Summer vacation is only getting more expensive for parents, with some spending thousands of dollars on camp: It's 'highway robbery' (2024)

Between taekwondo, time at the local community center, and other types of camp and summer programs, Paige Connell and her husband will end up spending over $6,000 for her two oldest kids to stay busy this summer.

Connell created a spreadsheet to keep track of the varying costs, times, and weeks for these programs. It shows that the family paid $360 per week for one of the children and $345 for the other for recreation department programs. One of her children is attending taekwondo, which costs $300. One child will partake in a music camp for several days, which costs over $500.

Camp is not the only summer expense for Connell's family. They also took a week-long family vacation at a beach house.

The 34-year-old mom of four said most of these summer camps were already paid up front earlier this year. Connell, who also has two younger kids who attend daycare, said of the older children's camps, "that's kind of our childcare for the summer" given she and her husband work full time.


"It is something that we budget for, so we try to plan accordingly for how we're going to pay for it, and obviously in combination with paying for our other childcare throughout the year," she said.

Summer fun may be priceless for kids, but it's increasingly costly for their parents. Some go into debt to pay off a summer; others adjust their work hours, scramble to find care, or have to deal with their children feeling left behind by peers headed to pricey summer programs.

It's a function of a system parents say isn't cohesive with the needs of working caretakers, like how school ends before many professionals' workday or how daycares sometimes have sporadic schedules. And, like other facets of the economy, it's something where costs are only growing.

For parents, "it's such a hard dichotomy because obviously summer's exciting, kids are out of school, they're excited for the opportunity to spend more time with them," Courtney Alev, Credit Karma's consumer financial advocate, told BI. "But this need to continue to find additional childcare — and often more expensive — can just add a lot of stress to parents."


Why summer camps are so expensive, and what it means for families

Tom Rosenberg, president and CEO of the American Camp Association, is well aware of camps' costs and demands.

"The price of camp has gone up as the costs of operating a camp have gone up, but the camp operators in general are not able to raise their prices sufficiently to cover the increase in their costs," Rosenberg said. Camp directors, like childcare providers, have struggled to staff up and boosted wages to try to lure in young adults in a competitive market.

"Kids need more today, so we need more staff to manage to take care of the children," Rosenberg said, comparing needs to pre-pandemic times. "Camp experiences are unique opportunities for them to learn and grow undistracted by social media and technology and with a measure of independence from their parents and family."

Camps are also coming up against an expensive — yet quiet — headwind that's eating away at wallets: Skyrocketing insurance costs.


"Both on the property and casualty side of things, insurance costs for youth programs like this are through the roof, frankly, if they can get coverage," Rosenberg said. "There's food and transportation, the cost of capital to expand their facility to be able to take additional campers in or to just operate their program; everything has gone up."

Rosenberg said the challenge "is to be able to serve more kids in an affordable way given the inflationary environment that we are currently in."

For Alex Mnatsakanov, summer is worth going into debt.

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The 45-year-old single dad, who shares custody of his daughter, describes her as creative and extroverted. Summer is a chance for the pre-teen who dreams of being on Broadway to hit the stage at theater camp and star in at least three different shows.


"It's great seeing her be confident on stage — and she is very confident on stage — but it's also, I feel like, has been tremendous for her mental health as an outlet to support her through things that have gone on in her life," he said.

And so, he and his co-parent are shelling out around $3,000 total this year for two different day camps that add up to six weeks of activities — but that's only about half of the summer. He said those costs usually end up on a credit card. But that investment is worth it to not see his kid languish bored all summer.

"The experience, the outlet for all of that creativity, for all that interaction with peers is worth it for me to potentially grow my debt," he said.

Summer vacation is only getting more expensive for parents, with some spending thousands of dollars on camp: It's 'highway robbery' (1)

Indeed, an Intuit Credit Karma survey of 2,006 American adults in June found that 29% of parents said they can't save money during the summer because of childcare costs, and over a third said they need to adjust their work hours because care is so expensive.


Meanwhile, 23% of parents, among those who reported they'd be paying for summer programs, expected to pay over $1,000 a month per child during the summer. Broadly, 61% of parents with kids under 18 years old said it "feels even more expensive to raise kids in the summer months." And 28%, among those who noted enrolling their kids in programs, said they planned on taking on debt to help cover the costs of summer programs.

"That — even if it's necessary for certain families — is really concerning given that credit card interest rates and debt, they're at really high levels right now," Alev said. "And so going into that debt now is likely going to end up costing you a lot more over time."

Connell, the parent with two of her children attending various camps this summer, noted that she understands how expensive it is to operate and staff camps and that the people working there "deserve to be paid well."

"I think, unfortunately, the costs are very prohibitive to parents," Connell said, adding that government subsidies and funding for camps and care "would go a long way" for workers at these places and families.


It's not just a summer problem. "I think the cost of childcare is a major infrastructure failure in our country. I think it is disproportionately impacting women who are leaving the workforce because they can't afford childcare," she said.

And other small expenses — like sending a lunch or giving kids spending money for camp excursions — add up. Dana Bowling, a mom of an 11-year-old and a 9-year-old, said she pays for a hot lunch daily for her kids' day camp, and then also for a frozen treat — she knew if she didn't pay for that one, she'd hear from her kids every day saying that everyone else got one. On top of all of that, some parents are forking over thousands for services that help their kids pack and prepare for camp.

Bowling wants to give her kids what she sees as the important cultural experience of going to camp. Bowling, who lives in LA, sends her children to a Jewish summer camp, which has long been held as an important cultural touchstone in the American Jewish community.

"I think it's a big deal, and it's kind of necessary for kids to experience those things. So it's a non-negotiable, but because of that, it's so expensive," she said. She estimates that, just for day camp, they're spending around $150 to $200 per kid a day; sleepaway camp is running them around $6,000 per kid for three weeks. To make costs manageable, she uses a payment plan to pay throughout the year for camp.


"It's kind of like highway robbery because they can charge whatever they want, and we'll have to do it," Bowling said.

While camps and other summer activities can be costly, there are some options for assistance out there.

"We do offer financial aid at all of our locations, and no family is ever turned away because of an inability to pay," Lisa Garcia, senior executive of youth programs, afterschool and day camps at the YMCA of Greater New York, said. "At the Y, we really want to make sure summer camp is accessible for all."

Garcia, who said she was a camp counselor back in the day, sees the benefits of attending camp. "It's where campers can be silly and be who they are and explore who they want to be, fine-tune their skills, develop those skills that they already have," Garcia said.


Some parents agree that summer experiences are worth the cost.

"I do feel like the experiences for her are worth it. I'm a strong believer in less about material things and more about experiences where you do create memories that last a lifetime — not to sound super cliché," Mnatsakanov said of his daughter. He added: "I want her to five, six years down the road when she's a teenager and doesn't want to do camps — because she's too cool for school — have these memories from her tweens."

How much are you spending on activities and childcare this summer or in a year? Share with these reporters at and

Summer vacation is only getting more expensive for parents, with some spending thousands of dollars on camp: It's 'highway robbery' (2024)
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