How to Make Summer Camp Fit Your Family’s Budget

How to Make Summer Camp Fit Your Family’s Budget

Last summer, the New York Times ran a piece about families who can’t afford summer camp or other programs for their kids. It highlights a problem for many working parents: Summertime care for kids is expensive.

This is especially true if your kids are in public school during the year. You suddenly go from paying nothing to have your kids cared for all day to paying a whole lot of money. Many parents may not have much choice but to find summertime childcare.

If this is the boat you’re in, here are a few ways to find a summer camp for your kid and options that may make it more affordable.

1. Check Online for Summer Camp Options

These days most states and major metropolitan areas have parent blogs or magazines devoted to the local area. In my local Indianapolis, for instance, we have Indy’s Child magazine and IndywithKids.com. Both feature a listing of local summer camp options.

Chances are you can find something similar for your area. If you can’t, there are national resources, too. The American Camp Association has a database for finding day and overnight camps in your area. It leans towards ACA accredited camps, though it will list some not accredited. When I ran it for our area, it turned up some but not all the options I know are available. Still, it could be a place to begin your search for a summer camp.

2. Choose a Less Expensive ‘Base Camp’ Option

One thing that makes summer camp expensive is the specialized options. I’ve seen sports camp, Lego camp, technology camp, horse camp and more. If your kid goes to these specialty camps for the summer, you’ll undoubtedly spend more money.

However, many local YMCAs, schools, daycares, churches and city parks programs offer more traditional summer camps. Our daughter’s daycare, for instance, offers a school-aged summer camp program where they hang out at the daycare for much of the day, but also take trips to local parks, libraries, and pools. It’s nothing spectacular, but it’s safe, fun, affordable childcare.

If you can find an option like this, build your summer around it. Then you can splurge on a week or two of more expensive specialty camps for your kid.

Where do you find these less expensive options? Check out the following:

  • YMCA: The Y runs summer camps all over the U.S., and sometimes offers a sliding scale fee to make things more affordable. While they offer more expensive specialty camps, most local Y’s also offer traditional day camp options.
  • Churches and religious centers: Many churches and religious community centers offer summer-long day camp options that are quite affordable.
  • Schools: Local schools with before- and after-care programs may transition those into affordable summer camps with fun activities for kids.
  • Parks and recreation: City and county parks and rec departments also run summer camps, and these tend to be more affordable than other options.
  • Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts: If your child is a scout, look into their summer camp options. These are often overnight options, but they tend to be very affordable.
  • Local businesses: Sometimes local businesses offer summer camp-like programs that are for mentoring older kids who may want to become entrepreneurs. These camps may be based on an application process, so be on the lookout well ahead of time.
  • Local colleges: Often local colleges and universities provide camps as a way to get their own students teaching, leadership and coaching experience.

3. Consider a Nanny Camp

Can’t find any affordable summer camp options in your area? Consider putting together a “nanny camp” with friends or neighbors. This is basically a summer-long nanny sharing program.

You’ll hire a nanny to take care of a reasonable number of kids — say four or five — and the nanny can do some summer-camp activities, like going to local parks and pools. This works best if the kids in the nanny camp are around the same age, and if you can provide the nanny with a safe way to get the kids around town.

4. Ask for Assistance

If you can’t afford even the least expensive camp option on your list, ask for financial assistance. Many summer camps offer scholarships for enrollment fees. Sometimes the information about these options isn’t easy to find, so ask about it. Even if you feel like you make too much money to qualify, it doesn’t hurt to ask.

You should also check for discounts. Some camps offer early registration discounts, and others will give you a reduced rate if you pay for the whole season at once. Tons of summer camps also have sibling discount options, which is why it often makes sense to enroll your kids in the same summer camp.

Making summer camp fit into your family’s budget can be tough, especially if you’re not already used to paying for full-time childcare. But there are plenty of excellent, affordable options out there if you just know where and how to look.

Cards for Camp?

You may be tempted to apply for a credit card to earn rewards for your summer expenses. If you do, be sure to check the terms and conditions so you know what you’re getting into. Also, make sure to check your credit to make sure you’ll qualify. You can view two of your scores on Credit.com.

