How to Make Summer Camp Fit Your Family’s Budget

Affording summer camp can be a struggle for many working families. Here are a few ways to make camp fit any family budget.

Last summer, the New York Times ran a piece about families who can’t afford summer camp or other programs for their kids. It highlights a problem for many working parents: Summertime care for kids is expensive.

This is especially true if your kids are in public school during the year. You suddenly go from paying nothing to have your kids cared for all day to paying a whole lot of money. Many parents may not have much choice but to find summertime childcare.

If this is the boat you’re in, here are a few ways to find a summer camp for your kid and options that may make it more affordable.

1. Check Online for Summer Camp Options

These days most states and major metropolitan areas have parent blogs or magazines devoted to the local area. In my local Indianapolis, for instance, we have Indy’s Child magazine and IndywithKids.com. Both feature a listing of local summer camp options.

Chances are you can find something similar for your area. If you can’t, there are national resources, too. The American Camp Association has a database for finding day and overnight camps in your area. It leans towards ACA accredited camps, though it will list some not accredited. When I ran it for our area, it turned up some but not all the options I know are available. Still, it could be a place to begin your search for a summer camp.

2. Choose a Less Expensive ‘Base Camp’ Option

One thing that makes summer camp expensive is the specialized options. I’ve seen sports camp, Lego camp, technology camp, horse camp and more. If your kid goes to these specialty camps for the summer, you’ll undoubtedly spend more money.

However, many local YMCAs, schools, daycares, churches and city parks programs offer more traditional summer camps. Our daughter’s daycare, for instance, offers a school-aged summer camp program where they hang out at the daycare for much of the day, but also take trips to local parks, libraries and pools. It’s nothing spectacular, but it’s safe, fun, affordable childcare.

If you can find an option like this, build your summer around it. Then you can splurge on a week or two of more expensive specialty camps for your kid.

Where do you find these less expensive options? Check out the following:

  • YMCA: The Y runs summer camps all over the U.S., and sometimes offers a sliding scale fee to make things more affordable. While they offer more expensive specialty camps, most local Y’s also offer traditional day camp options.
  • Churches and religious centers: Many churches and religious community centers offer summer-long day camp options that are quite affordable.
  • Schools: Local schools with before- and after-care programs may transition those into affordable summer camps with fun activities for kids.
  • Parks and recreation: City and county parks and rec departments also run summer camps, and these tend to be more affordable than other options.
  • Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts: If your child is a scout, look into their summer camp options. These are often overnight options, but they tend to be very affordable.
  • Local businesses: Sometimes local businesses offer summer camp-like programs that are for mentoring older kids who may want to become entrepreneurs. These camps may be based on an application process, so be on the lookout well ahead of time.
  • Local colleges: Often local colleges and universities provide camps as a way to get their own students teaching, leadership and coaching experience.

3. Consider a Nanny Camp

Can’t find any affordable summer camp options in your area? Consider putting together a “nanny camp” with friends or neighbors. This is basically a summer-long nanny sharing program.

You’ll hire a nanny to take care of a reasonable number of kids — say four or five — and the nanny can do some summer-camp activities, like going to local parks and pools. This works best if the kids in the nanny camp are around the same age, and if you can provide the nanny with a safe way to get the kids around town.

4. Ask for Assistance

If you can’t afford even the least expensive camp option on your list, ask for financial assistance. Many summer camps offer scholarships for enrollment fees. Sometimes the information about these options isn’t easy to find, so ask about it. Even if you feel like you make too much money to qualify, it doesn’t hurt to ask.

You should also check for discounts. Some camps offer early registration discounts, and others will give you a reduced rate if you pay for the whole season at once. Tons of summer camps also have sibling discount options, which is why it often makes sense to enroll your kids in the same summer camp.

Making summer camp fit into your family’s budget can be tough, especially if you’re not already used to paying for full-time childcare. But there are plenty of excellent, affordable options out there if you just know where and how to look.

Cards for Camp?

You may be tempted to apply for a credit card to earn rewards for your summer expenses. If you do, be sure to check the terms and conditions so you know what you’re getting into. Also, make sure to check your credit to make sure you’ll qualify. You can check two of your scores on Credit.com.

Image: SolStock

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