6 Ways to Save Money on Camp

Alexandra Kadlec
May 12, 2017

Here are some creative tips for stretching your summer camp budget.

When the kids are on summer break, you’ve got to find ways to keep them busy and entertained.

Camps are a popular choice for filling the long days (and even nights), but an abundance of options -- and at widely varying prices -- can make the decision way more difficult than you anticipated. It leaves many parents wondering, "How can I save money for camp?"

Here are some helpful and creative ideas, including ones provided by Peg Smith, C.E.O. of the American Camp Association (A.C.A.), Lynnette Khalfani-Cox, The Money Coach, and Lisa Borg, an advisor for Camp Experts & Teen Summers, for stretching your budget when it comes to summer camp expenses.

1) Ask About Scholarships and Sponsorships

You know that scholarships and sponsorships exist for schools, but they're also available for camp. In fact, about 80 to 90 percent of camps offer scholarships or sponsorships of some kind, from need-based to merit-based, according to the A.C.A.

The reason you may not have been previously aware of this kind of financial assistance? You have to apply pretty far in advance to secure a good chance of getting one. Check the websites of camps your child may be interested in for application requirements and deadline information. Some camps start accepting applications as early as January.

2) ...And (All Kinds of) Discounts

Research some of the camps you’re considering to find out if they offer additional discounts, because they may not be openly advertised. Try contacting the camp administration directly. You may get a discount, for instance, if you refer other children to the camp, or you may qualify for a bulk rate if you’re booking multiple sessions.

According to Khalfani-Cox, if your child is interested in returning to a camp they previously attended, ask about signing them up to volunteer or work at the camp this year. This free (or perhaps even paid) camp experience is advantageous to you, your child and even other campers who can benefit from having your child “show them the ropes” this time around. You may be able to save money on camp this time around.

3) Get a Head Start on Planning

In addition to upping your chance of obtaining a scholarship or sponsorship for your child, registering for camp before a listed date will almost always decrease the overall cost. Early registration can typically slash the price by up to 35 percent. As is the case with scholarships and sponsorships, “early” means really early -- even the summer before. Hey, if your kids had a great time, let their enthusiasm be motivation enough to sign up for next year on the way out!

4) Can I Get A Tax Break for Summer Camp?

If your child is under the age of 13 and you’re going to school, working or even just looking for work during her or his summer break, you may be eligible for a tax break for a portion or all of the cost, thanks to the Child and Dependent Care Credit.

According to the IRS:

  • You can use up to $3,000 of expenses paid to the camp in a year if you have one child (or $6,000 for two or more children) to figure the credit.
  • You'll receive a tax credit of 20 to 35 percent of the camp expenses you paid, depending on your income level.
  • Expenses for overnight camps do not qualify.

You won’t see the savings right away, but they’ll be factored into your personal taxes when tax season comes around. All you have to do is file IRS Form 2441 when you prepare your income tax return and you’ll see the results of your savvy tax planning.

Learn more about child care tax breaks.

5) Barter for Services

This is where you’ll want to get creative. Ask about volunteering your time at the camp -- say, in the role of a chaperone -- in return for a discounted rate. “Many camps offer opportunities for parents to ‘work’ at camp (nurse, doctor, program instructor, administration) for free or reduced camps for their child,” shares Smith. As with other types of discounts you may be eligible for, it doesn’t hurt to ask!

6) Look for Local Discounts

You may be able to find discounts nearby. For example, some schools, PTAs and local organizations run camp raffles, auctions and giveaways to raise money. You could donate money to your child's school and save on camp tuition at the same time. Ask your child's school, teacher or after-school activity if they know of any available camp discounts. 

A Bonus Tip: Think Local

Costs can add up quickly based on a number of obvious, but sometimes overlooked factors. Think about transportation, for example. Borg points out that if you’re deciding between a local camp and one farther away that will require a long drive (with lots of gas), a camp bus pick-up (which usually costs extra) or even a plane ticket, keep in mind the extra costs. Focusing on local camps and organizations is an easy way to save.

So before you sign on the dotted line, research all of your camp options and any fees involved. Because costs can vary so widely, this step should not be skipped! You can save money on camp costs, you just need to plan ahead.

MOMS ALSO READ: Fun Summer Ideas for Kids

Alexandra Kadlec is a freelance writer. When not writing, doing crossword puzzles or playing competitive games of Scrabble, she is known to get effusive about modern art, Jane Austen and karaoke.

Tips and stories from parents and caregivers who’ve been there.

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