Let’s assume you believe as we do, that camp is a wonderful opportunity for children. Do you have to break the bank to make the most of these opportunities? Can summer camp be an affordable option for everyone? We will explore these questions, and more, in this article.
Tips to Save Money on Summer Camp
- Sign up early. Unlike other travel experiences (cruises, hotels, etc) that might offer last minute savings, this is not the norm in the camp world. The way to save money is to sign up early. For overnight/sleepaway camps, that means at least 6 months ahead of time and some camps it might be much earlier. But, if you are willing to make your plans early and pay for the camp up front, you can generally save 5-15%.
- Find an agency that offers financial support. This might be the camp itself (the vast majority of camps offer some level of financial aid) or an organization that offers camp scholarships or “camperships” to a range of camps. There are many resources, a quick Google search will offer an overwhelming number of resources. It is important to note that a lot of outside funding for camp is administered by the camp itself. The best bet here is to identify camps that meet your needs and contact them directly. They will then put you in touch with any funding sources available. Kennolyn, for example, uses the Max and Marion Caldwell Foundation to administer campership funds.
- Ask directly. The nice thing about summer camps is that 0% of them are giant, multinational corporations. It isn’t difficult to get someone at a camp on the phone and ask about ways they might be able to help you financially. The most important thing here is to be flexible. If you can only attend the session that is already the highest enrollment and likely to sell out, it’s harder to offer help. If you can say you are flexible and willing to make the schedule work, you might get a discount on a session that is filling slowly.
- Ask about a payment plan. As most camps move to automated, online registration systems, payment plans are easy to set up. You should expect to pay 100% of the cost before your camper arrives at the camp but this option can allow you to budget an acceptable monthly payment to make camp a reality for your child.
- Seek out mission based camps that very intentionally keep costs as low as possible (even free.) Organizations like the YMCA, Salvation Army, JCC, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Boys and Girls Club, Fresh Air Fund as well as numerous religious denominations all offer extensive summer camp programs. As with all programs you need to do research into the camp philosophy and reputation to make sure it’s a good fit. Enrolling a child in a camp just because it’s affordable is not a recipe for success.
- Offer your talents. What can you do to help the camp? Maybe you have a professional expertise that the camp could use. Or you have a hobby that you could help introduce to the campers. This is always worth discussing with a camp you are interested in. Here are a few skills I have known to be traded for the cost of camp: Nursing, construction, staff training, baking, gardening, website development, plumbing, office work, and driving. These trades take time to set up so make contact early.
- If you have a Flexible Spending Account, ask your plan administrator if it can be used for camp expenses.
Camp is a great experience for most kids. Doing some homework, being flexible, and seeking out available resources can make it an affordable option for your family. Here is a related article from our friends at Summer Camp Hub. They offer a great perspective on helping families find resources to make camp affordable.