Camp is usually something kids (and parents) look forward to every yea. Just because times are tough, doesn't mean that this year has to be any different. Find out what you can do to keep the camp tradition alive without breaking the bank.
"It's not that camp has become a yes-or-no question, but (parents are) changing the way they make decisions," said Peter Surgenor, president of the ACA, based in Martinsville, Ind, told the Associated Press.
Most commonly, Surgenor said parents are inquiring about shorter or less expensive programs. Here are some of the way that you might be able to save money this summer.
There are more than 12,000 sleep-away and day camps in the country, according to ACA, meaning that are camps to suit every budget. In some cases, nonprofit camps such as the Boys & Girls Club might waive fees for families that can't afford to pay. Churches, synagogues and social service groups also offer low-cost or free options.
One way to begin your search is through CampParents.org, an ACA-run site that lets families search for camps by region, price and key words like "soccer" or "language studies." The site also lets users narrow options to camps that accommodate special needs such as autism, diabetes or attention deficit disorder.
Limit your search to day camps, rather than a round-the-clock sleep-away, is a fast way to slash spending. Fees vary widely, but day camps can cost around $275 a week, while sleep-away can cost about $780, according to ACA.
Pick shorter sessions. Many camps offer a menu of programs that run between two and 10 weeks. Kids generally get the same social benefits from camp, regardless of the duration of the program, Surgenor said. "Camp is about forming social bonds and learning how to fit into a new situation away from home," he said. "You don't need months or an elite program to achieve that."
Once you settle on a camp, negotiate, negotiate, negotiate. Start by talking to the camp director. Every year, camps give away more than $39 million in scholarships, and 90% offer some form of financial aid, according to ACA. Don't be shy about asking camp directors what type of aid is available. If camps won't (or can't) lower their prices, then see if you can arrange for a payment plan rather than paying everything up front -- which many camps require. You can also see if the camp is will to let you barter your "volunteer time" for cheaper fees. Another sure fire money saver is not participating the the camp's meal program - instead packing a bagged lunch can whittle down cost.
Check with your employer. Your company may offer flexible spending accounts for dependent care, which typically lets workers set aside up to $5,000 to cover costs such as child care (including day camp, but not sleep-away camps.) Last year, 84% of large companies offered the benefit, according to the business consulting firm Mercer.
Start thinking about next summer. It might seem far off, but camps often offer deep discounts to families that sign up a summer in advance. Early enrollment for the following year can begin just a week or two into a session.