Summer Camp Savings

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camp can be the experience of a lifetime, but in the here-and-now, budgeting for your child's summer adventure may seem daunting. fees range from $75 to more than $650 per week for accredited day and resident camps, according to the american camp association, with day camps being a little less expensive (weekly fees are about $182 on average) and resident camps being a bit pricier (with a median weekly cost of $390).

however, even as parents are pinching pennies, adam weinstein, executive director of the american camp association, says he hasn't seen camp-goers cut back on their summer experience.

"childhood only happens for a defined amount of time, and we're finding that the last dollar parents cut is for their kids," he said.

saving money simply starts with developing some summer camp savvy. here are a few tips:

? research camps by cost. at american camp association-sponsored websites such as and, parents can search for camps within specific price ranges. aca associates can also provide guidance when it comes to selecting a camp that fits your financial situation. "we're here to give parents options and find the best match for their children, values and pocketbooks," weinstein says.

? register early. many camps offer an early-bird rate in the fall, according to weinstein. "by march, hopefully people are starting to think about the summer 2011 experience," weinstein said. "if they're starting to look for 2011 in march, they'll be in a better place to plan financially."

? take advantage of special discounts and payment plans. in addition to giving discounts for early registration, some camps will offer savings for full-season enrollment or enrolling multiple family members. some camps may also offer payment plans to make affording camp more feasible.

? inquire about financial assistance. "nonprofit camps provide a substantial amount of scholarship money," weinstein says. in fact, according to the american camp association, around 90 percent of camps offer some sort of financial assistance in either partial or total tuition subsidies. these "camperships" are typically need-based, but don't assume you make too much to qualify. it's important for parents to ask if financial assistance is available and to apply early.

? look into what is included in tuition. typically, day camps include transportation costs in tuition, but resident camps may only offer limited transportation, such as a van ride from a major train station. don't forget to ask about fees for special programs or trips, laundry service, special equipment that may be required, service organization memberships and whether or not you should send spending money with your child.

? find out the camp's refund policy. refund policies differ from camp to camp. while some will refund for illness or will give a total refund prior to a certain date, other camps will not refund at all. most camps will ask for a small non-refundable deposit at the time of application, which may or may not go toward the total cost. make sure you know the camp's refund policy before you send any money.

camp is a vital component to a child's education and development, according to weinstein. so with the many options available for making it affordable, he stresses that parents should make sure they are choosing the correct camp for their child.

"find the right camp and then choose the right amount of time you can afford," he said. "i'd hate for people to choose the wrong camp experience because it's less expensive."


reprinted by permission of the american camp association 2005 american camping association, inc.

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