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Summer Camp: A Cure for Buyer's Remorse

This year I signed my daughter up for a relatively expensive summer camp. I imagined that the experience would provide her with wonderful childhood memories. But when she gets up in the morning, she doesn't seem that excited to go. Sometimes I think she would prefer to stay home and watch TV. I'm now wishing I had sent her to a cheaper program.

I have to admit that my buyer's remorse isn't limited to this one summer experience. I had it last spring when I signed my daughter up for gymnastics and had to beg her to get ready so we could arrive on time. I also felt some resentment when I registered her for swim lessons and she begged me to go to the playground instead. (Fortunately, I only bought a four session package.) Doesn't she understand how lucky she is and that these things all cost money? I decided to call Dr. Michele Borba, a parenting expert and author of The Big Book of Parenting Solutions: 101 Answers to Your Everyday Challenges and Wildest Worries, for her take on the situation. Here's how she would approach my problem:

Evaluate Your Child
Sometimes what parents want for their children is not what kids want for themselves. So it's important that Mom and Dad take an honest look at their youngsters and figure out what activities they will enjoy. In other words, just because I loved to swim as a child doesn't mean my own daughter will like the water.

Parents also need to evaluate what their kids are ready for, says Borba. In my case, I have a five-year-old. Perhaps going to an all day camp is too exhausting for her. Similarly, Borba says it's a mistake to send a tween to a sleepaway program if he isn't comfortable going to grandma's house for the weekend.

When in doubt, ask the camp or activity director if you can get a refund if your child isn't happy.

Manage Expectations
Sometimes parents assume that the more expensive summer programs are better than cheaper alternatives. While the equipment or the facility may indeed be fancier or more expansive, your child is not guaranteed to have more fun just because you are writing a larger check. Borba recommends parents focus on where their child will have the happiest experience, not which camp has a state-of-the-art turf soccer field.

Also, if you find yourself grilling your child about what new things she learned today, you are probably stressing her out. Instead, ask your child what made her smile and stop trying to determine your daily return on your investment, says Borba.

Teach Gratitude
There's one more issue that often contributes to a parent's feelings of buyer's remorse: A child who doesn't show gratitude. If I'm honest with myself, I think this is really what's upsetting me. My daughter doesn't seem to appreciate that we are making some financial sacrifices in order to send her to such an expensive camp.

To be fair, she is only five and we haven't told her that paying for this camp is a bit difficult. That's really more than a kindergartener (or a Bouncy Boat, as she's called at camp) can understand. But that doesn't mean that I can't do a better job explaining to her that she's very fortunate and should be thankful for the things she receives. Teaching children gratitude is a long and important process, says Borba. And the best way to get this lesson across is to lead by example.

As for next summer, I'll probably look for a cheaper summer camp that ends a bit earlier in the day. This way my daughter won't feel so tired and grumpy and I won't feel anxious about the money. And most importantly, I'll also work on the gratitude issue.

Do you ever feel buyer's remorse when it comes to signing your kids up for activities?

Stacey Bradford is the author of The Wall Street Journal Financial Guidebook for New Parents.
Swim Lessons image courtesy of Flickr, CC 2.0.
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