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How to save on summer camp fees

With enrollment mostly flat, many camps are holding the line on prices.

By Karen Datko Apr 16, 2010 12:41PM

This Deal of the Day comes from Elizabeth Trotta at partner site SmartMoney.


Want to send Junior to camp this summer but worry about high fees?


The good news is you probably won’t have to pay more, or at least not much more, than last year. Enrollment for 2010 looks steady, at about 11 million campers, according to the American Camp Association. (In the ACA’s most recent survey, three-quarters of participating camps said enrollment this year would be the same or higher than last summer.) So, without a surge of new business, many camps are simply holding the line.


Camp SEA Lab, a science and education camp based in Seaside, Calif., for example, is keeping prices the same as 2009. A five-day session of day camp, examining the shoreline of Monterey Bay, runs $370, while a similar four-night sleep-over program runs $720, according to the Web site. The decision to keep prices even with 2009 was motivated largely by the economy, says operations coordinator Chris Gibson.


Likewise, YMCA day camps across the country are also keeping prices the same, for the most part. Depending on the program and location, prices range from $325 a week to $780 a week. A spokesperson for the Y says prices are determined at the local level, but anecdotally, the spokesperson hadn’t heard about a camp raising its fees.

Of course, if your kid picks one of the most in-demand camps, you might end up paying 3% to 4% more, according to the National Camp Association. So watch his choice, and consider these other ways to save.


Ask for help

Many camps have a large percentage of their summer attendants using some form of aid.

YMCA gives partial to full scholarships based on need. There is no set amount or national standard as it’s specific to each camp. Last summer, the organization says, it gave more scholarships, and that was made possible by an increase in donations. You can apply for camp scholarships through your local camp, which can be found on the YMCA Web site. The deadline depends on the date of the camp, as there are many camps starting at different times.

In Elmer, N.J., nonprofit camp Appel Farm also offers partial and full scholarships to close to about a quarter of its campers, or approximately 100 kids a year. At full cost, the overnight camp runs from $2,700 for two weeks to $8,200 for eight weeks, with midrange options in between. There are also registration discounts throughout the year, but those ended March 31. Apply-by dates depend on when the camps start.


Again, keep in mind that most financial aid and scholarships are tied to need. If your income exceeds the requirements, there are other ways to save.


Find something the kids agree on

If you can send more than one of your children to the same camp, you can save. For instance, Delaware Tech summer camps in Stanton and Wilmington offer $15 off each additional sibling after you pay the $170 full registration for the first child. The day camp runs June 14 to Aug. 13.


The Cincinnati Shakespeare Company offers a sibling discount for its one-week theater day camp as well. When one sibling registers at full price, a second can register at a 15% discount, resulting in savings of $17.50 to $40.50, depending on the cost of the camp. The siblings don’t have to attend the same camp session, but the discount will apply to the lesser of the two tuitions.


Keep in mind most camps will require that you pay full admission for the first child.


Refer, refer, refer

If you don’t mind hitting up your child’s friends, one good way to get a discount is referring other campers.


Champions Science Adventures Camp in Littleton, Colo., for instance, offers a four-tiered referral discount approach that starts with add-ons and ends with full admission to its weeklong day camps. If you refer one friend, you get a free “Virtual Science Club,” valued at more than $60. If you refer two friends, you get that and a science toy. If you refer three, you get a $150 refund from enrollment and are entered to win a free “Science Assembly.” If you refer four or more, you receive a $150 refund, and the free science assembly. Anyone you refer also receives a $25 coupon.

Appel Farm also has a referral discount. Parents get a $300 rebate for each friend they refer to Appel Farm for a four-week camp, and $150 for referring someone who signs up for two weeks.


Of course, in order to qualify for referral discounts, the person you are referring must follow through and send a child to the camp.


Register early (next year)

OK, it’s not exactly early anymore. But next year, if you start really early, you can get registration discounts and save hundreds of dollars, says Sean Nienow, director of the National Camp Association.


For instance, ArtReach Educational Theatre Summer Art Camp in Palatine, Ill., offered $75 off if you registered by March 31, and $50 off if your registered by April 30.


The Forest Hills Kids Corner All in One Summer Camp Program also offered a $50 discount to members and a $100 discount to nonmembers who registered by March 31. After that date, full price returned to $625 for members and $675 for nonmembers for the five-week day camp in Forest Hills, N.Y.


The catch: Early registration discounts require that you register, well, early. And there’s no guarantee that they won’t be extended to later dates, or that other discounts won’t pop up. Still, it’s the safest way to secure a discount.


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