Summer Camp Not in the Budget? Here Are Fun Alternatives

Planning a fun summer for your kids doesn’t have to break the bank.



a boy looking in binoculars outdoors

Photo by: Carol Yepes

Carol Yepes

By: Amanda Mushro

For many families, summer camps are a great option for keeping kids entertained, engaged, and packing their summer schedules full of fun. Not to mention, it’s a great child care option in the summer. However, many of those week-long camps and sleep away camps just don’t fit into the budget for many parents. So what are some less expensive and/or free alternatives for families looking to keep their kids happy campers without the price tag of traditional camp? Check out our top five ideas.

  • Enrichment Camps: Check out your local schools, libraries, museums, and zoos for summer enrichment programs. These may be weekly or daily activities that you can enroll your child in for free. While this may not fill up their entire summer calendar, it will give your child the chance to socialize and learn something new. Don’t just stop after looking in your own town. You may be able to find different camp options in areas close to you.
  • Rotating Day Camp with Friends: Start by reaching out to a few other parents to see if they want to join in on a rotating day camp that is hosted at everyone’s homes. Coordinating with another family will help to defer the cost for everyone. Then enlist the help of a college student, high school student, babysitter, or a nanny to be your official camp counselor. Another great option is a teacher that is looking to make some extra cash in the summer. Then set up camp in your backyard. Your official counselor can take the kids on bike rides, whip up a few crafts, or just play outside with a small group of kids. You can even create a rotating schedule so that camp switches to other family’s houses on different days of the week. Your kids will love having other kids to play with and having something new and exciting to do each day.
  • Widen Your Search: If the price tag on traditional camps gives you sticker shock, try looking at other places that host less expensive camps. Start by reaching out to local universities who often hold a variety of camps for kids of all ages at a much cheaper rate. Churches are also a great resource for less expensive camps. Even if you are not a member of the church, often your child can still be a part of their camps. Also, your local park and recreation department is a great place to find summer activities and camps for your children that are a fraction of the price of traditional day camps.
  • Make Camp a Gift: If there is a camp that your child wants to attend, consider asking family members to make a donation to the camp fund as part of their birthday gift. Rather than your child getting yet another toy they won’t play with in a week, use the funds from the early birthday gift to pay for camp.
  • Ask About Scholarships and Discounts: Often camps offer scholarships, grants, discounts, or payment plans that help make summer camp more affordable. Before you pass the summer camp option, ask if they have a discounted option. If they don’t, move on to the next camp. While it may take some extra research on your part, you'll make up for it in savings.

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