Economic Indicator: Camp

Then, the summer of 2002 My children are six and eight and have been in the summer day camp mode for two years now. That means that every morning at 8 A.M. the bus comes and picks them up and at about 5 P.M. delivers them back again. Eight weeks of ‘fun in the sun’. This is the end of week six, and while I knew tip week was coming, I didn’t realize that next summer was coming up so soon. Yes the summer of 2003 is here, at least as far as ‘reserving your space now’ and avoiding paying an additional 20.17% if you don’t book by September 1. This was not a deep discount to an existing ‘list’ price. It was a discount to a price that was going up at a double digit pace. In the late 90’s I wouldn’t have cared, who couldn’t make 20% in a year. Today, who can’t loose 20% in a week? Therefore, for me and a lot of my neighbors, the check is literally in the mail and the 20% saving booked as the ‘best return of the year’. Sleep away camp’s 2003 actually started a few weeks ago on ‘palm Sunday’ (a.k.a. visiting and tip day), but that’s another two years away for me.

As I went back to read over the Fed report and some economic indicators I got to wondering about camp. When the kids first started two years ago (3 summers) you had to pay by March, moved up from April, then it was December and now it’s September. The first year I went to the camp and tried to ‘discuss’ the cost. To my way of thinking, camp for a 4 and 6 year old, was a pair of six year annuities. ‘Discussion’ however turned out to be for bad times, not good. Pay now or pay more later. So what made times good now? Not two years of a bear market, not a decline in sales or consumer confidence and certainly not an increase in unemployment. No, quite simply it was that there is just too much money out there. A friend, who has a plumbing business, keeps telling me that the ‘trades’ are great. People just keep spending on improving their homes and buying new ones. In over 30 years of business he has never seen it this good. His biggest problem is getting and keeping people and how much to charge new customers - they just keep saying ‘O.K., when can you start’. So where did this money come from I asked - the market. During those great days of the late ’90s there was a dramatic increase in trading activity, and this time (compared to other bull markets) the participants included individuals. Most people were in the market and everyone was making money, at least on paper. If it was large cap or an IPO just buy it. Well, when someone bought, someone sold and apparently those who sold didn’t buy back in, at least not in the equity market (a quick look at the fixed income market shows a lot of new money). Those who made it are numerous and apparently are spending nicely. Those who didn’t are looking at the low mortgage rates and figuring out how to refinance their home to pay for year 2, 3 and 4 of their kid’s college education. They were working on just year 4, but then the market went down.

So where does that leave me and camp. The sooner the camp wants its money the more ‘the times they are a good’. There’s money out there, the only questions is where.

Summer of 2007, visiting day My kids are now in sleep-away mode, and a week before visiting day I received my summer of 2008 papers: visiting day down payment and full payment by October 1 for the triple discount (although they do have a heart, there is a book-of-the month club payment schedule permitted, for a slight fee). So, with the banks and brokerages saying that the bad things should be behind us and good times ahead, out came the charge card for the deposit (need those points).

Now Gee, while I didn’t get a notice, my neighbors tell me that some camps are having a catch-up period, for all those that did not sign up. While my mother said that they always had those when I went to camp (late 60s, early 70s), I don’t recall any since I’ve been paying the bills. A few quick inquires to camps that my kids don’t go to revealed that things may not be that good for what used to be called the upper middle class. Those are people who are too rich to be poor, and too poor to be rich. No rebate checks in this stimulus package, phase-outs on their taxes, and still trying to hit Starbucks on the way to work. It appears to me that its not that things are worse now, but maybe, just maybe, we’ve finally realized that living within our means, while being old fashion, out of style and not as much fun, may be better off for the long run. Just a crazy thought. Anyone want to go out to that new Gelato place, I’ve got a coupon?

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