If the thought of splurging for camp in this economy has you and your kids in a slump, check out this money-saving information and put an affordable summer camp back on the calendar where it belongs!
by Lori Zanteson
The daunting cost of camp can be enough to make any family scramble for Plan B this summer. But don’t be too quick to throw out this mainstay of childhood. Summer camp can be affordable if you follow a few insider tips.
When searching for camps, you’ll find that many offer discounts for early registration, for enrolling your child for the whole summer, and for enrolling siblings. There may even be an option for a fee reduction in exchange for a donation of time or services such as working in the office or cafeteria.
Most camps are very flexible in terms of creating a schedule that works for your time and budget. If your budget doesn’t allow for five days a week, three or four is probably fine.
The American Camping Association (ACA) assures that “there is a camp for every child and every budget,” so no family should assume that camp is out of financial reach. According to the ACA, 85 percent of camps report offering some sort of financial assistance. Many camps offer full or partial “camperships” as well as financial assistance, and $39 million in scholarships is given each year.
Uncle Sam offers a few money-saving programs that are worth a look. The Dependent Care Flexible Spending Account allows parents to be reimbursed on a pre-tax basis for childcare that is necessary for parents to work, look for work, or attend school full time. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) allows an income tax credit to your federal taxes for dependent care expenses up to $3,000 for one dependent and up to $6,000 for two. Some camps participate in an income-eligible subsidy program such as Title XX that can assist qualifying families.
Nonprofit organizations often offer bargains
When looking for the most economical camp picks, those sponsored by nonprofit organizations like city and county parks, churches, synagogues, museums, and public schools and universities are your best bet. Many are free or offer some assistance. Generally, fees range from $75 to more than $650 per week for ACA-accredited day and resident camps.
The local parks and recreation departments offer low-cost camps during the summer, as do churches and synagogues. They have the advantage of being convenient and familiar. They are close to home and are attended by children living and attending schools in the neighborhood, who may be friends of your children. Fees vary by region, but are meant to be widely affordable. Part-time and full-time options are typically available as well. Activities are plentiful and often themed for the week or the entire session based on age and interest.
Sports camp and arts and crafts camp are popular picks. They include field trips like the movies or rock-climbing gym or even an all-day trip to the beach or amusement park. Many churches and synagogues offer free Bible and religious study camps during the summer.
A little pricier but still very affordable are nonprofit community organizations like museums, gardens, and universities. Community colleges often have swimming and sports camps, and the local university may offer a drama or music camp that ends in a performance. The YMCA is a time-tested and trusted choice for a variety of sports themed and active, often outdoor, activities.
Check out CampCountdown.com, a comprehensive national site about overnight camps and summer programs for ages 7 to 18, for more nonprofit options like Boy Scout and Girl Scout camps.
Whether your child is buggy about insects or smitten with science, there is a camp to feed that desire. And now you have the cost-cutting resources to make it happen. Happy camping!
Lori Zanteson is a Southern California-based writer and mother of three who specializes in health, food, and fitness for families.
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