I realize that it is only January and that summer is a far off mirage. However, I have learned that if I don’t start start thinking about summer camps for my kids now then we will likely be left out in the cold. Not only that, but if there are scant options left, they will be MUCH more expensive.
All summer camps begin their early registration period in February, which was a completely unknown to me until recently. Summer camps figure out the classes that they will offer, and the days or weeks offered, in January and then make them live in February.
This can be an issue for us parents, as the thought of summer hasn’t even begun to cross our snow filled minds. Now don’t get me wrong, some parents are definitely on the ball and already have this worked out. But the rest of us are still just trying to recoup from the holidays and survive all of the extra days the kids are home due to snow days.
So we simply have to get on the train early to compete with those parents that are on top of it. If we don’t, then they take all of the good camps and we are left with the less desirable ones, if any, that are usually more expensive.
Camp Game Plan
Because I have learned this the hard way, I have started planning better. I now ask my kids in January which type of camp they want to go to. Once I have been able to narrow down that information, which usually yields at least 2-3 camp options, then I begin the search. I usually start this towards the very end of January, or at the latest the very beginning of February.
Where we live, I have two very good options to start my search. Carolina Parent and Raleigh Summer Camps are both comprehensive lists, which have a lot of crossover, but each list usually has a few that are not on the other. I like that I can put in the type of camp that I am looking for and narrow it down that way. If you aren’t sure which type of camp your kids want to go to yet, then just going through each of them one by one is also an effective way to go about it.
This search also works for track out camps, if your child is in year round school, and sleep away camps. I am beginning to entertain the idea of a sleep away camp for my oldest, but they are certainly more expensive. Ultimately, the biggest thing for me is the cost. Camps can be expensive!
Camps Cost Cutting Cheats
Okay, so they really aren’t cheats, per say, but they will make sure that you don’t feel cheated out of your hard earned money. The first thing to think about is how many weeks you will need them in camp over the summer, or track out. For me, it depends on the year due to what I have been doing for work and how flexible my schedule has been.
The first few years after my divorce, I needed them to be in camps every other week while I worked. Although, I worked it out with my parents so that they would take them during the day for one week during the summer. They did this so that they could spend some time with them and it helped me work without having to pay for camp for the kids. See if this sort of arrangement could work for you as well!
The thing that you really have to think about is how much you make in a week versus how much camp will cost you. Does it work out financially to send them to camp? If it doesn’t, and you can work it out to take a week or two off, then do it. If it is close, then you may be eligible for financial assistance. This is what saved me!
We have two really good programs here that can assist with decreasing the cost of summer camps. They are Raleigh Parks and Rec and the YMCA. Raleigh Parks and Rec are much lower cost camps to begin with, but both they and the YMCA offers financial assistance to those who fall into the lower income bracket. That is where I fell, as a single parent of two children, so they helped me out.
I put my kids in camps at both places in different years and they enjoyed the experiences. When I needed them to be in camps for 4-5 weeks out of the summer (we have 50/50 custody so that helps) these two programs were my lifesaver.
For example, one of the general summer day camps, where you pack your child’s lunch and provide two snacks, ranges from $30 – $60 a week per kid. With the financial assistance that I got it only cost me $10 per child per week! The summer camp that I sent them to at the YMCA runs $222 per week per child, which was certainly NOT in my budget, so I applied for financial assistance and they gave me the rate of $17 per child per week.
Another great thing to try is Groupon! Very often there will be listings for summer camps at a decent reduced rate. The trick here is if you have more than one child, then calling them to see if they will honor the same price for all children and/or all weeks you want them to attend camp, usually bodes well. The reason is because vendors don’t make 100% of the going price when you purchase a Groupon, but more like 50%. So if you ask for the same rate outside of the Groupon, they will still be better off because they will get 100% of that instead of just the 50%. Very rarely have I found a vendor to balk at negotiating that way.
Now I am at the point where I work from home, so I don’t have to put them in camp as often, although it is easier to do so because working from home with children is a mini-nightmare. I let them choose one camp that they really want to go to, science camp for my son and cooking camp for my daughter, and I send them for one week.
They really like the opportunity of going to camp, learning new skills and meeting new friends. It helps them in their growth and it helps me work without distraction while still on a budget. This is what I call a win-win!
What are some tricks that you have learned to help cut the costs of summer camps?
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