The high cost of raising a child is indisputable, and my wife and I are somewhat in denial about how much we spend on our children’s extra-curricular activities. Sure, we know what it costs to sign up for hockey, and we know the fee for each tennis lesson. It is those incidentals and unexpected opportunities that are difficult to determine. And to be honest, my parental enjoyment of these activities might be diminished if I paid too much attention to these financial expenditures.
There is, however, no way to ignore summer camp costs. Furthermore, it does not matter if your child is going for a sleep-away experience or attending a local day program, tuition and expenses add up quickly. Parents should investigate a variety of options before pitching a tent because higher prices do not necessarily equate to a better experience.
The biggest factor that determines camp cost is that some are for-profit programs. These camps often offer specialized curriculums, professional instructors, premium facilities and unique off-campus excursions. Furthermore, many aim to not only provide a fun experience, but also to improve a particular skill. If you can afford these camps, and if you think your child will enjoy the experience, then this may be your best option.
There also are nonprofit programs, which are typically supported by an agency such as the YMCA or Scouts, and may or may not have a religious affiliation. Interestingly, about 75 percent of all overnight camps fall into this category. These programs cost less than their private counterparts but are just as capable of providing a ‘rich’ experience as their higher-priced competitors. Most also are geographically desirable, which allows your child to make new friends from the area.
Before making a decision about which camp is best, parents should engage in some pre-purchase research. Learn about the facility’s character, reputation, service and quality. Also ask your child what they would like to do. Just because you enjoyed canoeing and camping, it doesn’t mean that your daughter will have the same interest. Explore alternatives and collaboratively discuss what makes the most sense.
The decision is made, tuition is paid and the excitement is building. Unfortunately, there still are more costs to be incurred. Medical physicals, extra medications and completed doctor form fees can quickly add up. More expensive, however, are the trips to Dick’s Sporting Goods and REI for specialized gear and equipment. And then there is the price of travel and other unknown factors, which create further expenses.
If you feel like you need to take out a second mortgage to pay for your child’s summer time fun, you are not alone. Don’t despair. While camp itself does not typically provide any tax breaks, check with your accountant to determine deductions for related medical expenses or child care credits, especially for day camps. And to save money, inquire about discounts for referrals or sibling attendance. Also ask about volunteer opportunities as some programs provide price breaks in return for free labor.
Still cringing at the potential expense? Consider the huge personal value that camp offers to parents. Summer programs provide a safe, fun, and supervised environment: no need to worry about reliable babysitters and bored children spending mindless hours in front of a screen. Take advantage of a quieter house and enjoy a peaceful afternoon at home doing whatever you want!
Lastly, keep in mind that camp truly is an incredible investment with a great return. Kids learn independence and self-reliance as they become personally accountable for their own things. Camp also further develops a child’s interpersonal abilities as they navigate new relationships. But best of all, this personal development occurs while kids are having fun doing the things they enjoy.