Can't Afford Summer Camp for Your Kids? 3 Options to Explore

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Summer camp can be very expensive. Here's what to do if you can't swing it.

Though it's still only spring, if you have children, now's the time to start thinking about summer camp. This especially holds true if you work full-time and need childcare when school's not in session. Even if you don't work full-time, or at all, wrangling a bunch of kids without any sort of structured program can be difficult, so summer camp is often a good solution for a lot of families.

There's just one problem. Summer camp can be very expensive. The average cost of summer camp in the United States is around $76 a day, according to the American Camp Association. For sleepaway camp, it's $172 a day.

And these are just averages. In some parts of the country, camp costs a lot more. If you can't manage the cost of summer camp, here are some options to look at.

1. Get a job at a camp your kids can attend

Whether you want to send your children to day camp or an overnight camp, if you land a job at that camp, you can often get a substantial discount -- or get free tuition instead of a paycheck. If you don't have a full-time job, or you have a job that doesn't require you to work during the summer (say, you're a teacher or work in a school), then this route is worth considering.

2. Try bartering

Not everyone can take on a job at the summer camp they want their kids to attend. Maybe you work full-time and don't get the summer off, or you have an infant at home you care for. If that's the case, you can try bartering for a discount on camp tuition. Say you work in marketing, and the camp you're interested in wants to drum up business. If you spearhead its campaign for free, you might score discounted or free tuition. Similarly, you could offer to maintain the camp's website as a side hustle in exchange for paying less tuition.

3. Make your own camp

If you don't work, or don't work during the summer, then camp may be more of a "want" than a "need." But still, that doesn't mean your children deserve to spend July and August bored out of their minds. And it certainly doesn't mean that you, as a parent, deserve to deal with that. A better bet? Get creative and pool resources with other parents in a similar boat to make your own camp program. If you find other parents to rotate with, you can take turns hosting a small group of kids and arranging different activities. That way, your kids can stay entertained and you can get a bit of a break during the week.

Unless you have a robust savings account you can dip into to pay for summer camp, you may find that the cost is just too prohibitive where you live. But if that's the case, don't give up. There may be a way for you to send your kids to camp after all, and if that doesn't work, you can always revert to Camp Mom or Dad. It may not be the ideal solution, but if you team up with other parents, it could end up being a lot less painful than you'd expect.

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