, and I could show her how it all fit together. I’m glad we did that.

Before I get that to that conversation, though, a word about why I decided to do this. I was inspired in part by New York Times columnist Ron Lieber’s case for telling your children what you make. As Lieber points out, kids have a knack for figuring this out anyway. And showing them how you handle money—even when (believe me) you are far from perfect at it—can be a first step toward showing them how to be competent with it themselves.

I was also motivated by a more cranky-old-man impulse: I’ve been surprised by the number of young adults I meet who don’t know how to do their own taxes. To me, knowing how to fill out a 1040 is a just a basic life skill everyone should have by 18. I know this is more sentimental then reality-based. After all, I also put driving a stick shift in this category. And for years I’ve been farming out the hard work of my own taxes to the H&R Block website. (Thanks, AMT.)

Still, I remember that I was in the eighth grade, our teacher Sister Loretta had students fill out 1040s using mock W-2s as a math exercise. She was cracking the door on the adult world a little bit wider. Kids are always eager for those peeks, and when they get one, they seem especially open to learning. And talking.

For me and Lucy, the tax talk turned into one of the most impressively grown-up discussions we’ve ever had. She saw what we make, and I tried to put that in the context of what other Americans earn. She also saw what we pay, and so then we turned to where that money goes and what it’s used for. I tied the conversation in to a news story I read that day, about legislation in Kansas that would bar families on public assistance from spending that money on a long list things, including casinos, but also movie tickets and trips to the swimming pool. We talked about why some families need financial help, and why people have such strong opinions about that.

Lucy doesn’t need me sharing her nascent political views with the world, so I’ll just say that she surprised me (the way kids do) with her insights about what’s fair and about the choices people should have. Her ideas seemed too thought-out for her to just be parroting back what she guessed I’d like to hear. So I learned something about my daughter. And my wife and I also had a chance to articulate some of the values we are trying to pass on to our kids.

Lucy also asked a simple but very good question about our own money: “So this is how much you made, but how much do you have?” The distinction between making money and actually having any is an important one, and these days in our family we are frankly doing better on the former than the latter. Turning from our income tax forms to our savings, I was able to at least hint at some of the tricky choices her mom and I are trying to juggle.

Lucy didn’t get a “wow” moment of understanding from this, but I think I laid the groundwork for future discussions of things we have to be realistic about. Like how we’ll pay for Lucy to go to college, and where she’ll be able to go. And why (to hit on a question that’s really on her mind) she still has to share a room with her little brother.

I was able to have this conversation from a standpoint of some comfort. For a lot of parents, opening up about money means talking about losing a job, or how they’re dealing with a foreclosure, or how they’re going to buy the groceries this week. Those are much tougher things to talk about. But starting from where we are, and knowing we’ll have some ups and downs in the future, I think I’m glad that for my daughter this part of real life is already a little less mysterious.

MONEY Kids and Money

YouTube Kids App Accused of Sneaky Advertising

Consumer groups want the FTC to investigate Google over what they consider deceptive advertising toward kids.

MONEY Financial Education

Kids and Money: The Search for What Really Works

piggy banks with chalkboard saying "savings 101"
Getty Images

A new study aims to understand the effectiveness of the money lessons kids learn in school.

Those who oppose integrating financial education into our nation’s classrooms have long argued money lessons don’t actually change behavior. Slowly, evidence to the contrary is emerging. But much more proof is needed before personal finance will be taken as seriously as math, science, or history.

That line of thinking underlies a new $30 million commitment from professional services firm PwC, which in 2012 launched its Earn Your Future program, designed to help educators gain the tools and knowledge they need in order to teach kids about money. PwC pledged $100 million worth of service hours from its employees and $60 million in cash over five years.

This new commitment is all cash, and a good chunk of it takes aim at a research void: finding what teaching methods and strategies result in lasting behavior change among students who study personal finance. PwC has teamed with two major universities to analyze financial education programs in grade schools and colleges with the goal of understanding how students learn and apply money lessons.

“Financial capability techniques are still evolving,” says Shannon Schuyler, corporate responsibility leader at PwC. “We need to make sure that as we are implementing them into classrooms, we are measuring their effectiveness and adjusting our strategy and approach based on the findings from sound research.”

