Summer camp season (read: child care for the non-school months) will be here before you know it, the good news is there are still deals to be had.
According to the American Camp Association (ACA), the recession is prompting camp directors across the country to extend registration discounts in the hope of attracting budget minded parents.
There are also low cost and even free summer camps. Some may even be in your own backyard. Here are six ways that can make the summer camp experience more affordable for you:
1. Apply for Financial Aid
According to the ACA, 90% of camps offer some financial assistance to families in the form of "camperships" that can cover a portion or all of the camp enrollment fees. The ACA does not provide a detailed listing of camperships, but the organization does encourage parents to locate a camp and contact the camp to ask about camperships.
Additionally, folks can apply for regional camperships through foundations such as the Max and Marion Caldwell Foundation, which provides eligible Californians with money for camp. (Keep in mind, some application due dates have passed. But you can always try for next year.)
2. Find a Budget-Friendly Camp
The $10,100 tuition for seven weeks at Camp Laurel in Westport, Conn., would be a budget buster for many families. But many of the same activities (swimming, field sports, archery) can be enjoyed at camps run by churches, community colleges and organizations such as the YMCA or the Boys and Girls Scouts of America. For example, the College of Lake County outside Chicago charges $149 a week for their specialty sports camps (or less than the price of one day at Camp Laurel). Some camps have weekly rates of less than $75 per week.
3. Seek Out Discounts
You may be able to get a deal on a camp if you’re willing to haggle. Ask the camp of your choice if there are any special discounts for early registration, full-season enrollment or special deals for families with more than one child.
4. Create a Camp of Your Own
Like-minded parents can trade off watching a group of neighborhood children each day by taking turns as "home camp" director. Online resources such as SheKnows can be good guides in terms of getting started. Consider getting CPR and first aid training, gathering a list of emergency contacts and setting disciplinary rules all in advance. Activity lists, menus and budgets are all up to you: Open the back door and pitch a tent, have a hot dog roast or get the hose and a few garbage bags together for a do-it-yourself waterslide.
5. Set Up A Dependent Care Flexible Spending Account
With a flex spending account, parents can set aside up to $5,000 each year, pre-tax, to pay for child care that enables the guardians to work, look for work or attend school. Like a health care flex spending account, a dependent care account can be activated by your human resources or payroll department. If you are caring for children age 13 or younger, the account can be used to pay for their day camp (but not overnight camp).
The child and dependent care tax credit could be another money saving option. A tax professional can provide additional guidance in terms of which tax strategy is best for you.
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