Given that this is a consumer column, you can rest assured that I spend countless hours coming up with creative and innovative money saving ideas, but for a change, I am going to try something different and share some of my pet peeves, those moments when you can’t believe how much you are paying and how little you are getting in return, when you find yourself shaking your head in disbelief and wondering aloud, “Are they serious?”
First, a few thoughts about camp, with summer still looming large in our rear view mirrors. While on the whole, most of my encounters with day camps and sleep away camps have been overwhelmingly positive, there are a few things that really get my blood boiling.
Day Camp Canteens: If your kid is in day camp, why exactly is there a need for a canteen, other than to tempt your kids to overpay for snacks and drinks? Surely if campers want snacks, they can bring them from home and if the treats fall into the category of “things parents refuse to buy” then rest assured those same parents don’t want their children buying those items, in the canteen, at double the prices charged in regular stores. This is a cash cow that should definitely be abolished.
Sleepaway Camp Canteens: Let me see if I have this straight. I am going to pay a very significant chunk of change to send my kid to camp and then I still need to budget an extra $50 per month, per kid, for snacks and pocket money?? Do we not send our kids off with bags full of junk food? While I have nothing against having a canteen for the occasional treat like ices or ice cream, I have a problem with canteens that sell food items like pastrami sandwiches and pizza. We already pay for meals in camp. Do we want to encourage our campers to look at supper and say, “Nah, I’d rather buy a grilled cheese sandwich at the canteen?”
Luggage Fees: Why is it that parents are expected to pay extra for luggage? Over the past eight years I have had assorted camps charge me an extra $70, round trip, per kid, to transport my kids’ luggage. I am not talking about door to door delivery but rather shlepping those trunks to the pick-up and drop off locations and handing them over to a truck driver. I find it hard to believe that the actual cost for luggage, generally done by a third party vendor, is $70 per kid and am guessing that the vendor is making a nice chunk of change, something which really annoys me given how much I am paying for camp already. Camps should negotiate a fair rate and then incorporate it into their fee.
Trip and Special Event Fees: Attention day camp directors: We are paying enough for camp as it is so you might as well fold the cost of all trips, carnivals and other special events into your camp fee. We would rather pay a little bit more up front than have our kids come home telling us that there are two choices for tomorrow’s itinerary: send in extra money for a trip/special event or stay home.
Other Annoyances: I am not going to launch into a tirade about camps that charge almost the full fee for 16 and 17 year olds or expound at length on camps charging kids to buy CDs with the camp songs and the camp play (can’t we just fold it into the camp fee instead of nickel and diming us to death?) But I cannot remain silent on camps that make certain staff members responsible for paying the salary of other staff members. Seriously? You are going to charge 16 year old waiters, who are already paying almost the full camp fee, $75 to subsidize the kitchen staff’s salary?
Next, on to schools and a few things that really make me nuts.
School Supplies: Teachers, please think twice before requiring kids to bring in random bizarre and often pricey school supplies. How many times have you had teachers ask for an odd size looseleaf or a spiral bound set of colored index card only to have your child bring them home at the end of the year, untouched?
Book Lists: I don’t know how things work where you live, but in my little corner of the woods, all seforim and books are supplied by the parents and it irks me when, every year, one of my daughters brings home a note saying she needs $12 for a Hebrew language workbook, with a different workbook needed for every grade. Don’t get me wrong, I am happy to pay for school supplies. But when the workbooks consistently come home at the end of the year with no more than six pages filled out, I get annoyed. Just photocopy the six pages, hand them out and charge the parents sixty cents each for duplicating costs. Over eight years of elementary school, you are talking about a savings of about $90 per child, money that we could put to good use. It could almost pay for a full season’s worth of canteen in summer camp!
Attention School Administrators: Not all of us shop for school supplies and clothing the week before school starts. Some of us like to hit the sales and book family vacations well ahead of time so we can take advantage of steep discounts. Do us all a favor and send home the dress code requirements and the school calendar well in advance, possibly even before the end of the school year in June. While school supply lists can’t be sent out that far in advance, there is no reason that parents shouldn’t have that information by August 1st. I promise you that a significant percentage of your parent body will be thrilled to have this information as early as possible.
Dress Code Requirements and Other School Rules: I would respectfully ask administrators to think long and hard before setting out school policies, but once you have established the rules, be sure to stick by them and enforce them. If the handbook says that only black, navy and brown shoes are allowed, then don’t look away if a student comes in wearing grey or maroon shoes, because all you are doing is teaching kids that they don’t have to respect authority or abide by the rules. Similarly, be sure to enforce the rules equally, no matter how affluent or respected a particular student’s parents may be. You may think that kids don’t notice when rules aren’t enforced equally, but you would be very, very wrong.
As consumers, we have the right to demand the best value for our dollar and while we all like to share our grievances, the point of this column isn’t just to complain but to get the most for our money. If you took issue with something that transpired in summer camp or have a concern regarding your child’s school, don’t just kvetch to your spouse or best friend. Pick up the phone and call the camp director or the principal and let your voice be heard. You never know when a phone call or two or twenty from parents can cause a camp or a school to rethink their current policies.
Finally, let me take this opportunity to wish my loyal readers a year filled with good health, sweetness and an abundance of happiness and prosperity!