How to budget for summer camp

Summer break is quickly approaching. Last year, I was worried about how I would keep the kids entertained; this year, I vacillate between two ends of the emotional spectrum — being excited and feeling a little overwhelmed.

Excited, because I say “adios” to the early morning bus routine and the backpack-and-lunchbox ritual for a few glorious weeks. And socks. They quit wearing socks in the summer. (Can I get a “hallelujah”?)

But I am feeling a little overwhelmed too. The sock shenanigans at my house get replaced with drinking glasses and copious Go-Gurt wrappers all over the kitchen counters sticky with spilled lemonade.

Yep, there's nothing like a few weeks of summer vacation to make me long for a clean house (even if it's just for a few hours) and some peace.

What's the solution? Kids' activities like sports camps or arts and crafts.

But here's the challenge: budgeting for the extra expense.

Find Free Activities First

As with any product or service, it's easier to budget something when it's free. Last year, for five weeks, my kids attended a free day camp at their school that was funded by a grant. Check with your local school or library to see if they plan to offer something similar.

Since the free day camp will not be offered this year, I am trying to come up with my own ideas for free activities.

I'm throwing an epic “Capture the Flag” event for my son and his friends one day. My daughter has yet to choose her activity, but she will get to have her friends over for a long day of fun too.

(This will only exacerbate my sticky lemonade problems, but I think of my kids' friends' moms enjoying their clean houses — haha!)

For more activity ideas, you can check out the post I wrote last year about different summer activities for kids (and check out the comments for some really great suggestions).

Envision Your Summer

Think through (and ask your kids) how you want the summer to feel. Here's what I mean: I prefer a flexible summer, so we don't schedule a lot of lengthy activities. However, I like to have lots of options for daily activities that I can do easily if the kids need a change of scenery. We are also moderately restricted by budget, so we can't do everything.

So, the questions:

  1. How much can you afford to budget?
  2. What are the available options?
    Living in a rural community means our options are limited.
  3. What are your child's interests?
    Match up your available options to your child's interests. (If you are like us, the limited options force you to get creative!)
  4. How much time can you (and your child) afford to spend at these activities?
    Our family does best with structure and lots of downtime. So we try not to over-schedule ourselves. Prioritizing what is most important to your family is helpful when deciding on which activities to accept or decline.
  5. Are there transportation costs?
    Consider both time spent at the event and time off work for a parent to drive the child to and from the activity, as well as the cost of gas or public transportation.

Budgeting for Summer Activities

Once you decide on which camps or activities, it's time to plan how to pay for it.

First, check to see if your chosen summer activity offers a scholarship program that defrays all or part of the scholarship cost. Are there any other discounts available?

Once you know the bottom dollar, you may want to use some of the ideas below:

  • When I was in high school, I worked at a bank. One of their most popular products was a Christmas Club savings account. Customers saved small amounts each week ($1 or $5) to have money for gifts at Christmas. You could employ a similar savings tactic in an online savings account to budget for summer camp.
  • Throw all your change in a jar all year long. When summer finally comes around, put that money toward camp.
  • Ask your kids to contribute. This is slightly off-topic, but it is amazing how kids' wants change when it's their money that will be paying for it. If you are ambivalent about whether or not to send your child to camp or another activity, asking the child to help pay for it may show you how interested the child truly is.
  • This next idea isn't really budgeting, but maybe a grandparent, aunt or uncle is looking for a suitable gift idea for your child. Enter summer camp.
  • If you get a tax refund, bonus or other irregular infusion of cash, earmark a portion of it for summer activities.

Same Old, Same Old

No matter what you are saving for, the concepts are the same: bank any extra, cut corners somewhere else, earn more if you can … you've heard it all before. However, this is one area where I think asking your child to contribute part of the expense is totally reasonable. And it could be educational for them as well.

Do you expect higher expenses in the summer due to your children's activities? How do you plan to pay for them? And I have to know, does anyone else have sock reproduction happening at their house, or is it just us?

More about...Budgeting, Planning

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5 years ago

I’m not a parent yet, but I love the idea of giving money towards summer camp as a gift! Definitely worth keeping in mind for my nieces and nephews.

5 years ago

I can’t wait til my kids are old enough to go to summer camp – I personally loved going every year myself! I love a lot of these ideas for saving up to give the kids lots of activities over the summer.

5 years ago

You’re taking all our socks apparently . . . It’s fairly straightforward here – our kids attend a private school – payment for tuition is 10 times a year – the money covers summer in the off months – however before we were in private school I had a budget line that was just for summer activities – joining the local pool was a hefty expense [no longer worthwhile sadly – but we do live in a beach area] as were day trips and beach time. We spend more because we have more time for fun – it was nice… Read more »

5 years ago

With both parents working jobs that did not allow for taking the summer off and no grandparents, we put DS in a day-camp located near Dad’s office. DS enjoyed himself, got a chance to socialize with other kids and learned how to swim and sail and do other things we couldn’t have taught him; in later years he got a chance to do theatre which he loves. There was always a gap of 1-3 weeks in June between school and camp, and 1-3 weeks in August for the reverse. We used vacation time then so a parent could do child… Read more »

5 years ago

My boys are 4 and 6 – they wear socks pretty much year round. They both tend to be typical little boy clumsy, so wearing sandals or flip flops ends up with lots of scratches and stubbed toes. Socks and sneakers are pretty much all they wear! As for summer activities – we both work full time. The younger one is still in preschool/daycare so he just stays where he is. The older one is finishing up kindergarten next week. We had the option to put him in the summer program at his elementary school, or we could put him… Read more »

5 years ago

Cheap option – have a summer camp co-op. Last year we got five families together, each day of the week was a camp day at one families house until each family had hosted. this is an easy thing for a group of stay at home moms, but it might be worthwhile for a group of working moms to look into, especially if you have a group of more flexible schedules that could carve out one day in a week.

5 years ago

We enroll our son in day camp every year (we both work FT) and use our Section 125 plan at work (can also be used for day care, latchkey programs) to pay for it during the year. He will turn 13 next year, so that runs out.

It gets a tax break, too, so definitely worth it. NOTE: you can’t use this funding for overnight camps, but we still budgeted one in each year for the experience.