It’s difficult to put a price tag on your child’s learning experiences, but in today’s economy and uncertain employment climate, most families certainly need to consider the family budget when planning a summer camp experience for their child. With a little planning and research, however, parents won’t have to compromise on the type of camp experience they’d like their child to have. Here are some unexpected ways to make summer camp work within your budget:
*Search camps by cost. The American Camp Association, New York and New Jersey, has a camp database (campwizard.org) that allows families to search camp by cost (camp fees range from less than $300 per week to $800 or more per week) as well as by location, activities, day or resident camp. Families can also call the American Camp Association’s Camp Specialist at 1-800-777-CAMP for free, one-on-one advice on finding the right camp at the right price.
*Look for camp early. Some camps offer early bird specials for registering early. Searching early also gives families a longer time to plan financially for camp.
*Camp as a present (a really big one). Families can consider paying for camp as part of their child’s birthday or holiday gifts, so that they can budget throughout the year. Maybe other families members like grandparents would also consider putting their regular gifts toward the gift of summer camp.
*Look into government savings programs and tax credits. Research a Dependent Care Flexible Spending Account. This allows parents to be reimbursed on a pre-tax basis for child care or adult dependent care expenses that are necessary to allow parents to work, look for work, or attend school full time while they are caring for qualified dependents. In certain circumstances, day camp expenses, including transportation by a care provider, may be considered dependent care services (visit fsafeds.com for more information). Also, consider a Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit. The IRS allows an income tax credit of up to $6,000 of dependent care expenses if you have two or more dependents (up to $3,000 for one dependent). The amount of the credit is based on your adjusted gross income and applies only to your federal taxes. This applies to qualifying day camp expenses as well (visit IRS.gov for more info.)
*Talk to the camp director. If money is an issue, parents should talk to and negotiate with the camp director at the camp they are interested in sending their child to. Some camps offer scholarships and other kinds of financial aid. They usually have sibling discounts, and they may also be inclined to help you if you have recommended the camp to others who have enrolled. Also, if your child has previously attended the camp, the camp director is likely to feel a special urge to help you make it work. Chances are he likes your kid! Chances are he or she will view you as a family who was loyal the camp when times were good, and he may want to give you a partial scholarship as way to help you but also to keep your family in the fold, so that you’ll keep coming back in future years when you can more easily afford it.
*Barter your time and services. If you have time or services to barter, a camp may be interested in accepting your help in exchange for a deeply discounted fee for your child.
*Hold a fundraiser! Kids raise funds all the time for good causes, whether it’s because the basketball team needs new uniforms or the band wants to take a trip to a competition. Help your child put together some of kind of fundraiser to help pay for camp.
*Check out camps sponsored by non-profit organizations like the YMCA (i.e. groups who see helping families as part of their core mission).Those camps are generally less expensive than for-profit camps, and they might also have more scholarship opportunities.
“When you think about how much it costs to have a child home all summer, with child care and activities, you realize you can be paying a very small premium for a very rich camp experience,” says Adam Weinstein, executive director of the American Camp Association, New York and New Jersey. “With careful planning, parents can find a camp that works within their family’s needs.”