Summer camp is an awesome experience for kids, there’s no denying that! The big question, though: is it REALLY worth the extra strain on your budget? To answer this question, you need to think about more than just your wallet. Dig deep and decide not only if you CAN afford summer camp, but if you SHOULD! Today, we have an expert on hand to answer both questions!
My children are begging for camp this summer; I’m just not sure it is in my budget. Guidance, please?
Budgeting for family fun is important, especially in the summer. With a wealth of options at every price point, you can find a summer experience that fits even the thriftiest scenarios. Most summer camps last from one week to the entire summer and average fees range somewhere between $200-$400 per week, according to the American Camp Association. That’s a pretty hefty amount for families on tight budgets! So how do you decide if you can- and should- afford summer camp?
Should YOU Sign up Your child?
Before deciding on a camp, you will need to determine two things:
- Is my child ready? If they are asking to go, they are likely at a point of maturity and independence. Two thumbs up, your child is ready.
- Is camp in my budget? Summer camp is a ‘choice’ and should fall into your discretionary spending bucket. If you don’t have the budget for camp this year, and you’d be putting the payment on a credit card, skip it. While summer camp is fun, it’s not worth going into debt over.
TIPS TO AFFORD SUMMER CAMPS
- Be flexible with your dates to find the best prices. Camps are more likely to offer discounts during slower weeks. They want to fill those cabins, even if it means doing so at a cheaper rate. It’s kind of like finding the best last-minute family travel deals. Ask about reduced rates to fill last-minute open spots and be ready to go if there’s a cancellation.
- Plan ahead! If you can’t be flexible, you’ll need to plan far ahead to lock in the best rates for the week you want. The budget friendly camps fill up quickly. Ensure you have enough dollars for camp set up a separate account to save throughout the year for ‘summer fun’. Find out exactly how much camps will cost and save throughout the year to ease the sticker shock.
- Juggle your discretionary fund. If you didn’t save ahead of time, look at your monthly spending and see if you have any wiggle room during months you will be paying for camp. Perusing your credit card receipts from the last few months can determine what can be scaled back and where the majority of your spending goes. Cutting back on little things like a daily latte or dinner out twice a week can really add up fast.
- Look into local camp options. YMCA has low-cost camps and provides scholarships and financial assistance when applicable. Some school districts also have summer camps that are often quite affordable. Your child doesn’t need to sleep away to still have fun! This is a great option for kids who are apprehensive about spending a week away from home but still want the experience.
- Be a Scout! Both the Girl and Boy Scouts have flexible camper options, and the cost is lower than other camps. Boys and Girls Club of America also offer great price point camp options.
- Volunteer: Some camps offer free or reduced fees in exchange for parents bartering services like dishwashing or being a camp nurse.
- Go smaller: Rather than sending your child away to a big summer camp experience, look at less expensive half-day options, where your child attends either in the morning or the afternoon.
- Keep it age appropriate. Reserve more expensive specialty camps for older children who show a passion for the activities featured at that particular camp. Include kids in the financial discussion, and if they are working age, brainstorm how they may contribute a percentage of the costs. Saving for camp can be a teachable moment in budgeting when your children are included in the discussion.
If you determine that camp is not in the budget, scour your local resources to look for fun things to do that don’t hit your wallet so hard. Create a fun-filled activity calendar full of free events and activities (like the community pool, local festivals, etc.). Another fun idea: considering going camping as a family! While planning, enjoy the process. Summer camp is fun and budgeting for successful experiences for children and families are too!
Have you ever sent your child to summer camp? How did you fit it into the budget? Tell us in the comments!
Rachel Namoff is a financial literacy expert and managing partner at Arapaho Asset Management. To learn more visit, www.aamisit.com.