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11 Ways to Lower Your Cell Phone Bill

11 Ways to Lower Your Cell Phone Bill

Cell phone bills can be expensive, on par with the monthly costs of powering your home or keeping your car gassed up. Of course, your cell phone can help you build your credit, but only if you aren’t strapping yourself with too large a bill every month.

So if you’re sick of shelling out a small ransom to call, text and watch YouTube cat videos on your smartphone, you should know there are ways to cut your bill. Here are 11 options:

1. Choose the Right Plan

If you’re signing up for a new cell phone plan, make sure you’re only paying for the plan you need. Unlimited texting, calling and data plans are nice, but you may use your phone less than you think.

Take a look at your phone usage over the past few months to determine if average usage is way under the allowances you’re paying for. If so, you can save some money by switching to a downgraded plan.

2. Keep Your Phone Longer

Many wireless carriers like Verizon and AT&T dangle the carrot of a new phone upgrade every year or so. Of course, you like new devices, but you might end up shelling out hundreds for a new phone or rolling the cost into your wireless bill, which sounds tempting in the store but will add to your monthly cost.

If your current phone works, hold onto it to save money.

3. Skip the Insurance

Device insurance sounds appealing when you’re about to drop hundreds on a new phone. But in many cases, it isn’t worth the cost.

“At $11 per month from Verizon, you’d still need to cough up an additional $50 to $200 for the deductible, depending on your device. It’s more cost-effective to invest in a sturdy, protective case and screen cover and treat your device with care,” said Kendal Perez, Savings Expert at CouponSherpa.com.

It’s also worth checking with your credit card issuer to see what, if any, kind of extended warranty options they offer on new purchases made with your card, or if you pay your cellular bill with your credit card. Learn more about your options with this handy guide to getting your money back when you break or lose your phone.

4. Use Family Plans

If you need more than one phone line on your plan, you may want to check if your wireless carrier offers family plans. Family plans offer savings for additional phone lines, decreasing the average cost of each line. In some instances you may be able to split the costs with a friend or family member you trust.

5. Don’t Surpass Your Data Limit

Seriously, don’t do it. Wireless carriers often impose steep fees when you surpass your data limit, so if you’re regularly bumping up against your limit, you may want to comparison shop for an unlimited plan. It could end up being cheaper than going over your limit several times.

6. Reduce Data Usage

If that’s not an option, consider reducing your data usage. Use secure Wi-Fi wherever available, especially when you’re engaging in data-heavy activity like downloading podcasts or watching videos. If you can reduce your data, you can potentially switch to a plan that charges less.

“Unlimited data plans are making a comeback…however, it’s better to track your usage and pay for the data you actually use. Compare plans between carriers and read the fine print,” said Perez.

7. Do a Bill Audit

Many providers charge for things you’ll never use or already have, such as emergency roadside assistance or 411. Next time you get your bill, go through every fee and charge to make sure you know what you’re paying for. Some unused services could be removed from your bill.

8. Look for Employee Discounts

Many employers and jobs have discounts available with major wireless carriers. Examples may include active-duty military members or state government employees. Find out if your employer or wireless carrier participate in such plans.

“If your employer has a business plan with a carrier, employees are typically eligible for a discount,” says Perez. “Ask your supervisor or HR department about this benefit and the amount of the discount.”

9. Make It Tax Deductible

If you have a home business and use your phone to conduct business calls and emails, you can deduct some or all of the cost of your wireless plan at tax time. This will indirectly reduce the cost of your cell phone bill.

10. Cost Share with An Employer

You also may conduct business on your personal phone for your employer. This could include phone calls, email and any other work activity. Ask your employer if they participate in phone reimbursement or cost-sharing policies.

11. Negotiate With Your Provider

Like many other service providers, wireless carriers face stiff competition from other wireless giants and smaller providers. As a result, they may be willing to negotiate to keep your business. Call your wireless carrier, tell them your bill is too high and that you’re thinking of switching to another provider. You may want to be ready with offers from other wireless carriers, and you’ll have some negotiation power if you’re a long-time customer and always pay your bill on time.

