smart spending

10 ways to tame summer camp costs

Try to stay in the area

A plane ride or train trip significantly boosts total camp costs. All things being equal, it's better to choose a camp that is closer to home.

However, while geography is important, parents ultimately should choose the camp that is right for their child, Solomon says.

Resist the urge to splurge

Most camps recommend campers bring items they likely already have, such as flashlights, sleeping backs, rain gear, play clothes, swimming trunks and sports equipment.

So, don't go out and make any special purchases unless you must.

"What you will find is that parents tend to overpurchase," Smith says. "Get the camp list first and then think about the shopping. It's not going out and buying all new clothes."

Know the refund policy

Sometimes, camp plans don't work out. Smith says parents usually forget to ask about a camp's cancellation policy until they need to use it. Some ACA camps offer a total refund before a certain date; others will only do so in the case of an illness.

Make sure you know the refund policy before you select a camp.

Ask others to contribute

More camps are offering gift certificates than ever before. Such certificates are a good option for people looking to give a holiday or birthday gift that lasts into the coming year.

Help the camp (and it'll help you)

Some camps offer discounts to parents who pay the entire tuition bill several months in advance of the camp session date, says George Coleman, chief executive officer of Coleman Country Day Camp in Merrick, N.Y.

"It gives the camp operating funds so they can do their capital project without having to utilize a line of credit with a bank and pay interest on it," Coleman says. "Everyone benefits this way."

Some camps also cut costs for the children of alumni.

Consider the payment option

Paying camp costs in installments could make the price more palatable.

"If they find a camp they really like, they should ask the camp director, 'What are my options?'" says Cheley. "Most of them will work with you to make sure that child has the experience."

Create a 'canteen fund'

Prepare a "canteen fund" that will provide a child with money to purchase snacks, hygiene products, bug spray, batteries and other items.

Not only can this help you keep better track of camp costs, but it can teach your kids to budget their money, Smith says.

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