School's back and our hip pocket will be better for it

Can I be honest? We've been haemorrhaging money for slightly longer than six weeks now and it needs to stop. The source of the leak isn't a large-scale renovation, a flash new car or an overseas jaunt. It is the long school holidays, a time where it seems that keeping a wallet closed for longer than 30 seconds is unrealistic.

The fact it coincides with that other notoriously expensive fixture in the calendar, Christmas, adds to the fun. At least, it seems we're not alone. Research by comparison site Finder shows the amount of money parents spend looking after their children over the festive period has soared in recent years. It now costs parents more than $2000 to entertain the kids over summer.

"Parents often complain about rising school costs but the cost of having them at home is rising too," insights manager at Finder Graham Cooke says. "Entertaining kids during the long six-week-plus break can often cost more than an overseas trip."

Parents spent a staggering $2130 on average entertaining their kids over the school holidays. More than a third of that was spent on travel, while about a fifth went towards childcare while parents were at work.

The Commonwealth Bank "Cost of the Summer Holidays" report estimates that entertaining children during the holidays costs Australian parents a total $368 million.

Given these figures, it is hardly surprising that paying for additional activities during the long break presents a significant financial burden for many families.

"Keeping kids entertained doesn't always come for free and, for many families, the financial burden of funding extra activities, on top of taking time off from work, can be stressful," says Irene Rowlands, the Commonwealth Bank's general manager of school banking and youth.

Indeed. Balancing the 12 weeks of school holidays that kids enjoy with the average four weeks of annual leave that working parents can access is a difficult proposition and it's exacerbated over summer where there are six weeks to cover in one go. School holiday camps are one solution families use but they're not cheap. In Sydney and Melbourne a single day camp playing tennis or doing a drama program can cost more than $100 a child a day.

Many things don't cost money - heading to the beach, hanging out at the park, taking the scooters for a ride, visiting a museum and seeing friends, are all, ostensibly, free activities that we have enjoyed in recent weeks. Building cubbies, doing craft, watching movies and baking are all free at-home activities we've undertaken too.

But the waking hours with school-aged kids are long, particularly towards the end of the holidays, and you can't stay at the park or the beach all day. Powering through 12 hours with small people without spending - on parking or a snack or transport or groceries to restock the inexplicably empty fridge - is near impossible. Even without visiting theme parks or undertaking extravagant activities, the cost of keeping everyone entertained and fed adds up.

The good news is that relief is in sight, with public schools returning in NSW and Victoria this coming week. Of course, that is not without some outlay. Taking two children shopping for new school shoes last week was one of the more stressful experiences of the break and it wasn't even because there were roughly 1000 other parents doing the same thing at the same time. The cost for four pairs of shoes - a pair of white sports shoes and black shoes each as mandated by their public school - was eye-watering even when bought in a sale. It confirmed that my appetite for expenditure is greatly diminished, which is not at all unlike my bank balance.

Georgina Dent is a journalist, editor and TV commentator with a keen focus on women's empowerment and gender equality.

This story School's back and our hip pocket will be better for it first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.