13 Ways to Save on Summer Camp

Summer is right around the corner. For parents with school-age kids, now is the time to start planning out what camps your kids are going to participate in. Obviously, the type of camp, size, location, hours of operation (for day camps) and activities are going to play a part in your decision. In today’s economy, costs are going to be a heavy influencer.

Before you start looking at camp brochures or talking to camp directors, make sure that you have a clear budget in mind on what you’re willing to spend. One of the easiest ways to figure it out is to calculate how much you’re going to have to pay to feed, entertain and provide childcare if your kid stays at home. If you’re a working parent and your kid is in an aftercare program, talk to the director and find out what their day camp costs. This can act as a baseline against overnight and other summer camps.

Now that you know what you can pay, start researching the costs, including any extra fees, transportation, uniforms, special equipment, or spending money that your kid is going to need while they’re at camp. In order to save on summer camp costs, try these tips:

  • Ask about financial aid – Many camps offer partial or total scholarships and financial assistance. Don’t assume that you don’t qualify because of your income. Some of these scholarships are based on other factors.
  • Ask about payment options – Some camps will let you pay the camp fees in installments. Just make sure to ask about any restrictions or fees related to going with an installment plan.
  • Borrow what your kid needs – Ask your family and friends for a sleeping bag, hiking pack or other camping gear rather than buying it at the store.
  • Buy your camp gear second hand – If you need a tent or other camping supplies, don’t pay full price. There are plenty of treasures to be found at the local consignment shop or thrift store.
  • Choose a local summer camp – It tends to be more expensive to send your kids away to an overnight camp rather than choosing a local one. You’ll pay less on transportation and be available if your kid gets homesick.
  • Cut down on the extras – Many kids will ask for new clothes and other extras when going away to camp. Only by your kid what he or she needs and avoid splurging on a shopping spree.
  • Enroll all your kids at the same camp – Many camps will offer multi-family discounts for parents who are enrolling 2 or more children. If your kids interests vary, try a compromise (i.e. do a 2 week drama camp and then a 2 week sports camp.)
  • Know their refund policy – Sometimes camp plans don’t work out the way you planned. Your kid gets sick, has an accident at the beginning of camp or personal circumstances change. Some camps will let you cancel with a full refund  before a certain date, while other camps might require a doctor’s note or other documentation to provide the refund.
  • Refer a friend – Some camps will offer a discount if you refer a friend to the same program. Make sure to ask about the special requirements (i.e. your friend has to put your name on the camp application.)
  • Review your health insurance policy – If you’re sending your kid out of the area, double check your health insurance policy to see if the camp is in their area of coverage and what restrictions there might be if your child has a medical emergency and/or sickness while they’re at camp. Sometimes camps offer a special insurance for a low cost for parents.
  • Shop for camping gear with other parents – If your kid has a friend that’s also attending the camp, you might be able to buy your supplies in bulk, saving money. Just make sure that you have similar tastes.
  • Take advantage of early bird discounts – some camps will offer a special discount if you register early.
  • Volunteer at the camp – If you’re a stay-home mom or have some extra vacation time during the summer, you can sometimes save on camp fees if you agree to help out the camp. Act as a chaperone for day trips, keep the grounds clean or join the office staff.

With a little planning, you can afford a great summer camp without breaking your budget. Do you have additional tips for saving on summer camp? Add to the comments below.