How to find affordable summer camps

04/07/2014 12:36 PM

04/07/2014 12:37 PM

Remember when summer vacation meant lazy days lounging in the sun or hitting the road for weeks at a time to visit family and friends in far-away places? No? I’m not surprised.

Between the job demands of working parents and the activity schedules of kids, summer vacation can seem as hectic as the school year. In the summer, you need a plan to occupy your kids – whether it is overnight camp, day camp or some other option. One of the best ways to save yourself some money is to start planning early.

“For sleep-away camps, you can get a discount if you sign up before leaving,” says Sue Rodman, creator of the blog “Field Trips with Sue.” It also pays to sign up early for day camps, since many offer end-of-the-year specials for the following season, says Rodman.

It’s not just about money. Early this year, for instance, the Children’s Museum of Atlanta offered a special summer camp deal. Anyone who signed up for a camp session received a free one-year membership to the museum. Look for incentives beyond dollar discounts.

Obscurity can pay. “There are tons of camps out there and they don’t have to be the ones you see all the time,” Rodman says. The well-known camps with advertising budgets fill up quickly and are probably more expensive. Check into lesser known programs, talk to families who attend and ask about camper ratios, supervision and the mix of kids, Rodman says.

If you’re not one of the early birds, you can still find ways to save on summer arrangements. Here are a few ideas:

Get informed. Camp expos can help you figure out which camp experience is best for your child and can also help you compare costs. Local malls sometimes will host events at which camp organizers are showcased. Check with youth organizations, colleges and universities about any summer offerings in academics, arts and sports.

Host a home show. Some overnight camps may give the option of hosting an information session at your home. In return, you get a discount on fees for any referrals who sign up, Rodman says.

Be a subscriber. If you are interested in a day camp program offered by a particular institution, get a membership and follow the program on social media to get alerts about camp registration. Members may also get discounted camp rates.

Go your own way. Consider hiring a sitter for the summer. “College kids are looking for summer employment. Find someone with a skill,” says Rodman, who in the past hired a student lacrosse player who taught her children how to play the sport.

Use local resources to plan a summer itinerary and enlist the sitter’s assistance in building a fun experience. You can call local schools and ask for students who may be interested in summer employment. Also check with sororities or other campus organizations, Rodman says. If you can’t afford a sitter on your own, consider a sitter share with another family.

Look in the neighborhood. Some communities operate inexpensive day camps. Rodman also suggests considering themed camps – such as gymnastics or cheerleading – run by older kids in your neighborhood. They are less expensive, though they may come together later in the summer.

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