Also, keep in mind, the better your payment history, the better chance you have of negotiating, so don’t wait until you’re making late payments to begin talking. If you’ve already made some late payments, for your phone or other bills, you can see how they’re affecting your credit scores by reviewing your free credit report summary on Credit.com.

Switch Wireless Carriers

Competing wireless carriers are constantly trying to lure customers away from each other. If you can find a better offer from another carrier that provides the service you need, you have a compelling reason to switch. You can even look for budget alternatives, such as prepaid plans.

“Prepaid, no-contract plans from Boost, Virgin Mobile, Ting and Page Plus are all cheap alternatives to big-carrier plans… compare costs between big carriers and no-contract providers before you buy.”

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Carpet Cleaning Tips for Spring Cleaning

Carpet Cleaning Tips for Spring Cleaning

For homeowners around the world, the onset of springtime can only mean one thing: more work. With warm weather and longer days approaching fast, the desire to cultivate a cleaner living space and discard excess junk begins to spread.

Last spring, I visited an old friend at her house in Maine. Spring was here at last, and this change in season had been reflected in my friend’s immaculate South Portland home. What stuck out most to me were her carpets. Despite living in a semi-remote neighborhood, surrounded by plenty of natural beauty, her carpets were a spotless, shining shade of white. I asked her about her secret, and while she gave me some indispensible advice, her biggest cleaning mantra was alarmingly simple: be consistent.

When she told me ‘be consistent,’ she meant that the coming-on of spring shouldn’t be the only time you clean your carpet during the year. The most cleaning gets done, she said, in the day-to-day. Removing dust on a regular basis – through regular, consistent vacuuming – will prevent it from building up. She also told me to keep a consistent attitude about cleaning – be consistently proactive and consistently excited about cleaning. “If you’re not,” she told me, “procrastination will take over.”

She also advised I be consistently preventative. “Prevention is so important to maintaining a clean carpet,” she said. If your home isn’t equipped for dirt and grime prevention, there’s no better time to equip it than during spring cleaning. She suggests placing a shoe rack and welcome mat in the front of your home, perhaps in the foyer if your home has one, in order to inhibit the spread of dirt through your home. By having your family and all guests take off their shoes before stepping onto the carpet, you will make the inevitable task of cleaning your carpets much easier on yourself. If you have a dog or outdoor cat, we recommend keeping a towel by each of your home’s entrances, so you can use it to wipe down their paws when they come in from outside.

carpet cleaning tips for pet owners

My friend recommended figuring out what works for you during spring cleaning and sticking to that, each and every year. As she said, be consistent. Create a routine that you know works. Personally, I like to wait until the very end of spring cleaning, after I’m done with the rest of my home’s various parts, until I begin working on the carpets.

Here are some more tips for spring carpet cleaning. Make sure to move furniture that’s sitting on your carpets when you clean and vacuum; these spots beneath couches and tables are often ignored.

Rent or buy a steam carpet cleaner, as it is the most effective way of deep cleaning your carpets. When you cause or notice a spill on your carpet, take action right away to prevent the stain from setting. Be consistent in acting immediately when you notice a stain or cause a spill. The longer you wait, the more the stain will set, and the harder it will be to eventually remove. Ultimately, it’s your job to pick a cleaning routine that works for both you and your home. No matter what you decide to include in your spring cleaning regiment, above all else, be consistent.

Carpet Cleaning Tips for Spring Cleaning

11 Awesome Tips for Making Ends Meet

11 Awesome Tips for Making Ends Meet

Do you need money on the side? Well getting your hands on a little bit more can be easy if you are willing to try new things and be a little industrious. Take a look at these great tips on how to do so.

Transcribe

If you type fast and have experience with transcribing audio, you’re probably able to make some cash on the side working for companies which provide transcriptions for hearing impaired people. There are many online job sites such as Elance and Odesk where you can find a variety of transcription job offers. If you want to get repeat work, you’ll need to write quickly and accurately, with proper spelling and grammar.

Do Affiliate Marketing

Affiliate marketing consists basically of promoting a third party’s services or products. You could post YouTube videos with links to products, or incorporate their promotional material in your blog, website or page. If you have a blog or page that has great content and constant traffic, you should check out websites such as Commission Junction for services and products which will allow you to connect.

