Surefire Ways to Save on Summer Camp Costs

As a child, I always wanted to go to a fancy “Y” camp. Every year, representatives from Camp Thunderbird visited my elementary school to distribute glossy brochures showing children sailing on the lake, shooting arrows to an archery target, and more. Year after year, I asked my parents if I could go to this camp. They always said “no” because the cost was too high. (See also: Summer Freebies and Bargains for Kids)

I never quite understood their reasoning or the rationale behind the public schools allowing these spokespeople to promote a camp to children whose parents couldn’t afford the tuition. Wasn’t my enjoyment worth the money? Was the camp really too expensive?

The truth was that many camps offered meaningful experiences for much less. And they still do.

This year’s price for the dream camp of my childhood is $850 for five days or $1,700 for two weeks of overnight camp for non-Y-members; day camp for five days (Monday-Friday) is $350. This YMCA-run camp represents middle-of-the-road pricing — weeklong, overnight Boy Scout camp for my youngest son is $250; a two-week adventure camp on the coast runs $3,185, and a five-week wilderness session in the mountains is $5,650.

As a parent, you’ll need to decide what type of camp is best for your child and affordable for your family. Whatever you decide, you can save on summer camp in the following ways.

Use Commonly Available Discounts

Pricier camps tend to offer many types of discounts. Mid-range camps tout a couple of ways to save. Lower-priced camps rarely offer discounts. Ask camp officials about discount opportunities.

Early Registration

Register and make a deposit by a certain deadline and pay a discounted price.

Multiple Registrations

Register siblings and friends at the same time, and get a discounted rate.


Refer a friend to the camp and earn a bonus applied to camp tuition.

Hosting a Camp Party

You can host a home party, invite friends, and allow camp representatives to present guests with information on the camp in order to get a discounted price (think hostess gift for a Tupperware or Pampered Chef party).

Repeat Campers

Prices are lower for returning campers.

Multiple Sessions

Campers who sign up for more than one session in a summer may receive a discount.

Attend an Inexpensive Camp

You can send your child to a weeklong residential camp for less than $300 or day camp for less than $100. Types of camps with a low price tag generally fall into these categories:

Scout Camp

Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts offer affordable options, but typically your children will need to be affiliated with a troop or council to attend.

Church Camp

Children may attend camps run by churches or religious organizations; teenagers may attend missions-oriented camps that combine work projects with fun and fellowship.

Sports Camps

Teams associated with community or school athletic programs may send their players to camp for skills instruction and team building.

Special Needs Camps

Children with special needs or medical conditions can participate in camps that have specially qualified professionals.

Enrichment Programs

School systems or non-profit groups may sponsor day camps for qualifying children (those with special talents and/or those who live in high-crime areas).

Special Interest Camps

Parks and recreation departments offer day camps that focus on specific activities such as golf, tennis, or basketball.

Apply for Financial Assistance

Most camps that cost over $1,000 have a formal financial-aid process that allows parents to apply for assistance. To verify financial need, camp organizers may ask for income tax filings and pay stubs.

Non-profit groups may also offer assistance, but the process may be less formal. For example, scout leaders tell parents that the cost of attending should not prevent any child from participation and ask parents to let them know confidentially if money is needed. Also, these groups may sponsor fundraisers throughout the year to help campers (and their parents) earn money to pay camp expenses.

Have you found ways to save money on summer camp?

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Surefire Ways to Save on Summer Camp Costs

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Guest's picture

At first I freaked out at the price because I pay less than $300/week, and then I realized you're talking overnight camps, lol! I've found early registration to be the best way to get discounts, but sometimes it's hard to register early if you don't know exactly what your plans are.

Guest's picture

Our local camp offers work exchange programs. This was a great because it allowed our kids to work along side us and the work days always ended with a picnic. Once the kids were older they became CITs (Counselors in training) and assisted the staff in exchange for a reduced tuition.