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Kimberly Palmer: How to make summer camp more affordable


Camp experts offer tips if you’re looking for ways to make summer camp more affordable this year.

To create a fun yet affordable summer for her daughters, ages 11 and 13, Flossie McCowald plans camps well in advance. The Pennsylvania native takes advantage of early bird discounts, takes advantage of a sleepover camp at the church that offers college scholarships, and avails sibling discounts.

“Every little bit helps,” says McCowald, the founder of, where she writes about parenting.

That’s especially true when camping is more expensive than ever. “We are in an inflationary environment and camp is no exception,” said Tom Rosenberg, president and CEO of the American Camp Association, which represents camps and industry professionals. He adds that camps are facing price increases in every major cost category, including personnel, insurance and transportation.

The ACA says that according to responses it collected from members across the country in 2022, day camp costs an average of $88 per day and overnight camp costs $173 per day, while some camps are free and most offer need-based financial aid to low-income families.

If you’re looking for ways to make summer camp more affordable this year, consider these tips from camp experts:


As McCowald’s experience shows, booking early – even before last summer is over – can yield significant savings. Camps often offer discounts for early bird signups and give away much-needed financial aid or discounted seats while the camp is still running.

Sometimes camps that try to set up programs for certain age groups offer huge discounts to new campers, says Karen Meister, director of the southern chapter of Camp Experts and Teen Summers, which finds camps and summer programs for kids and teens.

“Most discounted offers are made at the end of August, the summer before,” she adds. That’s one reason why signing up early pays off.


Lauren Nearpass, CEO of Summer 365, which helps families find summer camps and programs, says how you choose to pay for camp often affects the final price. You may be able to get a discount by, for example, paying the full amount in advance or by paying with a check instead of a credit card. If you sign up for a longer stay, the price per week may also decrease and installment payments may be possible.

“Never hesitate to ask about discounts. Not all financial aid is advertised,” says Nearpass.

Rosenberg notes that day camp expenses may also qualify for the child and dependent care tax credit, as well as flexible dependent care spending accounts, which are tax-advantaged accounts offered by employers.


Jennifer Rosenstein, a camp reference agent for The Camp Lady, who helps families find camps and teen programs, says it’s worth checking additional costs that may crop up later, such as travel to camp or hotel rooms the night before camp begins. Uniforms and extra activities such as horseback riding or excursions can also contribute to the total price.

Nearpass notes that you can often buy camping gear like uniforms at discounted prices from websites or Facebook groups. “You can also team up with other parents to buy items in bulk for spiritual days or other necessities — divide and conquer,” she says.


Rosenberg says there are many types of camps that go beyond the for-profit model, including not-for-profit camps, camps run by service organizations, and faith-based camps, many of which offer grants. The ACA’s “Find a Camp” tool helps parents find all of their options.

Community groups, colleges and local governments often offer discount camps, Rosenberg adds. The National Summer Learning Association’s Discover Summer website can help parents connect with local options, as well as job programs and summer internships for teens.

McCowald says if you have a child with a medical condition, learning disability, or special needs, there are often free or discounted camp options available.

Parents can also save by keeping a few weeks less scheduled. “Summer is a great time to just get outside and play, bike around the neighborhood, and hang out with friends,” says McCowald, acknowledging that not everyone lives in a neighborhood amenable to that kind of freedom . Parents can even form a “camp co-op” where they take turns supervising each other’s kids and planning activities, she adds.


Whatever you pay for camp, you can turn the decision-making process into a learning experience, says Kate Sorensen, owner of the website and mother of two camp-loving kids in Iowa. “I said to my daughter this morning, ‘We’ll sign up for camps together and write down the cost of each one,'” she says. In this way, her daughter learns to appreciate the value of the camp.

It’s a lesson the camp can teach before it even starts.


This column was provided to The Associated Press by the personal finance website NerdWallet. Kimberly Palmer is a personal finance expert at NerdWallet and the author of “Smart Mom, Rich Mom.” Email: [email protected]. Twitter: @KimberlyPalmer.


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Joanna Swanson

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