smart spending

10 ways to tame summer camp costs

To kids, summer camp is nothing more than canoe trips, swimming and making new friends, but to parents, it is no vacation for the wallet. Camp costs can add up quickly if parents aren't careful when making choices of where to send their children during the hot summer months.

Peg Smith, chief executive officer of the American Camp Association, says summer camps are not looking to break your piggy bank.

"Most camps won't put you in a situation where you get nickeled and dimed for everything that comes your way," she says.

However, it's important to know what camp will cost you -- from tuition to special fees for trips and amenities.

Learn these 10 ways to prepare for the cost of camp and to potentially save a few bucks along the way.

Cutting costs
Here are 10 ways to keep summer camp costs under control in 2010.
  1. Know the refund policy
  2. Ask others to contribute
  3. Help the camp (and it'll help you)
  4. Consider the payment option
  5. Create a 'canteen fund'
  1. Check into financial aid
  2. Add a child
  3. Be an early bird
  4. Try to stay in the area
  5. Resist the urge to splurge

Check into financial aid

Of the 2,400 camps accredited by the ACA, 95 percent offer "camperships," or scholarships ranging from discounts to free tuition, according to Smith. That's an increase from about 75 percent a decade ago.

Baby boomers have contributed to the campership boom, with memories of positive camp experiences motivating them to contribute at levels that have filled foundation coffers.

As a parent, it's important to ask about these scholarship opportunities.

"You want to be a good consumer," Smith says. "I think it's just fair for a parent to say, 'What sort of financial assistance do you provide?' It's true that camperships are usually awarded based on need, but parents shouldn't automatically assume that their income level doesn't meet that."

Add a child

If you send more than one child to camp, you're likely to get a discount. Sibling discounts can knock anywhere from 5 percent to 15 percent off the tuition cost, says Jeff Solomon, executive director of the National Camp Association.

For example, at Coleman Country Day Camp in New York, families can save $50 to $100 for a second child and $100 to $200 for a third child, depending on the session length.

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Be an early bird

Early enrollment increases the odds of landing your child's first camp choice. It can also net you a deal on the overall camp cost.

Parents at Cheley Colorado Camps can avoid next year's tuition increase by signing up for a summer 2009 session at the end of this year's summer camp.

Early enrollment can also put you first in line to be considered for a scholarship, Smith says.

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