Taming the Cost of Summer Camp

Taming the Cost of Summer Camp

I remember growing up watching The Parent Trap (you know, the old Haley Mills version).  Camp looked like so much fun to me.  Dances, girl time, swimming and big cabins.  I thought they were so lucky to spend an entire summer in that setting.  And even now, to a child, summer camp simply means s’mores, horseback riding, cafeteria food and camp fires.  To a parent, it can mean an empty wallet — especially after doing a little research into the cost of these camps.  Talk about a reality check!

Summer camps last anywhere from a few days to several weeks and can range in price from $100 to $5,000+ according to the American Camp Association.  That can sound extremely undoable to many parents.  However, many child psychologists suggest that the cost is well worth the return on investment for your children.  They learn independence, adaptation to unfamiliar environments, self-confidence, socialization skills, conflict management and a myriad of other skills they may not be exposed to in their own homes and towns.  Well, that all sounds good to me… but last time I checked there wasn’t a money tree growing in my backyard.  But, fortunately, there are many different camps to choose from that vary greatly in cost.  And, there are also a few things you can do in preparation for that cost.

Before reading any of the suggestions below, you should first consider whether or not your child is even really ready for a sleep away camp.  Think about the maturity of your child and their level of separation anxiety.  Day camps may be a better choice for you, your child and your wallet.

If you decide that your child is in fact ready to try a sleep away camp, keep the following budget friendly tips in mind.

Check into Financial Aid
You heard right — financial aid.  The American Camp Association reports that of their 2,400 accredited camps, 95% of them offer “camperships” (aka scholarships). Some camps have foundations set up by alumni campers that will provide your child with a full ride to camp.  Typically, these camperships are awarded to those families with the greatest need, but you should never assume that you don’t meet that particular camp’s criteria of need.

More than One Child
If you have more than one child, consider sending them all to the same camp.  Camps typically offer discounts to families with multiple children attending the same camp.

Be Early
There are often discounts available to those who decide to register for camp early.  And by early, I mean up to a year in advance.  Some camps will offer a discount to those families that sign up for the following summer at the end of their stay.  Other discount options may appear throughout the year, so if you have a particular camp in mind watch the website all year.

Stay in the Area
It’s always less expensive when you can avoid a plane or train ride.  There are often great camps near you that are a mere car ride away.  Avoiding high travel costs can significantly decrease the overall costs of summer camp.

Buy Only What you Need
Typically, you already have most of what your child will need for camp.  Often our excitement, leads us into making unnecessary purchases for our budding campers.  Wait to receive the list from the camp of what your child will need and follow that.  They’re the experts, and they will make sure they list the necessities.  It’s also not a good idea to send your child with new clothes or expensive items.  Chances are your child will get dirty and come home missing an item or two even if you label everything.  So keep that in mind when making purchases for camp.

Understand Refund Policies and Cancellation Dates
The ACA reports that many camps will offer a full refund before certain deadlines.  Others will refund based only on situational circumstances — such as illness or family crisis.  Know your options for refund BEFORE your book your child’s stay.  Life happens… be prepared so you don’t lose your entire investment.

Contribute to the Camp
No, I don’t mean donating funds, that would be counterproductive to this idea of saving money.  However, camps have costs in the off-season.  It is sometimes necessary for them to use a line of credit to cover operational costs.  But, when parents pay their tuition in advance, it gives the camp operating funds without having to incur the interest of a loan.  Ask about early payment options and discounts.  You might be surprised.

Payment Plans
When planning for camp in advance, many camps understand that a chunk of money at one time can be too much for parents.  Ask about the payment plan options.  You will more than likely have to be paid up by the time your child attends camp, but you may be able to pay in installments over the year making camp costs a little easier to bear.

Canteen Funds
Camps usually have canteens where kids can purchase extra toiletries, snacks, t-shirts and other items of interest.  This can be a money pit if you’re not careful.  By setting up a canteen fund for your child, you are limiting this hole.  You’re also helping your child learn the valuable lesson of budgeting their money and deciphering needs from wants.  It’s a win-win.  Don’t worry — your child will not go without the necessities.

There are many options for camps right here in North Carolina.  Check out the links below for lists of camps.

North Carolina Youth Camp Association
North Carolina Summer Kids Camps
Best North Carolina Sleep Away Camps


Written by Cara Singleton
Marketing Assistant