Seven ways to save on sleepaway camp supplies

Spending a week at summer camp can be a great experience for kids.  In addition to having a lot of fun, campers can learn new skills, make friends, and gain independence.  However, parents know that sending their kids to camp can be expensive.   According to the American Camp Association, spending a week at camp costs an average of $622 per child

In addition to the cost of the camp, parents also consider the costs involved in fulfilling the camp packing list.   Camp packing lists can be quite lengthy and will usually include things like clothing, toiletries, footwear, and bedding as well as items such as flashlights, water bottles, and notepads. 

The items on my kids’ camp packing list would cost several hundreds of dollars to buy new. Thankfully, there are many ways to reduce the cost of gearing up for camp.  Here are seven:

  1. Pack grubby clothes.  We all know how dirty kids can get in a day, so just imagine how dirty their belongings will be after a week at camp!  Convince your child that camp is a time to focus on function, not fashion.
  2. Shop at second-hand stores.  Many items on camp packing lists can be found at the local thrift shop.  For example, a child’s raincoat at my local Goodwill store costs less than $4.
  3. Borrow from friends or neighbors. Your kids are probably not the only ones going to camp.  If the timing works out, ask other parents of campers if you can swap supplies.  For example, their child can use your child’s compass one week and your child can use their child’s sleeping pad the next.
  4. Rent costly supplies.  Some camp supplies can be purchased cheaply, but probably shouldn’t be.  For example, if your camper will be spending the night in the great outdoors, he or she may need more than a flimsy sleeping bag from the discount chain.   In this case, contact your local sporting goods store to see if it is cost effective to rent what they need for the week.    
  5. Plan to reuse items.  Some supplies can be used year after year, but only if they don’t get lost.  Make sure things get back home by marking everything clearly with your camper’s name.
  6. Don’t go overboard.  Don’t assume that more is better.  If the list says to bring three pairs of pants, don’t overload the bag with more.  One of the great things about camp is that kids learn to do things for themselves—including carrying their own bags!
  7. Remember that some things are priceless.  Do not send your child with any item that can’t be replaced.  While it may be hard to ask your child to leave behind a cherished necklace or favorite stuffed animal, it would be much harder for them to lose it at camp.  

Finally, look for other ways to save.  Consider carpooling with other families to cut the cost of transportation to camp.  And don’t forget to ask the camp if they offer any discounts.  For example, many camps offer sibling discounts or discounts if you sign up for multiple sessions.

I believe that summer camp should be a good experience for both the camper and his or her parents.  So before you run to the nearest sporting goods store to stock up on supplies, remember that your kids will always remember the good times they had, but probably not the fact that they got a new flashlight.  

Kim McGrigg is the former Manager of Community and Media Relations for MMI.