With the Independence Day holiday weekend behind us, camp season is now in full swing for thousands of kids at the nearly 400 accredited summer camps around New England.
Across the country this summer, parents will spend over $25 billion on day camp and sleepaway camp, according to CampEasy.com, and for this Money Saving Mondays report, we asked several experts for some tips on how to hold down those costs. They boil down to not overpacking, keeping it simple, and not overestimating how much laundry your kids are generally willing to do and how many fresh clean clothes they’ll really demand.
Annmarie Seldon of TrendyMommies.com said, “A good thing, if they're going to overnight camp, is to invest in multi-use items." Examples include face wipes that can double as hand wipes and sunscreen wipes, and one of her favorites, Dr. Bronner’s liquid soap. It’s not cheap – usually around $10 to $12 for a pint bottle – but a little goes a long way, and it's super versatile.
“This can be used on the hair, the body, and you can actually wash your clothes in this as well," Seldon said. “Instead of bringing shampoo, conditioner, and body wash, you can use an all in one.’’
Run your kid’s school-year backpack through the washing machine on the right settings, and it can look brand new for camp. The same goes for their sneakers, too.
If your kid is sleeping away at camp, Seldon gives you permission to keep the money you'd put in their camp account. “The camp store is a big money-waster. Kids tend to buy candy when they go there," Seldon said.
And for your day camper, don't buy prepackaged, pre-portioned snacks -- make your own snack bags from a big bag of trail mix or the like for easily one third the cost.
As she was wrapping up a Market Basket run one day last week, we caught up with Julie Kleyn of Concord, Massachusetts, a mother of three now older teen and young adult children, and we asked her to remember some of the supplies she now realizes went wasted on her three sons: “Water bottles, because they lose them. Sunscreen, because they don’t use it," Kleyn said wryly. “With the first kid, we bought a beautiful large trunk, which we filled with all kinds of good, great clothes, and he wore, like, the top layer and came home stinking and filthy -- and you know, all the rest was a waste of money and a waste of time. We still have the trunk."
Seldon agrees with Kleyn that lots of parents over-pack and under-estimate how much laundry their kids will really do. “A lot of times, parents will pack multiple pillowcases, multiple sheet sets, and sometimes, that doesn't get used.’’
Channon Ames DiCiurcio, recreation manager for the city of Newton, Massachusetts, promotes minimalism for their day campers. “The kids need comfortable sneakers that they can run around in. If they're doing any kind of swimming or water play, they'll need a bathing suit and sunscreen. It's always important to protect from the sun. "
But beyond that, she said, “We just try to encourage people to not bring extra things that they might not need at camp. Sometimes, they'll try to bring games or toys from home and we really discourage that because if they lose it, they get really upset."
Bette Bussel, executive director of the American Camp Association, New England, which accredits close to 400 camps around New England, said based on years of feedback from member camps, her one key piece of advice is: “Pay close attention to the list the camp provides and follow it to the letter. Camps know best. Their advice is based on years (if not decades) of experience and includes important information about what personal gear, equipment and supplies campers will need—and in what quantities. Pack what’s on the list -- no more, no less."
Necm special projects producer Pamela Bechtold and necn Assistant Chief Photographer John J. Hammann contributed to this report.