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For some parents who either relish their own memories of summer camp or who wish to provide their children with an experience that eluded them, sending their child to summer camp can be a bittersweet moment since it heralds a new level of independence in the parent/child relationship. And with such an abundance of camps to choose from—equestrian camp, soccer camp, even video game design camp—there has never been a better time to be a kid considering to spend a little time away from home this summer.
There is one problem though. After putting down the glossy brochure, reality sets in. How are you going to pay for it? This is no small consideration since camp fees, transportation costs, equipment and other expenses can run several thousand dollars per child. You can do it, but it will require good planning, flexibility and teamwork to make the dream a reality.
First, it is essential that you begin planning in advance. Saving for camp should be part of your overall family budget. Since you will need the funds within one year, you can’t afford to risk the principal by investing in stocks, mutual funds, etc. Instead, in order to make the most of your savings, stash the money in a high yield savings account or money market fund.
In addition to your local banks, check out Internet sites like www.bankrate.com that provide current rate information from providers across the country. Remember, while saving for camp is important, it should not be done at the expense of more critical savings goals such as retirement, college and emergency funds. A good strategy for most families is to first build an emergency fund that is equal to at least three months of living expenses.
Working as a team, you have a variety of options to boost savings. These include switching from a high interest credit card to one with a lower interest rate. And why not have rotating “theme” nights where each family member prepares a favorite dinner along with an activity instead of eating out? The point is to engage the entire family in the process, thereby creating an increased sense of ownership. You will be surprised how little things like letting your kids hunt for coupons for their favorite foods can yield big results over time.
A potentially large source of funding can come from your income tax refund. Instead of simply spending the money, have your refund direct deposited into a savings account. By not handling the money, you are less likely to spend it. Also consider downsizing or canceling the expensive family vacation. Make sure you communicate to your child in a positive way that some sacrifices are necessary to pay for camp. Don’t worry about the guilt; you are sharing an important life lesson.
Depending on age, your child can also contribute to the effort by working. It is reasonable to expect your child to save money from babysitting, clearing snow, or working at the supermarket. Of course, as parents, it is our responsibility to carefully monitor where our children work and how many hours they spend there. No matter how much a child wants to go to camp, a job should never become a higher priority than school or a balanced social life. Under the right conditions, a carefully monitored work situation, in addition to be economically rewarding can provide a child with confidence, interpersonal skills and time management skills. It’s a win-win situation.
Be practical. You should manage your child’s expectations toward a summer camp experience that will be fulfilling and affordable. Putting stress on your finances to pay for camp is not a good idea. Be creative. Don’t be afraid to ask the camp about their financial aid policy. Some camps may even allow you to volunteer your time at the camp in exchange for free tuition. Don’t get caught up in the “it’s so expensive, it must be better” mindset. By contrast, Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts have a long tradition of providing top notch camping experiences for children at a very modest expense. Scouting provides many other benefits to children including enhancing their college applications. Now that’s smart.
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