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It's Already Time to Enroll in Summer Camp! Here's How to Budget

Getting Creative About Paying for Summer Camp

Summer camp registration deadlines have a tendency to dovetail with holiday bill due dates. But parents who plan ahead for camp costs won't find themselves in tight quarters when the typical early-in-the-year enrollment time rolls around.

Make the most of your money.

With a competitive tennis player son who's 16 and an 11-year-old daughter into tennis and dance, Rhonda Moret of Del Mar, California, avoids a cash-flow crunch by saving $300 every month—an amount based on her camp costs in the past, she says, noting it's not an exact figure. "Some years I am over, a rarity, and some years under. But the point is to have the money earmarked for the summer," Moret says. "As with most parents, my children's activities come first. If we need to scale back in other areas of our budget, we will."

Moret's dedicated savings vehicle is the kind of "bucket account" for managing larger expenses recommended by financial coaches such as Rocky Lalvani. You may even be able to have your bank automatically transfer the money into that account each payday, says Lalvani, who's based in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

As a mother of three, Michigan-based Gina McKague, president and CEO of McKague Financial, knows how imperative it is to budget for camp, for both your wallet and your wits. But less financial stress is just one benefit, she says. "As an added bonus, saving can help get you in the habit of living on a realistic budget." McKague recommends using free, online, personal-finance tools and apps, which can analyze your income and spending and find small sums that could go into a separate, camp-dedicated, savings account.

Besides year-round saving diligence, here are five tactics to help pay for summer camp:

1. Extra income sources can fill the coffers

To support her kids' activities, part-time speech therapist Amy Marshall began a venture as a skincare company consultant for a direct sales company two years ago. "When my 9-year-old daughter decided she wants to go away to camp next summer, it motivated me to put a little extra drive into my business to be able to send her without dipping too much into the pot," says Marshall, who lives on Chicago's North Shore. The cost of camp: $5,400 for four weeks. The extra work commitment: five to 15 hours weekly, says Marshall.

2. "Found" money goes to camp

Put bonuses, commissions or other extra money right into a camp fund, advises personal finance consultant Harrine Freeman of Washington, D.C.-based H.E. Freeman Enterprises. Swat spending temptations by reminding yourself, "You are the type of person who is wise enough to not spend it all right away," Freeman says.

3. Camp costs can be tax credits

Under certain circumstances, two-income families can get a credit for the costs of daytime summer camp—even sports and other specialty camps, says Lalvani, who also serves as an enrolled agent with the IRS. Just be sure to bring it up to your tax professional when filing. Details can be found on the IRS website.

4. Discounts and payment plans exist

"Like colleges awarding financial aid, camps are motivated to do a deal," says Matthew Smith, director of Longacre Camp in Pennsylvania, which offers a (non-advertised) payment plan. Other options may include early bird discounts, tiered tuition based on ability to pay, referral discounts and savings for siblings who both enroll. Programs such as PGA Junior Golf Camps, with 70-plus locations, even offer incentive pricing for four or more golfers who attend together.

Jenn Greenleaf, an author, freelance writer and artist, has taken advantage of both a payment plan and scholarship to YMCA Camp Knickerbocker in Maine. She and her ex-husband split the weekly discounted payments, and her son got 10 weeks of camp for around $600—about half the sticker price. They found spreading out the payments made it all "easy to manage," says Greenleaf.

5. A camp deposit makes a great birthday gift

For an experience kids won't soon forget, give the gift of a camp getaway. Many camp programs, such as Camp Friendship in Virginia, offer camp gift cards, which provide relatives and friends a unique gifting option that kids—and parents—love. Says Moret, who also serves as chief marketing officer for PGA Junior Golf Camps, "It's a great way to 'gift' the camp."

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