Critics say this may all be a waste of resources. They argue that marketing messages overwhelm the common sense you might learn as a young student, and that the financial landscape changes so fast that anything you learn about, say, bank fees and cell phone packages quickly becomes obsolete.

Such issues have been studied for years. We have a global library of some 1,400 papers on the subject. But only recently has this research begun to hone in on what really works. In a groundbreaking study in February, researchers at the University of Wisconsin Center for Financial Security tied personal finance lessons in school to higher credit scores among young adults. Other recent research sponsored by H&R Block found remarkable attitude changes in students following a nine-week personal finance course, including that 92% said learning about money management was very important and 80% wanted to learn more.

The new PwC commitment will also fund research into how iPads and other mobile technologies can speed learning of financial concepts—even as the firm sets aside more funds for good old-fashioned learning from print. A colorful six-page magazine through Time for Kids, Your $, spotlights financial literacy for kids. The print version is being distributed in New York schools and will roll out in Chicago this month. It is also available online.

Policymakers in the U.S. and around the world are embracing financial education as a way to help prevent or minimize the effects of another financial crisis. In the U.S., the Obama administration has made its priorities clear—it wants clean data that can be analyzed and used to find proof of financial education strategies that work. We seem to be moving that direction.

MONEY Kids and Money

How to Raise Kids Who Aren’t Obsessed With ‘Stuff’

Chris Gash

As parents we want to give our children everything—but hope they don't start to expect it.

Years ago, after I’d gone off to college, a job opportunity led my parents out of the affluent suburbs of Philadelphia and into an economically diverse town in Massachusetts. They were happy for the move because it offered a more affordable life with the bonus of separating my younger brother, Todd, then 7, from the “spoiled rich kids.”

In Philly my parents had rented a two-bedroom apartment while my brother’s classmates lived in million-dollar homes. And it had become increasingly difficult to explain to Todd why he couldn’t have the newest videogame or why we didn’t go to Europe over spring break. “It was a bad environment for all of us,” my mom recalls. The move was a blessing as my parents aimed to unspoil my brother.

No matter where you live, raising kids who appreciate the value of a dollar isn’t easy—and it’s only gotten tougher since my parents were doing it. “We’re in a world that conspires against waiting,” says Ron Lieber, author of The Opposite of Spoiled: Raising Kids Who Are Grounded, Generous, and Smart About Money. “So much is available so easily and for so much less money. It’s easy to be in a situation where kids can get what they want without having to sweat it out.”

But what if your child is already obsessed with “stuff”? Can you reverse the trend before you end up with an entitled adult? Experts say yes (phew). Start with these steps.

Share Your Narrative

Explain to your kids why they can’t have certain things by laying out your values and priorities. Maybe you want to uphold attitudes you learned from your hardworking immigrant parents. Perhaps you’re saving for a bigger home. Sharing your stories and showing you’re maintaining the values yourself “can help take some of the sting out,” says Lieber. “Kids like knowing they’re part of a continuum.”

Set Limits…to an Extent

Rather than rejecting your child’s wants outright, allow him to make choices—and learn about trade-offs. With a teen, for example, you could set a clothing budget and let her decide how to spend it. You could help a littler one create a list that ranks desired toys in order of importance.

Make Them Earn It

Requiring kids to earn some wants through chores or a job can help curb entitlement, experts say. Case in point: When Susan Beacham, founder of financial education firm Money Savvy Generation, sent her two daughters to college, she and her husband paid for tuition but refused to cover extras like sorority dues—for those costs, the girls had to get jobs. Beacham found that this motivated her daughters to dispute certain charges they didn’t think were fair. “We gave them a sense of personal responsibility,” says Beacham. “That value would not have surfaced if they hadn’t been spending their own money.”

Farnoosh Torabi is a contributing editor at Money Magazine and the author of When She Makes More: 10 Rules for Breadwinning Women. Her new podcast So Money features intimate interviews with leading entrepreneurs, authors and influencers. Visit SoMoneyPodcast.com.

