Girls playing lacrosse

With many summer camps starting at the end of June and in July, you may still be looking into where your kids will go and whether you can afford the bill.

The average tuition for day camp is about $315 per week, and sleepaway camp can run $770 per week on average, according to the 2018 American Camp Association Business Operations Report.

Additional expenses, for things such as supplies and field trips, can quickly add to the bill. But there are ways to reduce the hit to your wallet while still ensuring that your kids have a great summer.

Here are some ideas:

1. Ask about discounts and scholarships. More than 90 percent of summer camps offer need- or merit-based scholarships, according to the ACA. Ask the camps you are considering whether they provide such scholarships. Often awarded on a first-come, first-served basis, “camperships” can cover all or part of your camp tuition.

More on Summer Excursions

Something else to keep in mind: Many camps offer discounts or free tuition if the parents volunteer or work there. Horsham, Pa., resident Joshua Rigberg, for example, works as a ropes course instructor and does corporate picnics and team building at a local camp  in exchange for discounted tuition for his daughter.

Though it’s too late for this year, if you sign up early next year, some camps offer a discount of up to 35 percent. You can also get discounts for paying in full up front, for referring friends, or for sending siblings.

2. Claim a tax credit, if you qualify. Though you can’t claim a tax credit for sleepaway camp, you may be able to qualify for one if your child attends day camp. To qualify, both you and your spouse (if filing jointly) must need child care because you are both working, attending school, or looking for a job during camp (you cannot claim if one of you is a stay-at-home parent), says Lisa Greene Lewis, TurboTax CPA. The credit offsets up to 35 percent of the cost of camp, depending on your income: up to $3,000 for one child or $6,000 for multiple children. It kicks in after any other pretax money that you’ve used for camp expenses.

3. Don’t buy all the supplies the camp recommends. Many parents panic after they register their kids for summer camp and then get the recommended supply list. Though some camps divide their lists into required and optional items, others just lump them together. The lists can include items such as musical instruments, banquet clothing, clothes for silly time and stationery supplies. Chances are, your child won’t need all those things. “A camper needs certain items, like a swimsuit or bug spray, but may not need a camera or a fishing tackle box,” says ACA president Tom Rosenberg.

Many summer camps also have Facebook groups or Listservs for parents, where you can ask others whether an item is really a “must have.”

4. Look for deals. For the items your child definitely needs, see whether you can borrow them from friends and family. “Most folks are thrilled to part with or lend stuff,” says Washington, D.C., resident Layla Masri, whose daughters attend camp.

For items you need to buy, maybe a lacrosse stick, shin guards, or golf clubs, keep an eye out for deals at warehouse stores as well as sporting goods stores.

Chances are, your youngster will also need sunscreen. Look for the brands that did well in our ratings, because many sunscreen SPF value in our tests vary from the SPF printed on the package. 

Also, sign up for the email and social media accounts of retailers and keep an eye out for coupons and sales that could help lower your costs. Be wary of purchasing cheaply made items if it means they won’t survive the season. “Buy one decently made duffel bag your first summer,” advises Los Angeles resident Tracy Bagatelle-Black, who has two children that attend summer camp. “Then you won’t have to replace it every year.”

5. Put your rewards card to use.
If you need to shop, a great way to cut is to use a rewards card, such as the Capital One Quicksilver Rewards Card or the Wells Fargo Cash Wise Visa Card, that gives you a minimum of 1.5 percent cash back on all your purchases. Some cards, like the Discover It Cash credit card, also offer a bonus of up to 5 percent back on rotating seasonal categories, but you have to opt in for that bonus each quarter. You can find the best cash-back card for your purposes using our Credit Card Adviser Comparison Tool.

Be sure to pay off the balance in full when the bill comes because interest could end up costing you more than any rewards that you earn.

6. Reduce your transportation costs. Another way to save money is to send your kid to a local camp. You might be able to lower your costs even further by carpooling with another family. “If you don’t know any other campers attending the same week as your child, reach out to the camp and ask about other families coming from your area,” Rosenberg suggests.