Guide to Saving Money on Summer Camp

Summer camps are a tradition for many families. For parents, camp is a great way to keep kids occupied and active when school is out; kids view it as an opportunity for having fun and making new friends. However, with the country still reeling from the recession, summer camps are falling off the list of many family must-haves as other necessities take a higher priority, such as mortgage payments and groceries.
You may not have to cross camps off the summer agenda, however—there are ways to make it more affordable. All over the country, camps are making adjustments to meet the needs of families by lowering fees and costs. In addition, you might qualify for discounts or even be able to write camp off as a tax break!
Discover Your discounts
One of the biggest ways to make summer camp more affordable is through a discount. If you (or your spouse) are a teacher, police officer, firefighter, or military personnel, you may be eligible for a discount. The amount depends on the organization through which the camp is run; it could be a waived registration fee (and those can be costly at times) or a specified percentage off the entire fee.
Another discount? Siblings! For families with multiple children, this is an easy way to save money. Although you may have sent your children to different camps in summers past, this is the year to look into a camp that you can send all your children to. Camps typically offer a discount based on the number of children you register, which could save you a few hundred dollars.
Pay early (book now!)
Many camps offer a discounted rate if you pay the entire amount early, as opposed to waiting until the last minute. You might save as much as $100, or more. The only caveat? Be sure your family’s calendar is up to date when you register, because the fine print may include a no-refund policy.
Take advantage of tax breaks
Did you know that summer camps can qualify as a childcare tax break? If your child is 13 or younger, you can likely deduct the cost of camps from your taxable income. Consult with an accountant or look into this beforehand if it’s something you’re interested in.
Book shorter sessions
You may have always enrolled your child in full-day camp before, but to cut costs you can register kids for half-day camp. It’s just as much fun for kids, but at a significantly reduced cost. The camp you’re interested in may not advertise a half-day program, so ask about it if you’re unsure. Another option is limiting the number of days your child attends. Instead of five days a week, try three or four.
This idea may be a bit of a stretch, but if you can recruit some neighbors and friends, it may work. A do-it-yourself camp is another affordable way to hold a summer camp with local kids. Coordinate schedules with interested parties and determine a week that camp can run. It will require some meetings among the adults, but you can split the work easily by having one or two parents a day run specific activities and outings. Be sure that everyone is on the same page when it comes to safety guidelines and snacks. There’s no rule that says summer camp can’t be homemade!
Camps for lower budgets
If you’re looking to spend less than $600 per week on camp (private camps can cost around $700–$1200 per week), you do have options. Jill Levin, the West Coast Advisor of Tips on Trips and Camps, suggests that parents contact camps run by local county government or agencies, such as the Jewish Federation, the JCC, the Salvation Army, Campfire Boys and Girls, or the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts. These camps offer a summer experience at a reduced cost because the sponsoring agency subsidizes the camp. Levin also suggests looking into financial aid, which is available at most camps. If you apply early, it is possible to get a 20–50% discount based on need.
More tips for cutting camp costs
It may be up to you to make a deal happen. Look for pricing options everywhere! It never hurts to call the camp and find out what, if any, deals can be made. Some ideas:
  • Inquire about the possibility of volunteering a day or two during the camp session as a trade for reduced fees.
  • Find out if transporting your child to camp instead of relying on provided transportation will save money.
  • Determine whether payment plans are available.
  • Ask if you can receive a discount for referring other children to the camp who subsequently sign up and pay.
  • Check on discounts for signing your child up for multiple camp sessions.
  • Camps may match the fees of another competing camp with lower rates; it doesn’t hurt to ask!
Camping gear savings
If you do sign your kids up for camp, you may find yourself needing to buy some gear. Whether it’s sandals, tents, sunscreen, or sleeping bags, these items can all add up to a hefty price tag! Here are some websites that can help you pack your child up for camp, while leaving you some money for your own adventures.
  • CampMor: One-stop online shopping for camping needs, especially for sleepaway camps. Orders over $100 receive free shipping. See? Savings already!
  • LabelYourStuff: You bought it, so don’t let Junior lose it! Label Your Stuff provides personalized labels that you can iron or stick onto your child’s belongings, ensuring that it all returns home to you for future summers. They even make allergy labels that will help staffers know how to keep your child safe. Through May 1st, you can receive 15% off orders over $40 with the coupon code SC2010.
  • CampBound: Another online retailer for camping supplies. Here you’ll find plenty of options for clothing, utensils, flashlights, and more.
Michele Johansen is a writer in Bellevue, WA. She is the co-creator of the Ruby Slipper Guide, a website that lists activities and events for families living east of Seattle and blog that delves into the foils of parenting.