Summer camp cost: Last-minute tips for parents

It’s a conundrum parents face every summer: What should their children do during their break?

Many turn to summer camps as a solution, to keep their children from getting too bored, and have adults look after them for part of the day, or even longer in the case of overnight camps.

But with the current cost of living, is it cheaper to take time off work or send kids to summer camp?

A 2019 survey from the Chartered Professional Accountants of Canada found 31 per cent of Canadians “anticipate stress” when it comes to summer expenses.

Kelly Ho, a certified financial planner with DLD Financial Group in Vancouver, says summer camps is a common topic she discusses with clients.

“At the end of the day, it’s going to be unique to each family situation, depending on what their take-home income is,” Ho said in a video interview with “So it’s really no different than when parents are trying to decide whether it makes sense to put their child in daycare or not be in the workforce.”

It also depends on whether parents or caregivers can and want to take eight weeks off work during their children’s summer break, Ho said.

Search for affordable summer camps

Another factor is the type of camp parents and kids are interested in. Camps run by a city or not-for-profits can be more affordable than privately run camps that specialize in coding or cooking, for example, Ho said.

A one-week camp in Vancouver, which may be run by the city or subsidized by the government, could have an all-inclusive price of about $300 a week, while specialized camps may cost around $600 a week, though prices vary, she said.

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“The cost range is quite vast,” Ho said. “So what I encourage clients to do is to really plan a season ahead at all times so that the costs that are potentially on the table are not a surprise.”

As a mother of two school-aged children, she said deciding to take time off work or send kids to camp depends on parents’ income and budget.

“Budget accordingly to make sure that summer camps do not put any families in debt,” Ho said.

School districts may offer complimentary summer school programs, while places like libraries might also hold free activities, she pointed out.

Ho said she starts researching summer camps for her children as soon as spring break is over. Affordable camps tend to fill up faster than pricier ones, while overnight camps can get fully booked a season in advance, she added.

“What’s important is that parents and caregivers really do their research and not leave whether they should put their kids in camp to be a last-minute decision,” she said.

For some parents, going away on vacation with their children may make more financial sense than sending them to summer camp, Ho said.

Last-minute tips

Even with summer break almost here, it’s not too late for parents to find camps or somewhere children can do activities and be supervised by adults.

“It doesn’t hurt to check in on the affordable solutions out there because oftentimes people do drop out last minute,” she said. “So it really doesn’t hurt to hit every single resource that you can think of, but it does take time.”

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Parents can talk to other parents at school and find out what they’re doing with their children for the summer, set up play dates, or talk to family members, neighbours and friends about co-ordinating vacation times and looking after each other’s kids, she explained.

“So that’s when really as parents and caregivers we need to get creative if we don’t have anything set up,” she said. “So when our backs are up against the wall and we don’t have enough vacation time to be able to take the entire summer off, that’s when we have to start entrusting those in our community to see whether friends, family or neighbours are able to assist with child care.”

Are there hidden costs?

As with any purchase, parents are encouraged to do their due diligence.

Ho said she finds camps run by a city or non-profit organization tend to provide all costs upfront.

“I think with the private ones, it’s just (as) important to read the fine print … making sure that there aren’t any hidden costs associated because a lot of times the consent forms and the disclosures that we need to sign have a lot of writing in there.”

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