Sell Music

If you have a small band with some sort of local following, you can expand your audience and make some cash on the side by recording an album and selling it online. You can use social media to get more people interested in your music and your act. This will probably easier and more successful than attempting to score a major label deal, particularly if your music isn’t particularly commercial or is not in one of the most popular genres.

Write An eBook

Are you talented or very knowledgeable in a certain niche? Do you have an inspiring or fascinating life story, or perhaps a story of overcoming adversity? Do you have a secret for doing a certain thing that many people could benefit from? If you answered yes to any of these questions, maybe you should write an eBook, and try your luck selling it at online retailers such as Amazon. You don’t need a publisher or literary agent – all you need is a compelling idea which people will want to read about.

Haven’t yet found an idea that suits your personality or skills? Keep reading for other online money-making tips which will help you make ends meet.

Start An Online Store

If you market or make a unique product, it can be a great idea to sell them online, directly to customers. This is an excellent route for niche products, such as personalized pet accessories. You’ll need a website which looks professional and is set up to receive orders and then invest a bit of cash for the website and merchandise. If the store becomes particularly successful, you’ll be able to rent space to other retailers that have products to sell – that’s how Amazon started out. You can check out 3dcart.com for more info on selling things online.

Online Cash Loans

What better way to get your hands on some money quickly than through internet loans. Once taken with a strong understanding of the terms and paid back within the right period, online cash loans can be a great way to fund purchases when they are needed quickly and as a necessity.

Sell Products At Online Retailers

If you can sell a product but don’t feel ready to start an online business, you can reach out to one of the many websites which does the hard work of placing the items you sell in front of people who are willing to buy them. If you want to sell collectibles such as jewelry or handmade art, check out Zibbet, Etsy or ArtFire. Etsy is the biggest of them, excellent for vintage or handcrafted items, so you’ll definitely get an audience there.

Sell Your Photography

If you’re a skilled photographer with a large portfolio, you could make it work for you by licensing photos to microstock agencies such as Dreamstime and Shutterstock. There are many blogs and websites who are looking for art to accompany articles, so if you have the sort of photos they’re looking for, you could definitely make good money off it.

Flip Domains

The term ‘flipping’ refers to the practice of buying domain names and selling them at a profit. You’ll need a bit of ingenuity, a lot of research and some luck, but you can make a nice sum from time to time. The idea is to check out Google Adwords constantly and be aware of trending keywords, then predict which domain names will soon be in demand. This is not that easy of a task since the simple, clever and/or obvious names are usually taken.

If you come up with a name you might want to purchase, go to a domain name registrar and run it. If it hasn’t been taken yet, all you’ll need to do is pay a purchase fee, and maybe a setup fee, plus the yearly renewal fees. Many companies such as GoDaddy specialize in registering domains. While this can be time-consuming, the payoff can be big – valuable domain names will often sell for over $100,000.

Don’t give up yet – we’ve got a lot more tips which will help you put your skills to pay rent online.

Do Freelance Work

If you’re out of a job in publishing, marketing or web design, and your attempts to find a steady job have failed, it might be a good idea to start a freelancing career. Web sites such as Guru, Textbroker, and Elance allow potential employees to bid for the jobs requested by potential employers.

When we checked, new jobs at Elance ranged to $10 an hour for graphic designers to $1,000-$5,000 for iOS or web developers. Be ready to present your skills and case in a short proposal which states the reasons why you’re the perfect candidate for an assignment. Keep in mind that you’ll need to apply for a variety of jobs before getting one.

Find Quick Odd jobs

When you have some free time and are looking to do certain jobs quickly, you can check out Gigwalk, a free app where companies advertise short assignments they need completed, such as going to a business and writing a Yelp review for it for $20. If you’re good at running errands or assembling furniture, you can sign up at TaskRabbit, where people and business who need some temporary help try to find workers. You’ll need to go through a video interview and a background check, but you can definitely pick up some cash there between jobs.

