Plan an Affordable Budget for Camp
The camp experience can enrich a child’s summer, but camp comes with a cost. According to Tom Holland, CEO of the American Camp Association, tuition ranges from less than $100 up to $1,500 per week for ACA-accredited resident and day camps. That sounds steep, but with some planning and creative budgeting, camp can fit every family’s budget.
The earlier you decide on a camp, the better because many camps offer early registration discounts. Camp scholarships also usually have early deadlines, even as early as Feb. 1 for the upcoming summer. Identify the key dates at the camps you’re eyeing, and mark your calendar.
Scholarships for camp can come from the camps themselves or from local and national organizations.
Parents should call the camps they’re interested in to find out more about the scholarships offered. “According to ACA research, 88 percent of day camps and 95 percent of overnight camps give some form of tuition assistance to their campers,” says Holland.
While every camp has different qualifications, Claire Mickletz, interpretive programs manager at Bellevue State Park in Wilmington, DE, says if your child qualifies for free or reduced lunch at school, then he will probably qualify for tuition assistance at Delaware state park summer camps.
Special interest organizations offer camp scholarships, too. For example, the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia provides needs-based awards to families for day or overnight camp, and the Department of Jewish Education in South Jersey offers funds for children to attend Jewish overnight camp. Members of the Down Syndrome Association of Delaware can apply for funds to help offset camp costs for their child.
Along with early registration discounts, camps often offer sibling discounts or a reduced rate for enrolling in multiple weeks of camp. Marci Rubin, camp director at Camp Kef at the Kaiserman JCC in Wynnewood, PA, offers discounts to people who sign up at their events like camp reunions or open houses. Other camps offer a program where families can earn discounts for each camper referred to them — a great program if your child likes to attend camp with friends. Every camp offers something different, so check into the discounts offered by your child’s camp of choice.
See page 2 for more ways to budget for summer camp.
Some families earmark their tax refund each year for camp tuition. If that isn’t an option, you may be able to take advantage of other tax incentives. For day camps, parents may be able to use a dependent care flexible spending account, which allows parents to be reimbursed for camp on a pre-tax basis when it is used as child care while a parent works, looks for work or attends school, explains Holland.
The child and dependent care tax credit allows parents to claim up to $3,000 of dependent care expenses for one child or up to $6,000 for two or more children. The credit amount is based on adjusted gross income. For more information on these tax breaks, talk with your accountant or visit www.irs.gov.
Some families make saving for camp a year-round effort. John Noel, father to two elementary-age children and director of auxiliary programs at The Tatnall School in Wilmington, DE, which offers sports, technology, academic and specialty summer camps, says, “We look at summer camp as an annual expense. To that end, we’ll reserve funds over the course of the year specifically for ‘the camp fund.’ Once the camp fair season begins, we find a few options to suggest to the children. From there, they get to choose a few camps to attend over the summer.”
Get the kids involved
If your child asks to go to a camp with a steep price tag, have him help earn the money to go. Older children and teens can do odd jobs for family members, friends and neighbors like shoveling snow, walking dogs, babysitting or raking leaves.
Are the grandparents or aunts and uncles looking for gift ideas for birthdays and holidays? Consider suggesting a contribution to your child’s summer camp fund.
Experience shows that sending your child to a high-quality camp is an investment in his education, social skills, happiness and future.
Susan Stopper is a frequent contributor to MetroKids. Photo courtesy of YMCA Camp Tockwogh, located on the Chesapeake Bay in Worton, MD.