I remember when my son was in kindergarten being shocked at how early other parents (OK, let’s face it, other moms) were talking about summer camp plans. The time is now, people, especially if you’re on a budget.
I don’t mean sleepaway camps, either, I mean the basic week- or month-long day camps that most working parents rely on to get them through the summer. If you don’t have an extremely flexible work-from-home schedule (and even then, who can get work done with their kids at home day after day?), a full-time parent partner, or an obliging, nearby relative, you’ve probably got to get some summer camps lined up.
And as you’ll quickly realize, summer camp generally doesn’t come cheap. Today’s hint covers a few tips that might help you cut the cost of camp programs, without avoiding them altogether.
Book early for potential discounts: You can often save a decent amount by committing early. Also, many camps offer scholarship or financial assistance programs that have their own deadlines.
Look for referral programs, too. If you and a friend both want the same camp for your kids, one of you should register, look for referral discounts, and maybe you’ll both end up with savings. Plus, if your kids have a friend that’s going to a camp that you’re on board with, not only will the transition possibly be easier, but there might also be opportunities to carpool — which can be a real life-saver if you have two working parents juggling their commute schedules.
Examine the extras: Many camps offer early drop-off and/or late pick-up (and by this I mean before 9 a.m. or after 3 p.m., the usual times from what I’ve seen). But remember these services typically come with an additional fee. Same with food — most camps will offer lunches and snacks, with additional fees for one or both. Make sure to consider these extras when calculating the total camp cost, and examine if you really need them. For instance, you may want to have your kids brownbag it, or perhaps it’s cheaper to hire a part-time babysitter than to use both before- and after-care.
Look locally: Private camps typically have more of a marketing budget and team than local camps, so you hear more about them. However, there are some great, affordable programs run by community centers, schools, parks and organizations like the YMCA. Ask other parents, look at local parenting boards and see if your city or county’s website offers summer camp information links.
Camps are a great way to introduce your children to new things, but if you go with camps they’re excited about it can be a much smoother time for everyone. Your child already in dance class and loving it? Stick with a dance camp for at least a week or two. Bonus if your school-year dance studio offers summer camps, then it’s a familiar place and familiar faces, too.
Still, if you have multiple kids, having them in the same camps is going to be a whole lot easier then juggling different drop-off/pickup times and locations. If that dreamy camp is way across town, or involves being stuck on the highway during rush hour each day, you’ll probably end up wishing you’d thought twice about it.
Finally, if you can, give your children a week or two off between the end of school and the start of camp, and the reverse once August rolls around. They’re as tired as we are at the end of the school year, so if you can take a week of vacation time, or fly grandma in to hang out with them while they enjoy a few days with no schedule. A break can really help get everyone excited for camp (or school) to start.
For more helpful tips on cutting camp costs, check out this article on saving on summer camp and this piece on how summer camp can potentially help you cut your tax bill.
What are your tips for saving on summer camp?