How to Find Affordable Summer Camps to Cut Camp Costs

Summer Camp

For working parents of school-aged children, there’s a question that pops up every summer: What should I do with my kids?!

Summer camp is one popular way to keep kids supervised and occupied during the 11 or so weeks they’re out of the classroom. But if you happen to be a parent living paycheck-to-paycheck or are struggling with credit card debt, sending your children to summer camp may feel financially out of reach.

School’s Out for Summer

Though summer camp costs vary widely, the average day camp tuition ranges from $199 to more than $800 per week, while overnight camps range from $630 to more than $2,000 per week, according to the American Camp Association’s 2018 business operations report.

Saving hundreds of dollars per week on a pricey summer camp may reduce your financial stress; but that serene moment is oftentimes quickly replaced by other stress-inducing thoughts like:

Will my child fall behind academically if they’re not challenged and learning at a camp? Will my child still have a positive, memorable summer if they’re not at camp with their friends? If not camp, what are my kids going to do this summer?

Child Care Expense

In 2018, the average nationwide weekly cost of childcare, not related to a summer camp, cost $211 for an infant-child at a day-care center; $195 for a family care center; and $580 for a nanny, according to a Cost of Care survey.

The survey found that one in three families now spends 20 percent or more of their annual household income on child care. This is concerning given the Department of Health and Human Services defines “affordable child care” as costing no more than 10 percent of a family’s income.

Unfortunately, as the survey found, only upper income families have been able to spend 10 percent or less on child care costs. As a result, many Americans reported either waiting longer to have children or having fewer kids than they originally planned.

While the cost of summer camp can be startling at first, there are ways to make camp more attainable for your current financial situation. So before you decide to have your 11-year-old stay home and supervise your 7-year-old this summer, check out our tips on how to make summer camp easier on your budget!

How to Find Affordable Summer Camps to Cut Camp Costs

1. Make a Wish List

It may sound counterintuitive, but the first step to take when looking for a summer camp for your child is to do some research and figure out what you AND your child want and need from the camp.

For example: Are you looking for a camp within your city? Neighborhood? Something along your commute? Does your child have medical needs, allergies or dietary restrictions? Is there a camp that focuses on art? Soccer? Languages? Cybersecurity?

The American Camp Association has a great camp finder tool to help you begin the search.

Once you find camps that offer the most important aspects on both your list and your child’s list, remove all the camps that you can’t afford.

It’s ok to keep a few camps on your list that are slightly out of reach as well, given that more than 75 percent of all camps award more than $1,000 in discounts annually, according to the American Camp Association.

2. Register Early

These special discounts oftentimes include early registration, so if a camp your child was particularly excited about was slightly out of financial reach, check and see if they offer a discounted price if you register in advance.

Tip: Organize the list of camps you and your child are interested in based on their registration deadline. Start with the earliest deadline and contact each camp individually and ask for information about early registration discounts

If early registration isn’t available, don’t fret! There are other types of special discounts that are routinely offered at camps.

3. Ask for a Discount

According to the American Camp Association, more than 93 percent of camps reported offering financial assistance in 2018. Of those camps that awarded some type of financial assistance, 67 percent awarded $10,000 or more in scholarships annually.

If you have more than one child attending the same camp, ask about sibling discounts!

The average camp offers a 6 percent discount to families sending more than one child to a summer camp program. And if your kid goes to the same camp multiple weeks, the average camp will offer a 12 percent discount.

Some camps will also offer discounts for groups of friends attending the same camp!

4. Fundraising

If your children are older, getting them involved in paying their own way to camp is a great way to start teaching your kids about personal finance lessons like budgeting and saving.

Some camps like the YMCA offer a standard fundraising format to help defer the cost of camp. However if your child has his or her heart set on a particular camp that doesn’t have a fundraising component, have your child perform payable chores like babysitting, yard work, or pet care, for neighbors, friends, and relatives.

Summer Camp Savings Tips

If a discounted summer camp experience still is financially out of reach for your family this year, remember, there’s always next year. The key is to start planning now!

Summer Savings Account

Using the expense figures from those camps that your kids were particularly interested in attending, figure out how much money from your paycheck you could set aside this year to help cover the cost of camp next year.

For example, let’s say the summer camp you’re interested in costs around $350 per week for 10-weeks. So you’re looking at a $3,500 childcare expense – not including before and after camp care, which is oftentimes necessary for working parents whose children attend a local day camp – right off the bat. If you divide that amount by 12 months, it’s a much more manageable amount of money ($292) to set aside.

Flexible Savings Account

If you have a Flexible Spending Account (FSA), you may be able to use pre-tax dollars to pay for child care expenses for your kids aged 13 and younger. In other words, if enrolling your child in summer camp is necessary in order for you to be able to get to work, you’ll likely be able to use your FSA to pay camp tuition.

There’s a maximum amount of $5,000 you can set aside in an FSA account each year for childcare expenses if you file your taxes as single, head of household or married filing a joint tax return. If you are married filing separately, the max is $2,500.

Credit Card Rewards

While we don’t recommend charging summer camp on your credit card if it would max out the card or if you have a high-interest rate, it is ok to charge camp on cards with introductory 0 percent APR financing offers.

Just ask Nerd Wallet’s credit card reporter Robin Saks Frankel!

“Between my husband and me, we have 10 credit card accounts, and we use each one for different transactions to earn the maximum rewards possible,” Frankel wrote. So when it was time to pay the bill for Frankel’s two children to go to overnight camp, she turned to a credit card with an introductory offer.

“Camp had to be paid in full before the start date, and it was a hefty chunk of change that my husband and I didn’t want to shell out at once,” Frankel shared. “With a 0 percent introductory APR offer, we could pay it off over several months without adding interest charges to the total.”

What are your most creative ways to save money on childcare expenses in the summer? Share with us in the comments below!

2 Responses

  • Thank you for explaining that overnight camps cost between $630 and $2,000 per week. My husband and I have been trying to find a camp for our son. Now that we know the price range, I think we can budget enough for him to get into a quality one.

  • I think I will register my son early in a summer camp once I am able to find a good one. Thanks for the tip that I should try to ask for a discount if it’s applicable so I can save money. In case there are any fundraising programs the summer camp offers, I’ll make sure that he participates so that he can stay in the camp for less.

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