MONEY Kids and Money

The Best Way to Bank Your Kid’s Savings

150403_FF_KidBankAcct
YinYang—Getty Images

After the piggy bank fills up, here's how to launch your child on the path of saving and investing.

When I told my 7-year-old that her wallet was getting full and it was time to open a bank account, her eyes widened. She wanted to know if she would be allowed to carry her own ATM card.

Um, no.

When transitioning from a piggy bank to handling a debit card linked to an active account, financial experts say it is best to start with a trip to a bank, but which one and when? Here are some steps to get started:

1. Bank of Mom and Dad

Don’t be in a rush to move away from the bookshelf bank, says financial literacy expert Susan Beacham. There are lessons to be learned from physical contact with money.

Sticking with a piggy can be especially effective if you teach your kids to divide their money into categories. Beacham’s Money Savvy Pig has four slots: save, spend, donate, invest.

When you cannot stuff one more dime into the slots, it is time to crack it open and seek your next teachable moment.

2. Neighborhood Convenience

Many adults bank online, but kids still benefit from visiting a branch, says Elizabeth Odders-White, an associate dean at the Wisconsin School of Business in Madison.

Do not worry about the interest, Beacham says. “A young child who gets a penny more than they put in thinks it’s magical. You’re not trying to grow their money as much as grow their habits.”

Your second consideration should be fees. Your best bet may be where you bank, where fees would be determined by your overall balance and you could link accounts.

Another option is a community bank, particularly a credit union, which are among the last bastions of free checking accounts.

“The difference between credit unions and banks is that credit unions are not-for-profit and owned by depositors,” says Mike Schenk, a vice president of the Credit Union National Association.

At either type of institution, you could open a joint account, which would be best for older kids because it allows them to have access to funds through an ATM or online, says Nessa Feddis, a senior vice president at the American Bankers Association.

Or you could open a custodial account, for which you would typically need to supply a birth certificate and the child’s Social Security number. Taxes on interest earned would be the child’s responsibility, but likely would not add up to much on a small account. A minor account must be transferred by age 18 to the child’s full control.

3. Big Money

If your child earns taxable income, the money should go into a Roth individual retirement account, experts say. There is usually no minimum age and many brokerage firms have low or no minimums to start an account. You can pick a mix of low-cost ETFs, and let it ride.

Putting away $1,000 at age 15 would turn into nearly $30,000 by age 65, at a moderate growth rate, according to Bankrate.com’s retirement calculator.

Not all kids can bear to part with their earnings, but there are workarounds. One tactic: a parent or grandparent supplies all or part of the funds that go into the Roth, akin to a corporate matching program.

The other is to work with your child to understand long-term and short-term cash needs. That is what certified financial planner Marguerita Cheng of Blue Ocean Global Wealth in Potomac, Maryland, did with her daughter, who is now in her first year of college.

While mom and dad pay for basic things like tuition, the teen decided to pool several thousand dollars from her summer lifeguard earnings, money from her on-campus job and gifts from her grandparents to fund several educational trips.

“She would make money investing, but it’s only appropriate if you have a longer time horizon,” says Cheng. “It’s not even about the money, it’s the pride she gets from paying for it herself.”

MONEY First-Time Dad

Here’s How to Save on Summer Camp and Child Care

Luke Tepper

Money writer and first-time dad Taylor Tepper learns some strategies to keep more money in your wallet without compromising quality care

My son Luke is 14-months-old, so our summer child care plan follows our fall, spring and winter’s—that is to say, we’ll be sticking with our nanny share. Mrs. Tepper and I aren’t particularly thrilled to see so much of our income siphoned away for this purpose, but at least we don’t have to figure out an entirely new care arrangement from June through August.

Parents of school-aged children aren’t so lucky.

With spring barely in the air, this is the time of year that many working moms and dads are hustling for stopgap measures. “Summer care is this mishmash, patchwork quilt,” says Care.com’s Katie Herrick Bugbee. “It can be incredibly stressful for parents.”

And expensive. Babysitters earned a nationwide average of $13.44 an hour last year, according to a recent report from Care.com, up more than 11% in 2013. At that rate, assuming you get coverage for 40 hours a week—because of course you’ll leave at 5 p.m. each day—for 14 weeks, you’re dropping $7,500 easy. Day camps average $304 per week, according to the American Camp Association, but can hit as high as $1000—and that’s not including the sitter you’ll need to pick up and mind your kid until you return from work. Sleep-away offerings can set you back even more.

