9 Ways to Save on Summer Camp

Courtesy of Camp Namanu

Summer camp is a win-win for many families. Kids get to swap quizzes, essays, sitting at desks, and homework for time pursuing passions like sports, art, filmmaking, martial arts or robotics. Parents get much needed child care so they can work. (Or maybe even relax!)

Portland offers tons of unique, fun, and exciting camps to choose from, too. But the cost of summer camps can quickly skyrocket, especially if you have more than one child and are looking to fill up a summer. 

“The cost per week has become crazy, especially if you have multiple children that are young,” says Portland mother of three Maureen Rachford.


Luckily, there are some tried-and-true tricks you can use to save money and still send your child to multiple weeks of camp. Here are nine wallet-friendly tips to get the most of this quintessential summertime experience.

1. Book Early

One of the best ways to save is to sign up your child as early as possible. Many camps have early-registration prices to encourage sign-ups. Alternatively, some camps may offer last-minute discounts to fill empty spots. NW Film Camp offers a $100 early-bird discount.

2. Choose Flexible Camps

Find camps that offer flexibility once you lock in. “Some camps let you purchase a week credit early to take advantage of early registration discounts and then you can pick a week later,” says Rachford. One example is Trackers Earth. And Steve & Kate’s Camp offers day passes for campers to use any time camp is offered (and allows kiddos to choose what activities they do!). 


3. Use Sibling Discounts

If you’ve got more than one child, signing them up for the same camp can save you money. Many camps offer a sibling discount. If you don’t see the option when registering, you can always call to ask for one. Friendly House Summer Break Camps offer $50 off for siblings.

4. Check for Group Discounts

If your child is signing up with multiple friends, you could also check if the camp will extend a group discount. If you have enough kids, the camp may give you a price break, particularly if you’re flexible about which week you choose.

5. Look for Sliding Scales

Seek Out a Sliding Scale Some camps offer a sliding scale, allowing families to pay what they can within a certain range. Write Now! nature and creative writing camps are priced using a sliding scale.

6. Ask for Discounts

Some camps have scholarship funds available or will give you a discount just for requesting one. You might get a discount for paying in cash, too. Grace Art Camps offers scholarships to approximately 10% of its campers. 

7. Choose Wisely

Choose Wisely The price (and hours) of a week of camp varies dramatically. Most run between $250 to $500 per week, but you’ll find some from as low as a little over $100 up to $1,000 or more. So pick camps with lower overall cost. City of Portland residents can sign up for Portland Parks & Recreation camps at rock-bottom prices when using the Access Pass, which cuts costs by 25%, 50%, 75%, or 90%. Camp Rosenbaum is free for children from low-income families. Pro tip: If your child’s school has a SUN program, ask the director if they will hold summer camps. SUN camps are often incredibly affordable. 

8. Consider Convenience

In addition to price, consider which camp works best with your family’s schedule. Location, daily hours, and anything you’ll need to buy for the camp will impact the overall cost, too. For example, it might be worth paying a bit more for a camp that’s around the corner rather than one that takes an hour to get to or requires you to buy equipment or supplies you don’t have. 

9. Make Your Own Camp!

Another option is to pool resources with several families to create a camp of your own. Hire a babysitter (such as a high school or college student) to run a camp with few of your child’s friends. If you paid an hourly rate of say $25 to $30 per hour for four to six children, you would end up paying under $200 per week for a 6-hour day. If you have a flexible schedule, consider switching off hosting a “free” camp with other parents. 

Sarah Vanbuskirk
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