Hot Tips for Cutting Camp Costs

Summer camp is more than just a luxury for many children who struggle with social, emotional, behavioral, and academic issues during the school year. Spending time in a structured and constructive environment can help develop the skills and confidence to carry them through the coming school year.

But financing summer camp can be expensive. Although traditional overnight camps range from $5,000 to $10,000 for the summer months, less expensive and equally enlightening opportunities are available. Families wishing to maximize the return on summer investment should contact the American Camp Association for the latest information on camps and costs. (ACA also offers camp scholarships.) Professional camp consultants also can alert families to scholarship and discount options. Since these professionals are paid by programs, they usually do not charge the families they advise.

For those of you considering how to get the best value for your camping dollar, consider these useful tips:

  • Plan Ahead: Lower camp costs by reserving a spot long before the season starts. If you’ve already reserved, go back to the camp and ask them if they’re willing to reward your early commitment. Some camps will let you pay this year’s fees for next year’s camp if you decide within a month or two after the session ends. If you missed the opportunity to take advantage of last summer’s bargains, it’s not too late to negotiate for the future.
  • Negotiate A Group Discount: Siblings, cousins, and friends can form a camper cluster that might be eligible for a group discount. Although camps don’t usually publicize this information, most directors are delighted to register a number of campers at once. Group discounts will vary, but skillful negotiation should save all involved at least 10%.
  • Cash In Coupons: Supermarkets aren’t the only businesses trying to lure consumers with discount coupons. New websites such as Camp and offer a range of tuition discounts from participating programs, some as high as 25%.
  • Apply For A Campership: Like private schools, private summer camps charge higher tuition than their public counterparts. However, many private camps that seem relatively expensive may offer “camperships” or need-based scholarships. If you are willing to discuss family finances openly and honestly, you could find that your child is eligible for a wonderful opportunity at a manageable price.
  • Barter Goods and Services: If you have a profession or talent that could benefit the camp, you might be able to exchange your services for some of the tuition. Consider what you have that a camp might need—advertising acumen, sports equipment, expertise from art to archery, or even professional time. All camps need drivers, chefs, nurses, doctors, handy helpers, and skilled childcare providers. Many programs will be eager to trade your time for your child’s tuition fees.
  • Comb the Community: If you’re interested in day camp, check out the opportunities at district summer schools, community centers, religious institutions, libraries, and local college campuses. Some day-camp options may even help you qualify for a tax deduction childcare credit. Ask your accountant about specifics or gather information online.
  • Do An Internship: To help your teen avoid too much free, unproductive time encourage an internship. Some camps subsidize training programs for future counselors, while other programs offer internships at national parks and community-service organizations.
  • Keep It Together: For those that think the family that plays together stays together, consider going to camp together. Family camp is less expensive than underwriting separate camps and vacations. Intergenerational camps range from rustic to regal, and many even have a special focus, such as performing arts.
  • Invest in the Future: Finally, for the family that wants to impart fundamental financial values, there are multiple sites around the country for an innovative day program called Camp Millionaire, where kids and teens learn how to make, manage, and multiply their money. Invest in this program, and next year, your kids could be helping you decide how to finance the best options for summer camp.

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