While it's hard to put a price tag on their children's learning and growth, parents certainly have their family budgets to think about when considering camp. The good news is that there is a camp program to fit nearly every budget.
With a little research, parents can find ways they may not have thought of to make camp affordable. Not only can parents look for camps within a certain price range, but they may also reduce costs by asking some key questions.
Research camps according to cost. At the ACA's family-dedicated Web site, CampParents.org, families can use the Find a Camp database to search for camps within their price range. Using the database, they can identify camps according to a number of variables including cost. The database also allows parents to search by location, special needs, special activities, length of session and age, and they can search multiple variables at one time.
Fees to attend camp vary, and 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 out of four camps has weekly fees between $100 and $300. If a parent is looking to estimate costs, it's helpful to know that the median weekly fee for day camps is $182, and for resident camps, $390.
Ask camps what financial assistance is available. Ninety percent of camps offer some sort of financial assistance to families, usually in the form of "camperships." Camperships can cover a portion or all of the camp enrollment fees. The camp may not offer this option up-front, so parents should ask if assistance is available. Although camperships are usually awarded based on need, parents should not automatically assume that their income level doesn't qualify - they should ask the question! For this kind of assistance, it's important to keep in mind that it's vital to apply early.
Check if the camp offers special discounts. Camps offer discounts for situations such as early registration, full-season enrollment or multiple enrollments from one family. This is another case of making sure that families ask the question. Parents may find that they're entitled to a reduced rate!
Be sure to find out the camp's refund policy. Refund policies 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. Other camps do not offer refunds, so parents should be certain of their chosen camp's policy before they enroll their child and send money. Most camps will ask for a small nonrefundable deposit at the time of application, which may go toward the cost of camp fees.
When planning a budget for camp, determine what's included in the enrollment fee. Day camps will typically include transportation as part of their fees. Resident camps may offer limited transportation, such as a van ride from a major local train station. Other fees to ask about are ones for special programs and trips, special equipment that is required, organization memberships and amenities such as laundry service and the camp canteen.
Day camp can be tax-free. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) allows an income tax credit for 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. Parents can visit the IRS's Web site for more information about the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit.
A Dependent Care Flexible Spending Account allows parents to be reimbursed on a pretax basis for child care or adult dependent care expenses that are necessary to allow parents to work, look for work or attend school full-time while they are caring for qualified dependents. In certain circumstances, day camp expenses, including transportation by a care provider, may be considered dependent care services. See the FSAFEDS Web site for more information.
With so many options to choose from, and with careful planning, a camp experience for virtually every child is possible, no matter what a family's budget may be.
© 2005 American Camp Association Inc. Founded in 1910, the American Camp Association is a national community of camp professionals and is dedicated to enriching the lives of children and adults through the camp experience.