Choosing Summer Camp Early Can Mean Savings

Springtime brings thoughts of cleaning and fresh starts — it also signals that summer will soon be upon us. Time to start thinking about how to occupy the children over the long summer break. Summer camp can provide fun-filled days of excitement, learning, and making new friends.

The first thing to consider is your budget for summer camp. Costs vary widely–from about $200 a week to $1,000 a week. Are you planning a family vacation during the summer that needs to be built into your budget? Determine how much you have available to spend, as this will help you to narrow your choices.

Camp costs may be eligible as a claim against your dependent care account through your work, allowing you to save pre-tax dollars to pay for childcare. If you do not have access to this account at work it may be possible to claim the Child and Dependent Care credit when you file your tax return. Costs paid for summer camp for a child under age 13 may qualify for this credit.

Starting to plan early has its benefits–some camps provide discounts for signing up early, or sibling discounts. Also, some programs are free but will likely fill up early. Programs like the Fresh Air Fund provide free camp for low-income children in the New York area and Newark. Contact your local YMCA or county parks department for low-cost camp options. Many universities, sports centers, museums, and theaters offer summer camp options.

What type of experience do you want your child to have over the summer? Will you send your child to a day camp or sleep away camp? Some programs are focused on fun outdoor activities; others are more educational. Options include drama, dance, music and STEM camps. The programs may not run for the whole summer, so you can choose different options for different weeks.

Go to a camp open house to understand how the camp is run, and take a tour of the facility. What is the camp counselor-to-camper ratio? If they take the kids on trips — how do they keep them all together? If your child has allergies, are the counselors trained in using an EpiPen? Be sure you’re comfortable with the answers you receive. Speak to other parents about their experiences.

As for me, my kindergartner will likely return to the summer camp at our local YMCA. She will enjoy swimming and trips to the beach. We will also sign her up for the local library summer book reading program where she can earn prizes — we will not let her incur summer brain drain.

This post was written by Dawn Brown, who is originally from Birmingham, England. She received her B.A. with honors from Birmingham City University (formerly Birmingham Polytechnic). She is a graduate of Pace University’s Financial Planning Program, a CFP® licensee, and a member of the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors, or NAPFA. She has appeared in many publications, including The Wall Street Journal, Money, Consumer Reports, and Black Enterprise.