Save on the cost of summer camp

Summer camp used to mean going to the same camp all summer long. Whether overnight or day camp, it was pretty standard --- sports, arts and crafts, and lots and lots of lanyards.

However, the camp community has become more diverse over the past 20 years, according to the American Camp Association, and now includes options such as family camp, day camp, overnight camp, trip and travel camp, special-needs camp, sports camp, and more.

Each summer, more than 5 million children attend the 2,400 camps accredited by the ACA. In the past four years, the number of day camps has grown 40 percent, reflecting the demand for camps for younger children rather than teens. In 2014, 42 percent of day camps saw enrollment increases among campers 9 years old and younger compared with the previous year. Overnight camps grew about 17 percent between 2011 and 2015.

The question about summer camp isn't just where to go, but also how much will you pay? Resident camp tuition averages can run from $690 per week up to $2,000-plus a week. Day camp tuition averages can run from $304 a week to $500-plus a week, according to the 2012 ACA Business Operations Report.

Ninety percent of ACA-accredited camps offer some form of financial assistance to children from economically deprived families and children with special medical needs or special situations that might preclude them from attending camp.

One way to save on the cost of summer camp is to discuss your financial concerns with camps to see what options are available. Another important step in saving money on summer camp is to decide what you want.

Atlanta blogger Sue Rodman said to ask yourself what you want your kids to get out of camp. Do want them to have fun and get dirty, or do you want them to learn how to code computers? The type of camp you are looking for can have an impact on the cost. "Vacation Bible school is usually free or inexpensive, but it is usually all volunteers, " Rodman said. If your child needs constant monitoring or oversight, this may not be a good option. Camps on the lower end of the price spectrum are often those run by volunteers, those associated with nonprofits or churches, or camps with a high camper-to-counselor ratio.

At the other end of the spectrum are the for-profit camps, those that may require special materials or special instructor qualifications, and camps with lower camper-to-counselor ratios.

In either case, the best deals on camps happen early, Rodman said. "The best deals for sleep-away will be to book in July or August for the following year, " she said. That could get you at least a 10 percent discount. You also could offer to do a home show in the fall, invite your friends to learn about the camp offerings, and if they sign up, you get a discount based on your referrals.

If you find a camp in May or June that is not full, you might be able to approach them and ask for a group discount for three to six friends. "At that point, they are probably not filling their spaces, so they may be more interested in a last-minute deal, " Rodman said.

Don't assume that if a camp has space late in the summer that it is undesirable. Some camps may be newer and less well-known, but equally good, she added.

If you are a member of certain cultural institutions --- such as the Atlanta Botanical Garden or the Children's Museum of Atlanta --- you may be offered early access to camps along with a discount, Rodman said.

While many parents may have started plotting summer camp activities in January, there still is time to put together an affordable plan and prep your kids for a great summer.