Here's How I'm Coping With the Astounding Cost of Summer Camp

by Maurie Backman | Published on Aug. 8, 2021

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Young adult girl helping kids in a kayak.

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Summer camp costs a small fortune when you have multiple children in full-time programs. Here's how I'm dealing with that expense.

Last summer, the camps in my area made the decision to close for the season due to coronavirus-related concerns. My kids were really unhappy, as was I.

As a full-time working mom, I rely on summer camp to keep my kids occupied so I can work. While they're old enough to hang out by themselves at home, it's not easy for them to sit inside the house for hours on end, day in and day out. And so last summer was a bit of a struggle for all of us.

The upside, however, was that I was able to nicely pad my savings account by virtue of not spending money on camp. But this summer, camp is back on, and that means the bills have already been rolling in for months.

Between tuition, fees, gear, and counselor tips, I'm looking at many thousands of dollars for a full summer of camp. Here's how I'm dealing with it.

1. I'm putting in more hours at work

Last summer, I saved a lot of money on camp -- but I also couldn't just let my kids spend the entire summer tucked away in the house. They're elementary school aged and aren't old enough to do activities unsupervised. As such, I took a fair amount of time off so we could go to the pool during the week, hit the beach, ride bikes, and enjoy our fair share of fresh air. As a result, I worked less, and therefore, I earned less, since I work on a freelance basis.

This summer, I have full-time childcare in the form of camp. So I'm making an effort to work as much as I can. I'm hoping that the extra hours help compensate for my extra bills. Yes, I do budget for summer camp. But this year, unfortunately, a lot of camps have raised their prices to make up for lost revenue from last summer, and the camp my children attend is no exception.

2. I'm being more judicious about other spending

After having spent much of the summer of 2020 stuck at home or in the general vicinity of it, I refuse to lock down this summer due to personal finances. But I'm also making a point not to spend so freely.

Normally, my family and I go out to dinner a fair amount during the summer because we enjoy eating outdoors and our schedules aren't as packed in the evenings in the absence of after-school activities, which are usually paused for the summer. This year, we're limiting ourselves to one dinner out per week.

We're also not taking a huge vacation like we normally would. In the past, we've gone away for two to three weeks at a time, albeit in road-trip form, which is relatively economical. This year, we're planning on a one-week getaway at a rustic cabin that's not very expensive. And while we're there, we plan to do a lot of cooking to keep our travel costs down.

3. I'm trying to eke out as much grocery savings as I can

The upside of having my kids in camp is that they get fed during the day. That allows me to spend a little less money on groceries. Plus, my kids enjoy visiting farmers markets on weekends, so often, we'll make that an activity, as it allows us to get out of the house and also save some money on produce.

Summer camp is very expensive. But if I'm being honest, it's really worth every dollar.

Last summer, my children attended Camp Backyard, and while I tried my best to make it fun (think cornhole tournaments and more water gun battles than I can count), it wasn't nearly the same as spending the summer with their peers. This year, I'm okay with paying those bills -- even if they do mean sacrificing in other areas.

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