Summer camp can be a burdensome financial undertaking, especially for a family sending many children away.
According to care.com, the average cost for a week of day camp is $314, ranging from $100 to $500 per week. Jumping up to an average of $768 for a week of sleep-away camp and ranging from $200 to more than $1,500, the camp experience can get expensive. But, just like schools and colleges, families shouldn’t feel discouraged looking into a particular camp based on the sticker price.
Emily Jennings, grants processor at the Jewish Education Center of Cleveland in Cleveland Heights; Dan Goldfarb, a wealth adviser at Planned Financial Services in Beachwood; and Lauren Schmidt, camps and school program coordinator at the Nature Center at Shaker Lakes in Shaker Heights, suggested families explore financial assistance options, or at least, work on a budget to pay for camp.
Pulling from his experience in financial planning, Goldfarb explained budgeting for summer camp looks different for each family depending on their baseline and current financial commitments. The cost of the camp they are considering plays a role, too.
“Costs vary widely across the different types of camps that are run for different lengths of time each year,” he said. “After determining what type of camp is desired and its current cost, we encourage our clients to add a camp line item on their household budget for this current or future expense. How parents save for camp throughout the year will depend on how they wish to pay for camp costs. Parents should speak with either the camp director or other camp representatives to learn about the payment options at camp.”
Parents should also ask camp leadership about scholarships or financial assistance, which could be available through the camp itself or supporting organizations. One of those community scholarships is the Jewish Education Center’s One Happy Camper program, which offers financial assistance for families considering Jewish overnight camp for first- and second-year campers. There is also assistance for children with special needs and teen leaders.
Jennings explained the program offers up to $1,000 to first-year campers and $750 for second-year campers and is not needs-based. In recent years, she added the program has made some changes, including extending the eligible ages to include campers in grade two and up, as well as supplying grant money for campers staying at camp for at least of 12 days.
“It is an incentive grant to encourage parents to choose Jewish overnight camp,” she said. “Great Jewish experiences are at camp too, and we work with a lot of schools, but we want to make sure kids aren’t missing out on Jewish experiences in the summer, too. It’s a great opportunity to learn more, and for some kids, it’s the time they can have that exposure to a community of Jewish kids.”
As for deadlines, Jennings said families should apply for the grant soon after their camper has been accepted to the camp of their choice. There is no hard deadline but there are a limited number of grants available.
Another option is going directly through a camp to learn about their financial aid options. At the Nature Center at Shaker Lakes, Schmidt said need-based scholarships ranging from 25% to 75% of the cost are offered each year for their camps. With applications available on their website, deadlines are due by the end of March before each camp season.
“Scholarships are then reviewed and families will be notified in April if they have been awarded a scholarship,” she said. “Our scholarship program has enabled us to reach a broader group of people outside of the Shaker community. As a small non-profit nature center, it helps us expand our reach.”
After adding grants or scholarships and budgeting for camp, some families may still feel overwhelmed by the costs. In this case, Goldfarb suggested looking over their cash flow and determining where changes can be made to make camp happen.
“Many parents start by dining out less frequently, reducing or eliminating regular coffee shop purchases, and canceling some desired, but not required, subscription services,” he stated. “Our clients are always surprised how easy it is to stay on track with these spending changes as they see the dollars accumulate towards other important savings goals such as their child’s summer camp funding.”
While summer camp can be exciting, all the information surrounding cost and assistance can be overwhelming. To curb any anxieties, the professionals offered final advice.
“If parents want to send their children to camp, then they need to plan so the funds will be available to pay for this expense,” Goldfarb said. “Accumulating money to pay for camp should be considered like any other spending goal, whether paying for a private school, b’nai mitzvot, college, a home down-payment, a new auto or a child’s wedding. The earlier parents start saving and investing, the higher probability there will be enough funding available when they need it.”
Jennings said, “Especially if it is their first time, parents shouldn’t hesitate to ask questions. (Starting online) is a good place for parents who want to learn more.”
Schmidt noted, “Always call the organization you are interested in as each group will have varying abilities to offer scholarships and assistance. They will be able to give you up-to-date and accurate information per their organization.”
Publisher’s note: Dan Goldfarb is a member of the Cleveland Jewish News Foundation Board of Directors