Summer Camp: Can I Afford it — and Should I?

Budgeting for Summer Camp

Budgeting for family fun is important, especially in the summer. With a wealth of options in 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.

Before deciding on a camp, you will need to determine two things:

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

To maximize your dollars, be flexible with your dates to find the best prices.  And plan ahead! The camps that are deals are the first to fill up. As a last resort, ask about reduced rates to fill last-minute open spots and be ready to go if there's a cancellation.

To 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 camp will cost and save in the colder months to ease sticker shock.

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.

Look into local camp options.  YMCA has low-cost camps and provides scholarships and financial assistance when applicable.  Inquire with your local school district - they often have summer camps that are often quite affordable. Boy and Girl Scouts have flexible camper options and the cost is lower than other camps. Boys and Girls Club of America also offers great price point camp options.

Some camps offer free or reduced fees in exchange for parents bartering services like dishwashing or being a camp nurse. Or look at less expensive half-day options, where your child attends either in the morning or the afternoon.

If you determine that camp is not in the budget, scour your local resources (like Colorado Parent!) and create a fun-filled activity calendar full of free events and activities (like the community pool, local festivals, etc.)

For more expensive specialty camps, reserve those for older children who show a passion for the activities featured at that particular camp.  Include kids into 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.

While planning, enjoy the process.  Camp is fun and budgeting for successful experiences for children and families is too!

Rachel Namoff is a financial literacy expert and managing partner at Arapaho Asset Management.