Making Camp Affordable
Seven ways to put a summer experience within your child's reach
It's hard to put a price tag on kids' learning and growth, but parents certainly have family budgets to think about when considering camp. The good news is, there's a program to fit nearly every one. With a little research, not only can you find camps within a certain price range - you may also reduce certain costs by asking some key questions.
1. Research camps by cost. At CampParents.org, the American Camp Association's family-dedicated site, the "Find a Camp" database lets you search for camps within your price range. The database also allows searches by location, special needs, special activities, length of session and age - and you can search multiple variables at once.
Parents may be surprised to learn that among ACA-Accredited camps, fees can be as low as less than $100 per week for day camps. Among resident camps, one of every four camps has weekly fees between $100 and $300. If you're looking to estimate costs, it's helpful to know that the median weekly fee for day camps is $182; for resident camps, it's $390.
2. Ask about financial assistance. Ninety percent of camps offer some sort of financial assistance to families, usually in the form of "camperships." These can cover a portion or all enrollment fees. The camp may not offer this option up front, so you do need to inquire. Although camperships are usually awarded based on need, don't automatically assume that your income level doesn't qualify. Ask! Just remember that it's vital to apply early.
3. See if the camp offers special discounts. Many provide discounts for situations such as early registration, full-season enrollment or multiple enrollments from one family. This is another case of making sure to ask. You may find that you're entitled to a reduced rate.
4. Find out the camp's refund policy. These vary greatly from camp to camp. Some will give a total refund prior to a certain date, while others will refund in the case of illness only. Others don't offer refunds, so be certain before enrolling your child and sending money. Most camps ask for a small nonrefundable deposit at the time of application, which may or may not go toward the cost of camp fees.
5. What's included in the enrollment fee? Day camps will typically include transportation. Resident camps may offer limited transportation, such as a van ride from a major local train station. Ask about fees for special programs and trips, special equipment that's required, organization memberships, and amenities such as laundry service and the camp canteen.
6. Day camp can be tax-free. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) allows an income tax credit of dependent care expenses, which may apply to qualifying day camp expenses as well. The amount of the credit is based on adjusted gross income and applies only to federal taxes. Click here to learn about the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit.
7. Look into a Dependent Care Flexible Spending Account. This allows parents to be reimbursed on a pre-tax basis for childcare or adult-dependent care expenses that are necessary to allow parents to work, look for work or attend school full-time while caring for qualified dependents. In certain circumstances, day camp expenses, including transportation by a care provider, may be considered dependent care services. Click here for FAQs about these accounts.