You are here

The Price of Life: Summer Camp

Sarah Preston Gorenstein

This is totally bizarre timing, but I just happened to be reading my post from last year titled: “The Price of Life,” in which I discussed the cost of having kids. Coincidentally, I wrote that blog on July 12, 2010. And exactly a year later, the same topic is still on my mind, but this time it’s about the cost of summer camp. Did you know that overnight camp, at least the ones in my area (i.e. Wisconsin), cost about $1,000 a week??? Our mouths dropped when we learned this recently. My nephews are both leaving for camp on Sunday, which is why this is on our minds right now: The 11-year-old is attending overnight camp for four weeks; the nine-year-old is attending overnight camp for two weeks; and my almost-seven-year-old niece is currently attending day camp. Three kids in camp equals a HUGE expense that I hadn’t considered before now.

My brother and I both grew up going to camp. I attended Decoma Day Camp for four years, and then camp-hopped in Eagle River, Wisconsin: Camp Nicolet for two years; Camp Marimeta for two years; and then Camp Chi for one summer. I looked up the current prices of these camps, and it’s mind-blowing: About $8,500 for a full eight-week session. Per kid. Are you serious? How on earth did my parents afford to send us both to camp every summer? How does anyone afford it?

And we went to private schools most of our lives, too. The idea gives me so much anxiety, I can’t even tell you. But if there’s one luxury expense that I feel is more than worth its cost—it would be camp. Some of my best years and memories were at camp. I wouldn’t say I was a die-hard camper like some of my friends who went to the same camp for several years and then became counselors at that camp, but I learned how to swim, horseback ride, water ski, kayak, canoe, shoot archery, among other things, and generally make new friends and branch out and become independent at an early age. (I was in three horse shows!) Camp is very important to me and I plan to give my kids the same opportunities I had, no matter what it takes.

Preston’s obviously a little young for me to be worrying about overnight camp right now, but even the day camps are pricey. I just learned about camp programs at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum ($500-$600 a session) and the Lincoln Park Zoo (about $310/week), which sound like amazing options when the kids are younger, but certainly not cheap. These are things you just don’t think about when you’re dreaming about having a big family…or things I never really thought about until my friends started sending their kids to camp.

I’m still trying to get my head around pre-K, which I’m told I need to start enrolling in when Preston turns two this August. Thankfully we happen to live across the street from a great magnet school that gives priority to the neighborhood, but so far from what I’ve learned this pre-K is tuition based ($250 a week). Alone that doesn’t sound so horrible, but I have a four-day-a-week nanny, too, whom I won’t be able to give up. (Who else is going to pick my son up from school at 3 p.m.?) And then there’s the possibility that I might have a second kid so, considering I work full time, I'll need that full-time childcare.

Seriously, this is all really stressing me out. Camp may be a couple of years off, but school isn’t. And unfortunately I’m just not one of those people who can “go with the flow” with these things. I’m considering enrolling Preston in a gymnastics class this August—it’s a 10-week session, once a week—and it’s nearly $300. This better be one good gymnastics class (and I heard it is).

Do you send your kids to camp? At what age did you start? And what kind of pre-K or preschool programs did you enroll them in? Preston currently spends his days at the park with his nanny and their circle of friends (free!), and he’s not yet two so I still have a little time to figure this out, but if I know my son he will absolutely looooove camp as much (or more than) I did, so I will of course do whatever I need to make sure he gets to have these childhood experiences. Look at that photo above—does that not look like a kid who will love camp?

Head over to to hear more about my personal adventures in Momville. And follow me on Twitter @thecosmomom, and Facebook at Sarah Preston Gorenstein. I'd love to connect with you!