PLEASE NOTE: The city’s biggest Camp Fairs are coming up on March 5 (in Park Slope), March 12 (in Cobble Hill), and March 25-26 (on the UES and UWS). The fairs are informative, free, and fun for the whole family. The Camp Fairs (the largest in NYC) offer families the unprecedented opportunity to speak with a big host of camp directors and get essential questions answered. CLICK HERE for details and to register.
Send the children to relatives living in more economical environs: Once they hit first grade or so, many kids relish time away with the grandparents or cousins. It’s a bonus when those relatives happen to live in less expensive zip codes. One summer, both our sons went to a full-week, half-day LEGO camp outside of Charlotte, NC. Total cost for both: $360. A few years earlier, our older son, Andy, flew by himself to North Carolina to participate in both a horseback riding camp ($300 for the week) and two weeks of half-day LEGO camp ($180 per week). Even with the cost of camps and airfare—including the $50 unattended minor surcharge—we ultimately spent less than had he camped locally. If you’re not fortunate enough to have relatives living in close proximity to each other and willing to share child-minding duties, you’ll likely be able to hire a babysitter anywhere else for about half the price of a New York caregiver. Depending on where the kids go, they’ll be exposed to regional camps—like NASCAR racing down South, rappelling out West, and boating along the water.
Send the kids abroad: For older children learning another language, consider sending them farther. Cultural organizations like the China Institute offer in-country immersion programs for a month or longer, with airfare, housing, meals, and schooling included.
Look for camp discounts on flash-sale sites like Groupon or Living Social: In addition to standards like Oasis summer camp in Central Park and elsewhere in the vicinity, you’re likely to find unusual week-long offerings like fencing, martial arts, and sailing. From now right up through summer, you can find good deals and coupons on programs, though one can expect offerings to ramp up as the weather gets warmer.
Pay attention to school auction booklets: Most public and private schools (as well as other charities) host annual auctions that fund projects they couldn’t otherwise afford. Some items up for grabs are posted on biddingforgood.com, but others are kept for live- or silent-bidding the night of the event. If you’re not invited to an auction with offers you’d like to buy, ask a friend in attendance to bid for you.
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Patch together a summer of camp, one week at a time: You’ll feel like an army general juggling logistics, but if you can spare the time to coordinate 10 weeks of various activities, you’ll likely see significant savings. Plus, your advanced planning will provide your child with a much greater variety of activities. Say your 10-year-old can’t decide whether she wants to be a historian, scientist, squash pro, veterinarian, or diplomat. You probably won’t find one camp that covers it all. Rather than forcing her to pick one avocation for the entire summer, consider enrolling her in a few different camps. For example, the Mount Vernon Hotel for colonial exposure, the American Museum of Natural History for hands-on time with hominoids, and intensive Mandarin at the China Institute.
Think locally: Check out free (or almost free) city programs, such as Junior Rangers, Parks Department Summer Camps, and NYPD Summer Youth Police Academy. InsideSchools.org lists summer and other programs, and the nonprofit Parents of Accelerated Learners details summer programs near and far across a myriad interests. The programs aren’t free, but check for financial aid. And if you’re tired of shelling out money, consider having the kids get a job: The city offers summer jobs for ages 14-24 via the Summer Youth Employment Program.
Get rewards for the expense: Lastly, try to put your camp bill on a credit card that rewards spending, like an airline Visa card, American Express Hilton Honors card, or cash-back credit card. If you’re going to spend the money anyway, you may as well get something back for it.
Hillary Chura writes the Le$$er Parenting column on our Parenting In Progress blog, where she helps New Yorkers parent for less. She lives in Manhattan with her sons and husband.