Year-long schooling suddenly seems more reasonable.

In empathy for my more veteran compatriots in parenting, I asked Bugbee to offer some suggestions to help navigating this challenge.

Think of Camp as Dessert

While summer camp is still a few years away for Luke, I did some preliminary research to get a sense of the market. A cooking camp in Manhattan ran $430 for the week, a Brooklyn music camp would set me back $630 a week, while a nature camp on the New York/ New Jersey border cost about $1,000 a week. All three would let him out at 4pm or earlier—the relatively affordable cooking option ended at noon—which meant that we’d have to arrange for after-camp child care, too.

There are a few strategies you can enlist to make camp a bit cheaper, says Bugbee.

If you have the flexibility to leave work early one day a week to participate, you’ll save a lot by not hiring someone to collect your child. But also get to know the parents of your kid’s camp-mates. “If you can’t do a 3 p.m. pickup everyday, you’ll need to find carpool arrangements,” she says.

Another option recommended by Bugbee is to scour silent auctions offered by your kid’s school and other schools in the neighborhood for camp discounts. Bugbee herself has bid on a couple weeks of camp.

Hire the Best Babysitter for Your Buck

If camp is out of your budget, or only doable for a week or two, you’ll need to look for a full-time summer nanny. And the time to start your search is nigh.

“This is the time of year when we start to see huge increases in summer care positions,” says Bugbee, who estimates that there are 30 times more openings in April than March.

Which means that it’s a sitter’s market. Based on the national average hourly wage, expect to shell out $110 a day, or $550 a week.

Just because sitters or nannies are in demand, though, doesn’t mean you have to accept bottom of the barrel. Look to friends and other families in your communities for referrals, but don’t stop there. “Run a background check, go through a lengthy interview process and check references rather than just relying on referrals,” says Bugbee. Only 36% of families run a background check, per Care.com.

Especially if you can’t afford camp too, you’ll want to look for a nanny that will be active with your kids. You could get at this by asking a prospective candidate for five activities to make a day more fun, or what he or she would do with your children on a rainy day. “Empower this person to come up with a plan,” says Bugbee.

Also, don’t hesitate to add on additional responsibilities—like light children’s laundry and cooking a few healthful meals a week—that will help ease your burden and stretch your dollar.

Create Your Own Camp-Lite

You can also hook up your nanny with other caregivers in the neighborhood to create a kind of nanny-camp collective.

Bugbee, for instance, lived in a community with lots of nannies. So she created a Google Drive spreadsheet, and each nanny signed up for a day to host the other kids.

On Monday, the neighborhood kids could gather at one house for a sprinkler party, while Tuesdays would entail a trip to the zoo. “Whoever wanted to show up, this is what they were doing,” says Bugbee. “It was special. The kids felt like they always had friends around, there was always something going on, and no one was sitting in the living room watching television.”

Plus it didn’t involve any extra money.

Of course, your caregiver needs to be on board with such a proactive schedule. Look to college RAs home for the summer, applicants with camp counselor experience and teachers looking for supplemental income.

Get Help from Uncle Sam

You can make up for some of your costs with a few simple tax steps. If your kids are under 13, sign up for a dependent-care flexible spending account at work. You can use pretax dollars to pay up to $5,000 of child-care bills—equivalent to a little more than eight weeks of sitting in our example. You’ll save around $1,400 in the 28% bracket.

If your employer doesn’t offer an FSA, you claim the child-care tax credit for up to $3,000 in expenses for one kid, $6,000 for two. A married couple filing jointly with adjusted gross income over $43,000 can write-off 20% up to these amounts.

I’m sure that when the time comes in a few years that Mrs. Tepper and I will need to figure out what to do with Luke for the summer, we’ll attack the issue with the same vigilance we do with every other facet of his life. With Bugbee’s advice in mind, we’ll look early for a camp or two, extensively interview prospective part-time nannies and help coordinate playtime with other kids on the blocks.

Just another parenting stress to look forward to.

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