Summer's officially here, which I recognize not by the turning of the calendar pages but by the riffling of the carbon copies in my checkbook. At first I thought that buzzing sound was the drone of cicadas in their 17-year lifecycle, until I realized it was my wife, Mrs. Funny Money, tearing out checks.

Naturally, there's the lawn service, the boat tune-up and the donation to the city fireworks, as well as costs related to my boy, Funny Money Jr. or, as I call him, Li'l Money ('cuz that's all he leaves us), such as music camp, day camp and even vacation Bible camp.

Look at our summer calendar and we've got more camp at our house than a midnight engagement of "The Rocky Horror Picture Show."

The sound of summer? "Ka-ching!"

You may think the sounds of summer are the whoosh of a golf club, the tinkle of ice cubes in a pitcher of fresh lemonade, or the roar of a baseball stadium crowd. But the real sound of summer is a cash register.

Your only defense is to plan, budget and save, lest these once-a-year expenses bust the family budget. Add up everything from the cost of swimming pool chemicals to sand for the sandbox, divide by 12 and set aside your summer expenses in a separate savings account each month. This approach works for any irregular expense, such as home repairs, or big annual bills, such as insurance, holidays and vacations.

Better than a lanyard

If you didn't save for summer, you'll have to bargain hunt, substitute, barter or go without. But there is one trick that helps with those day camp costs, and that's the Child and Dependent Care Credit from our pals at the Internal Revenue Service.

The credit only applies to day camp (not sleep-away) or to other child-care expenses that allow parents to work. In two-parent homes, both parties need earned income, and you can't pay the kid's big sister to look after him.

The credit is 20 percent to 30 percent of your qualified expenses, depending on your income, and covers up to $3,000 for one kid, $6,000 for two or more. You also have to identify the camp or care provider, something that's easier to do with registered camps than with the neighborhood babysitter you pay in cash. (Get details from Form 530 at or call 800-829-3676 to request it.)

So save those camp receipts, get some money back and remind the kid to make a nice pencil cup for your desk on arts-and-crafts day. Personally, I'd like something more practical. Next year, I'm looking for How to Paint Your Family House Camp.

(Brian J. O'Connor is an award-winning columnist for The Detroit News. Contact him at or visit