Summer camp can create experiences that last a lifetime. But the expense! Weekly fees for sleep-away camps in Minnesota cost $325 to $780, on average. Day camps are less, but still run between $100 and $275 per week, according to the midwest office of the American Camp Association. For parents used to paying for childcare or private school, the cost may not be much different than that regular tuition check. But moms and dads with kids in public school may find themselves suffering from summer camp sticker shock.
First, plan ahead. Finish reading Minnesota Parent and then grab a calendar. Figure out how many weeks of camp will be needed and estimate the cost. Most camps put out information in the late winter. If not, last year’s prices are often available online, and most camps have a year-round contact person.
With a ballpark estimate of summer camp costs in hand, divide the price tag by the number of months until camp orientation and start saving immediately.
Say the price tag is out of reach. Most camps will work with families to make it affordable.
More than one million kids receive some form of financial assistance from American Camp Association-accredited camps each year, Maria Schugel, executive director of the American Camp Association’s Northland office says. If a scholarship isn’t available from the camp itself, it’s possible that a community organization or church might offer assistance.
Camps also typically give out discounts for early registration, multiple week attendance, and for sending more than one child. And if camps are anything like hotels, you may get a deal by filling an empty space at the last minute.
For working parents who rely on summer camp as childcare for their school-aged children, tax benefits can reduce the burden on family finances. Do you have a dependent care flexible spending account, which allows you to set aside as much as $5,000 pre-tax from your paycheck? If you’re sending your children ages 13 or younger to camp so you can work or look for work, then you can use your dependent care account for the cost.
The IRS also offers a tax credit of up to $6,000 for dependent care expenses. The actual amount depends on your income and whether you have a flexible spending account or other workplace childcare perks.
However, overnight camps are not usually eligible for either of these benefits. For the low-down, visit irs.gov and search for Publication 503.
Families who send their kids to academic or “enrichment”-oriented camps (think most anything besides sports camps), should research the Minnesota K–12 education credit, which offers a dollar for dollar tax break for some instruction-related expenses, up to a certain cap. The credit is only available for lower-income families. (Visit taxes.state.mn.us for the qualifications.)
There is also a Minnesota K–12 education subtraction, which takes into account up to $1,625 in qualifying expenses for elementary-aged kids and $2,500 for children in grades 7 to 12. How much is a subtraction worth? Minnesota’s top income tax rate is just shy of 8 percent. So the most you’d get for a $1,625 subtraction would be a $130 savings on your tax bill.
Kara McGuire is a personal finance writer and a St. Paul mother
of three. Send comments, questions and story ideas to