Tips for caring for grandkids during the summer

Looking forward to an extended visit with your grandchildren? Some good advance planning will help ensure happy memories for all of you.

The opportunity to watch your grandchildren when they're out of school for the summer can sure sound like a win-win: Not only do you get to spend uninterrupted quality time with the kids, but you can also give your adult children a much-needed break, and maybe help them save money in the process. However, it's vital to talk through logistical and financial details with your children ahead of time, to make sure Camp Grandma (and Grandpa) is a positive experience for all.

Here are some details to think through.

Start with a realistic timeframe
How long will the visit be—a week? Eight weeks? One of the biggest benefits of an arrangement like this is how much money it can save your adult children over traditional camp or daycare, but if you're still working, remember that your time isn't necessarily free. If you're a teacher, for instance, you have more flexibility in summer, but will taking on the grandkids mean forgoing your usual part-time job or summer-school teaching? Consider whether any lost income can be made up later or if you can do without—or if you need to settle for a shorter visit. Similarly, in many professions taking unpaid leave to extend your time off is an option, but that can impact your monthly budget as well as your long-term retirement goals. "A lot of people will say, 'I prefer to help my kids with their kids and make the sacrifice instead of putting myself first,'" says Shelly Eweka, TIAA Senior Director, Financial Planning Strategy. "But if you sacrifice your own retirement, ultimately, that could impact your kids."

Camp Grandma can mean real money savings for your adult children. $630 to $2,000+ is the average weekly sleepaway summer camp tuition. -American Camp Association 2018 Business Operations Report

Also remember, it's your vacation too. If you have your own travel plans or activities on deck, you'll need to weigh how those will fit in—whether you can afford to do it all, or if you mind missing out this year. "For many grandparents, there's nothing better than spending time with and spoiling the grandkids," notes Daniel Ruppel, TIAA Financial Planning Strategist. But it's important to consider everything before you commit.

Take advantage of "grandparent perks" when planning
Once you have an agreed upon timeframe, you can dive into activities planning. First, decide where Camp Grandma will actually take place. Maybe you have a community pool or rec center with tons of kid-friendly amenities nearby. But if not—and your children's community does have those things—it might make sense for you to travel to them. Either way, this is a great time to dig into local resources. Look for free, age-appropriate options such as story time at the library or outdoor concerts or movies organized by the parks/recreation department. That same department (or your local YMCA) might also offer sports clinics or crafting classes, just to name a few. Anywhere you go (even restaurants), be sure to inquire about senior citizen rates, and guest policies.

Don't overlook annual memberships. Local museums, zoos or amusement/waterparks almost all offer memberships that work out to be cheaper (especially once you calculate the senior discount) than day passes for everyone, and they often come with extras like free parking. The real benefit of these is that you can go back again and again, which removes the pressure to spend long hours in a single day—remember, you might not have the boundless energy you did for such things when your own kids were little.

If the kids are old enough, it can be fun and educational to involve them in activities planning. Give them a budget and help them help you put together outings that stay within it. Talk to them about how it all works: Splurge one day, choose something free the next, for instance.

But also, don't overplan
Not only can childcare be physically and mentally exhausting when you're out of practice, it can also get surprisingly expensive, even with all your best creative planning. So don't be afraid to build in some down time. Kids don't need every minute of the day scheduled.

Discuss money matters
If your children have offered to compensate you, your instinct may be to decline; however, this is an option you should weigh carefully—before you've picked up the tab for all of those activities, meals on the go and impromptu toy purchases. "Have these conversations up front rather than halfway through the summer," says Rob Stevens, TIAA Financial Planning Strategist. "It's more difficult if you have to go back and say, 'Listen, this has really been financially stressful.'"

"You really need to make sure you have reviewed your financial plan," Eweka says. "With any kind of expense that goes out of your normal cash flow allowance, you need to see how it will impact your financial goals." If it really feels too awkward for your kids to cut you a check, there are more creative ways they could pitch in—purchasing the zoo passes in advance, perhaps, or paying online for some local gym classes.

Be prepared for emergencies
Aside from having a first-aid kit, doctors' phone numbers and insurance information handy, "Having a medical release or authority can be pretty critical," Ruppel says. Anything from a broken bone to an allergic reaction can mean time is of the essence for medical care, but doctors likely won't be able to treat without parental/guardian consent. The kids' parents can consult with their family doctor about the appropriate paperwork or find it online; remind them that they should have a notary present when they sign, as many states require it.

Put it all in writing
After hashing out a detailed summer plan with your children, write it down to ensure you're all on the same page. "I don't think you need to formalize an agreement," Eweka says, "But it would be good to send an email or a text that says, 'these are the things I feel like we agreed upon,' so everyone is clear on what the expectations are." Not everyone walks away from a conversation remembering every detail, so a written record can go a long way to help prevent disagreements and misunderstandings down the line.

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