You pored over brochures in February and mailed your $350 deposit by the end of the month. Two weeks later, you got a pink slip.
For many parents, choosing a summer camp starts more than six months before day their son or daughter heads off to make some new friends and gain some new skills. If your family loved last year’s camp, the choice is pretty easy. Just check the calendar and pick the most compatible session.
But if last year’s camp wasn’t a hit or you’re sending a child for the first time, you probably went through a lot of work before sending your check. And if you have two or more kids, you can easily spend thousands of dollars for a few weeks at camp.
This year, many parents who stayed within a planned budget and sent in their deposits are facing a huge dilemma. They’ve lost jobs or have seen their businesses fail. Grandparents who planned to foot the bill watched their investment portfolios disappear. Almost everybody’s pinching pennies these days. Should the adults try to soften the kids’ disappointment and just forfeit the deposit or still try to send a camper on schedule?
According to The Washington Post, for the last few years, 10 million U.S. children have been campers each summer. More than half of the 12,000 camps in this country are sleep-away camps. Before giving up on sending your kids to camp this summer because of the recession, consider these tips:
1. Pick a shorter program. If you have yet to select a camp, look for programs that are shorter in duration than what you originally had in mind. One week isn’t necessarily half the price of two but should be less expensive overall. If you’ve already sent in that nonrefundable deposit, contact the camp and ask if you can transfer it toward a shorter camp.
2. Pare the options. Large summer camps offer a smorgasbord of options as far as priced activities. While group activities such as swimming are usually standard, options might include horseback riding, chess lessons, foreign language instruction or classes to develop computer prowess. By choosing fewer options, you will at least axe some of the cost. If you’ve already registered your child or children, ask the camp if you can revise your choices.
3. Forgo sleep-away camps. Consider some nonprofit local camps such as those offered by the Boys and Girls Club. Take a look at camps set up by local churches, synagogues and social service groups. The Post reports that some nonprofits might consider waiving fees for families that can’t afford to pay the full cost. If you’re forced to forfeit a deposit you already paid, enrolling your child in a camp sponsored by a nonprofit camp might still turn out to be cheaper than the total you originally budgeted. The American Camp Association (ACA) says that day camps might cost about $275 per week. Sleep-away camps average around $780, however.
4. Contact the camp director right away. Once you’ve picked a camp, get in touch with the camp director as soon as possible. Each year, The Post states, camps give away more than $39 million in scholarships. Around 90 percent of them offer some type of financial aid, according to the ACA. The weakened economy has also reached the field of recreation. As a result of the recession, some camps are offering payment plans for the first time.
5. Look for little ways to save. If you choose a day camp, skip the meal plan offered and pack your kid’s lunch each day. If you’re working and have vacation time on the books, consider using a couple of hours a day to pick up your child after camp rather than paying for child care on top of the camp fee.
6. Check out your flexible spending account. Find out if your employer offers an FSA that covers dependent care. This type of account usually permits employees to earmark up to $5,000 for costs like child care. The definition normally includes day camp but not sleep-away programs.
If you still find the cost of camp in the “unaffordable now” column, plan a week of inexpensive family fun. This is the time to spend one-on-one time with each child in your family. Let the child participate in the decision-making process as you plan the itinerary. It might include a picnic, making homemade ice cream or a favorite family meal, letting the kids have friends in for sleepovers or taking in a professional sports event as a family. Whatever you choose, make sure to set aside time to make each child feel special.