The Busy Single Mom’s Tips for Caring for Your Child’s Braces

The Busy Single Mom’s Tips for Caring for Your Child’s Braces

Did your child get a new set of braces, like many do? If they have, you’ll know that they can be hard to care for.

In fact, having braces is often an inconvenience, particularly if you are not used to them. The good news is that you can help them care for them effectively if you remember a few simple tips. Before you know it, your little one will be time to take your braces off and reveal your beautiful new smile!

  1. Be Realistic

Having braces is a different experience. Your teeth will feel weird. It may be hard to eat certain foods. You may even feel some discomfort, particularly at night when you have nothing else to distract you. Keep reminding yourself that this will all pass. You will find a new normal, with braces, and it will be hard to remember what it felt like not to have them. However, go into the process understanding that things will be different for a while. This mentality will help you to adjust to the changes in your life with relative ease.

  1. Smile

When you smile, you show off how confident you are. Some people go into the process of getting braces filled with dread. They think that braces will be terrible, and they are worried about how they will look. However, it is important to consider that there are a lot of people in this world with braces. It can’t be THAT bad. Also, remember to smile. When you have a beautiful smile, no one will really pay attention to anything else.

  1. Eat Carefully

Your teeth will likely be sore when your braces are first put on. That means you should choose foods that don’t require a lot of chewing. For example, soup, applesauce and smoothies are a great option. There’s nothing wrong with a little ice cream to help yourself feel better, either. Soon, though, you will be ready for different food. You must still make careful selections, because some foods (like carrots and apples) have a tendency to get stuck in your braces. They can even damage your orthodontia. If a piece of food does get stuck, it is often really hard to get out. Therefore, avoid hard candies, ice, bagels and chips. Stay away from gum and tootsie rolls. If you want to eat a fruit or a vegetable that is hard, cut it into bite size pieces.

It isn’t going to be easy to clean your teeth well. That means that you should avoid certain foods that often cause cavities, at least until you have your care routine down pat. In general, you should stay away from soda, pastries and candy, because they have a lot of sugar in them. If you do have a treat, make sure you brush right away. Some toothbrushes are better for this task than others; look for one that neutralizes sugar. Your dentist is a great resource if you aren’t sure where to look. Also, food like popcorn, which gets stuck easily in braces, should be avoided. Caramels, nuts and corn on the cob are not great choices either. Remember, it is better to be safe than sorry.

  1. Care For Your Teeth

You likely already take good care of your teeth. However, when you have braces, you have to pay even more attention to what you are doing. You must brush and floss regularly; the braces can trap food and harbor plaque, so a good cleaning routine is essential. Your dentist may be able to provide you with chewable tablets that help you see where plaque is currently hiding. Be vigilant so that you don’t have dental problems down the line.

It is not only important to brush and floss, but it is important to brush and floss the right way. That means making sure that you brush for at least two minutes. Take your time to make sure you get under your wires. Also, when you are flossing, you have to maneuver around the wires, which is not always easy. Tackle each tooth to make sure that you are cleaning properly. If he hasn’t already given you one, speak to your dentist about a wire brush that will help you clean around your wires and brackets. That little tool is essential in helping you get rid of plaque. Before you call it quits, use a mouthwash to help rinse. Ideally, you want one that advertises the fact that it gets rid of plaque. If you can’t tell already, plaque commonly causes issues for people with braces. You must be as diligent as possible in order to keep your teeth and gums healthy. 

  1. Be Colorful

Why look the same as everyone else? If you put colored rubber bands on your braces, you can personalize your look so that your smile is uniquely yours. You can choose one color or several different colors. You can change up the rubber bands each time you go to the dentist or stick with the same color over time. Do whatever you want, but make your braces part of your look. They aren’t going away any time soon, after all.

  1. Moisturize

Your lips are affected by your braces as well. It is easy for them to dry out and become chapped, which is why it is so important to apply a lip balm consistently. Start as soon as your braces are put on so that you don’t run into any trouble. In fact, it is best to apply a layer just prior to going in to see the orthodontist to have the braces put on. The process is a little slow, and your lips may become chapped and uncomfortable if you don’t take this step. That’s the last thing you need when you will be dealing with a new set of braces.