The Cost of Summer Camp (2023 Edition)
Last year, I wrote about the cost of summer camp, and it generated some interesting conversations. Most of the article was about how expensive camps are nowadays compared to when I was a kid. I think I remember a story saying she paid $25 to send me to camp for a whole week. It was 40 years ago and must have been subsidized.
That camp had the typical things like sports, arts and crafts, hikes, and some swim lessons and “free swim.” It was terrible doing swim lessons at 9 AM in a 60-degree pool, but it was a requirement for afternoon free swim. That was the best because by then, it was 90 degrees out, the water was nice, and we got to do whatever silly pool stuff we wanted.
We tried the local YMCA for years here. It was the closest thing to that. The price for the YMCA is reasonable, and they have long hours, which is good for us parents. I think they have a lot of donors and subsidies to keep the cost of camp low, so the most working family have a more affordable option. I suspect that the camp counselors aren’t paid very well, and they have a lot of kids in one group. It makes sense. That’s how they can keep the costs low and have long hours. Unfortunately, the kids hate the YMCA camp. The camp counselor takes away anything fun if one kid misbehaves. Because of the big groups, there’s always one kid that spoils it for the whole group.
We gave up on the YMCA camp two years ago and went with specialty camps. Last year my youngest (then 8) ended up doing a lot of camps at his school, but he was often the oldest of the kids, and some of the weeks weren’t fun. They wouldn’t let him work with scissors strong enough to cut cardboard for the safety of the younger kids. Ironically, his school now has a woodworking class, and he’s working with power tools. It was quite a change in 2-3 months. This is the first year we aren’t doing those camps for grades 3-4 and under. They grow up so fast, right?
Putting together summer camps for us is a complex logic puzzle. They like some of the same things but can’t be in the same class at the same time. Whenever they are, fighting and calls home ensue. However, they are naturally very different personalities, so that doesn’t become a problem. It only creates a problem of dropping off and picking them up when they all start around the same time. Naturally, the camps they like tend to be the most expensive ones. At least there’s some enrichment to them. I like when they learn or improve valuable skills.
Kid 1: Ten-Year-Old
Last year, I insisted he try sailing camp. Sailing is big in Newport, Rhode Island. It’s so big that the National Sailing Hall of Fame has moved here. It was a massive failure at first. He got anxious and wouldn’t do anything. We had to commit to a two-week session, so it was scary that they could just cancel everything. Fortunately, with two strikes, he got better. By the end, he was okay with sailing… but not okay enough to want to do it again. At least he tried it and is now comfortable enough on some small boats. It was good growth to overcome the fear. Even though sailing may not be for him, I’ll consider it a win.
He also started with a theater camp which is run by his school. It started off like sailing, “It’s all girls here! This is the worst!” After that initial drop-off and sign-in, he must have worked it out. He LOVED it when I picked him up at the end of the day. It has a lot of older kids (all the way to 17 and 18, I think), which is generally good for him. Over three weeks, they created their own musical – plot, songs, everything. I legitimately enjoyed it. I would have paid at least $10 to see it. Turns out that we paid a good deal more – LOL.To round things out, we did two things that worked well the previous two years: veterinarian camp and cooking camp. The vet camp works well with my dog boarding business. I’m a huge fan of kids learning cooking – it’s a lifelong skill that will save them a lot of money.
This year, we’re building on the success of the theater camp. He’s doing the musical camp again. After that, he’s going to do Shakespeare camp. I feel that Shakespeare may be too tough for an almost fifth-grader, but Shakespeare, when performed as a play, was always easier to understand for me. Also, it’s Midsummer Night’s Dream, which is an easier, fun level of Shakespeare. We’ll see how it goes.
We’re ditching the sailing and keeping cooking and vet camp. The cooking camp is technically for 11-16-year-olds, but I emailed them, and they are confident that my kid can handle it since he has two years with them and has familiarity with the kitchen. Plus, he’ll only be a couple of months shy of being officially 11 by the time camp starts.
Kid 2: Nine-Year-Old
Since he’s too old for all the weeklong activities that his school had last year, we have another four weeks to fill.
Like Kid 1, I insisted Kid 2 try sailing camp last year. Since they are very different people, kid 2 LOVED it. It was easy to sign him up for that again.
He also enjoyed the vet camp last year. He only fit the 1-3 grade range last year, but this year, we got him doing more difficult pet care with the 4-7th graders.
We had him signed up for a short e-day cooking camp last year, but we had to cancel for our Disney Cruise. They were able to refund all our money, which was great. This year, he’s getting a full week, the same as Kid 1 got the last two years. He loves cooking with mom, so I suspect this will be a win. Fortunately, he’s doing a different level and different week than his brother, so their streams won’t cross (surprise Ghostbusters reference!). We did the same thing with the vet camp above.
That takes us through half the summer, but we still have four weeks to go.
We signed him up with the local art museum’s Animation Camp. Kid 2 loves art, and he went there two years ago. Nothing worked out at the art camp last year. We got lucky that this worked out. A lot of what they have are finger painting and pottery. This is the perfect activity at the perfect age (9 to 12-year-olds).
Lastly, he’s going to musical camp with Kid 1. Streams crossing alert! It actually works out that he’ll be separate from his brother as he’ll be working on “techie” side – stage design, lighting, sound, etc. They don’t work together that much with the actors. It’s perfect as they can be there to support each other as necessary, but they won’t be getting in each other’s way.
The Cost of Summer Camp
Summer camp has become a big business. Consumers will pay for the education of their kids. Perhaps it is a trap, but I’ve fallen for it.
I don’t really believe that. I think it’s genuinely expensive to provide some special training and kid care. Also, if the vet camp makes some extra money, it’s going to help the animal shelter. If the theater camp makes extra money, it’s going back to my kids’ school, so they’ll benefit that way.
Each kid is signed up for eight weeks of camp. Kid 1’s camps are $2,810. Kid 2’s camps are $2,595. That averages to $351 and $324 a week each. Ironically the sailing camp for Kid 2 is cheaper than the other camps, so we save a little money on him.
That’s $5400 in camps. Last year we only did seven weeks of camps. The average weekly price back then was $321 and $307, so this is more expensive. It would be easy to blame inflation, but when I look a little deeper at each camp, it’s more about them going with more expensive choices this year.
It’s tempting to say that it’s too much money, but the alternative is often travel – which is a lot more expensive. We can’t travel too much, though, because my wife doesn’t get unlimited vacation time. I also do my best business during the summer tourist season. It’s also impossible to compare camps to the experience of traveling with family full-time.
I’ve been looking at camps for our son too. The price is around $500 each! That’s pretty expensive. I’ll probably register for 1-2 camps. Then we’ll do fun stuff ourselves. Go hiking, paddling, and that kind of thing.