How to keep cost of summer camp low

The Associated PressFebruary 28, 2010 

— Occupying kids during the summer with sports, camps and trips can get very pricey, very quickly. But parents who act now can keep some of the costs down.

Here's how:

Plan ahead: Start your search early so you know which camp you want to pursue well in advance, said Peter Surgenor, president of the American Camp Association. Don't skimp on research, especially on sleep-away camps. If you pull your child out early, you'll forfeit a lot of money.

Check such Web sites as www.campparents.org for day and overnight camps listed by age group, location and other factors. Attend local camp fairs and ask friends and relatives.

If you decide on day camp, call your local parks and recreation department, churches and synagogues, art schools, colleges, Boy Scout and Girl Scout councils and other groups that might sponsor less expensive camps.

Always ask about aid: Camp can cost from $100 to $800 and more per week, but many sponsors offer financial aid. Surgenor said aid sometimes goes unused because people don't ask about it. So ask the director for specifics, and ask early so you can vie for partial or full scholarships, said Christina Vercelletto, senior editor at Parenting magazine.

Seek discounts: Signing up before winter's end can get you 5 percent to 10 percent off at some camps, said Janet Siroto, executive editor at Good Housekeeping. Sending siblings to the same camp can win you another 10 percent discount for each additional child. And some camps offer discounts for attending multiple weeks. If you refer other campers, you may be able to get a discount.

For campers ages 14 and up, check out counselor-in-training programs, which kids attend for reduced fees while still having fun, Siroto said.

Neighborhood camp

Do it yourself: Even parents who work can band together, Siroto said, and watch small groups of one another's children throughout the summer for free. Each family takes responsibility for a week at a time and takes the group swimming, to museums and on other adventures.

"The moms pool their ideas and then it's Camp Mom," she said. "If you're one of six moms, you've got six weeks of free camp."

Help at tax time: Camp costs can sometimes be deducted from your income because they're considered child care for kids under age 13. If you have a workplace flexible-spending account for dependent care, seek reimbursement there (or open one for next year). Or seek the deductions when you file your return.

See the Internal Revenue Service ( www.irs.gov/ irb/2006-24_IRB/ar09.html ) or other government sites ( bit.ly/9xatlz) for more information.

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