By Dawn McAvoy, Chief Marketing Officer, Women & Co.
You researched. You budgeted. You registered your kids for camp when there was still a chill in the air and you paid for camp before your kids even stepped foot near it. So now it's time to sit back, relax and let your savings account start to replenish, right? Well, don't be so sure. Around this time of year, parents can find themselves dishing out additional cash for the "hidden costs" of camp -- costs that were unanticipated during budgeting and registration. According to Brooke Salkoff, CEO of CampEasy, a new search-and-decision tool for parents planning camps for kids, the most common hidden costs include:
1. Travel expenses. Whether you are bussing your kids to day camp or flying them across the country to sleep away camp, we sometimes forget to factor in travel costs. Door-to-door bus service can run up to an additional $100 - $200 per session or even per week. And, if your child is flying, how will their trunk or luggage get there? Bus? Plane? Be prepared to pay shipping costs for baggage too.
2. Extra activity fees and associated gear. When dear Sally decides she wants be an equestrian, in some camps you will be charged an extra activity fee. In addition, you will need to buy her boots, a helmet, etc. And don't forget the summer camp essentials you'll be buying before sending her off for the summer. Even sports and activities that may not require gear, could have an additional fee -- mini bikes, waterskiing, sailing, camping, etc. Some camps also charge additional trip fees -- water parks, plays and concerts or shows can run you an extra few hundred dollars over the summer.
3. Shopping sprees - Beware of running an unlimited tab at camp store. In addition to snacks and drinks, many sleep away camp canteens (stores) sell clothes, books and DVDs. Some camps will specify how much you need to fund in your child's account (anywhere from $50 to a few hundred dollars), depending on how long he/she will be away. Other camps will let children charge their items and bill parents later. Be sure to set a limit and make sure you discuss what purchases are acceptable with your children before camp starts.
4. Stuff happens - Don't get caught with cancellation fees. You can't plan for everything, so you may find yourself in a situation where you need to cancel all or some of your child's summer plans. Be sure to check you camp's cancellation policy before you register. Some camps refund everything except the registration fee and others won't give you a penny back. Most camps fall somewhere in the middle, depending on how much notice you provide.
5. Tipping - It's not just for paper boys anymore. Some camps encourage tipping and other camps prohibit counselors from accepting tips. When you register, ask the camp if they have any guidelines. If you are expected to tip your group counselor, bus counselor, bus driver, etc. based on the number of weeks your child is at camp, this expense can add up. For camps that do encourage tipping, it may be awkward to be one of the few families that doesn't tip, especially if the counselors expect tips as part of their income.
Approach camp costs like a Boy Scout -- be prepared! Ask questions, read policies and put a little extra aside for those unexpected costs. Then sit back, relax and enjoy the stories of your child's summer adventures.
About the Author:
Dawn has over 15 years of experience in marketing and earned an MBA in Finance and Marketing from New York University -- Leonard N. Stern School of Business. Dawn has been a Women & Co. team member since 2001 and is responsible for researching women's financial needs and attitudes on behalf of Women & Co. Dawn is in charge of developing creative programs to raise awareness of women's distinct financial needs and how Women & Co. can help them strengthen their financial knowledge.