Monday, May 26, 2008


For kids, summer camp is nothing more than canoe trips, swimming and making new friends, but for parents, it is no vacation for the wallet. (To be honest, some little campers are banished to the woods against their tiny wills. There, they suffer hazing, homesickness, and enough psychic injuries and insecurities to last a lifetime. Oh sure, most survive the trauma reasonably intact. Some even grow up to write blogs. Not mentioning any names. Cough, cough.) Camp costs add up quickly if parents aren't careful when making choices of where to send their children during the hot summer months.

Peg Smith, chief executive officer of the American Camp Association (ACA), says summer camps are not looking to break your piggy bank. However, it's important to know what camp will cost you -- from tuition to special fees for trips and amenities.

Don't be shy. Check into financial aid. Of the 2,400 camps accredited by the ACA, 95 percent offer "camperships," or scholarships ranging from discounts to free tuition, according to Smith. That's an increase from about 75 percent a decade ago.

Baby boomers have contributed to the campership boom, with memories of positive camp experiences motivating them to contribute at levels that have filled foundation coffers. As a parent, it's important to ask about these scholarship/campership opportunities.

Ask 'What sort of financial assistance do you provide?' It's true that camperships are usually awarded based on need, but parents shouldn't automatically assume that their income level will disqualify them. Just ask. The worse they can do is turn you down. The Foundation for Jewish Camping provides assistance at: .

Add a child. (This is impractical advice if you don't already have more than one child. It is probably not worth the expenditure to expand your family just for the camp discount.) If you send more than one child to the same camp, you're likely to get a discount. Sibling discounts can knock anywhere from 5 percent to 15 percent off the tuition cost.

Be an early bird. Early enrollment increases the odds of landing your child's first camp choice. It can also net you a deal on the overall camp cost. Early enrollment can also put you first in line to be considered for a scholarship.

Try to stay in the area. A plane ride or train trip (or even a long car ride with summer's ever- inflating gas prices) will significantly boost total camp costs. All things being equal, it's better to choose a camp that is closer to home.

However, while geography is an important consideration, parents ultimately should choose the camp that is right for their child.

Resist the urge to splurge. Most camps recommend campers bring items they likely already have, such as flashlights, sleeping backs, rain gear, play clothes, swimming trunks and sports equipment. Don't go out and make any special purchases unless you absolutely must. Parents tend to overpurchase. Get the camp list first and then think about shopping. Your little camper's success will not hinge on your purchasing a brand new designer wardrobe.

Know the refund policy. Sometimes, camp plans don't work out. Parents usually forget to ask about a camp's cancellation policy until they need to use it. Some ACA camps offer a total refund before a certain date; others will only do so in the case of an illness. Make sure you know the refund policy before you select a camp.

Ask others to contribute. More camps are offering gift certificates than ever before. Such certificates are a good option for people looking to give a holiday or birthday gift that lasts into the coming year. (Delayed gratification is a nice concept for your children, and let's face it: very few family homes need more stuff. Encourage grandparents and other relatives to help out with the camp costs.)

Help the camp (and it'll help you). Some camps offer discounts to parents who pay the entire tuition bill several months in advance of the camp session date. It gives the camp operating funds so they can do their capital project without having to utilize a line of credit with a bank and pay interest on it. Some camps also cut costs for the children of alumni.

Consider the payment option. Paying camp costs in installments could make the price more palatable. If you find a camp you really like, you should ask the camp director, 'What are my options?'" Most of them will work with you.

Create a canteen fund. With your child, set up a fund that will provide your camper with money to purchase snacks, hygiene products, bug spray, batteries and other items. Not only can this help you keep better track of camp costs, but it can teach your kids to budget their money.

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