Recession-Proof? Summer Camps Charging $9,000 a Camper Sold Out

Peg Smith, CEO of the American Camp Association in Martinsville, Ind., said that the economy is coming up in discussions continuously, but that a majority of camps are showing the same or higher enrollment. That doesn't mean that some aren't suffering or waiting for later-than-normal enrollment. But at this point, she said, the trend is not much different from last summer. Final enrollment numbers don't come in until the fall.

"The last dollar a parent cuts is the dollar they spend on children," Smith said.

Camp prices typically range from $100 a week to $1,200 a week. Smith said some camps allow parents to break up payments and a few offer discounts for siblings. She said camps are also looking at ways to cut costs, including reducing their fuel bills and expanding vegetable gardens.

For many families, it's a difficult balance between paying the bills and trying to provide the best for their children.

Laura Grashow, a child and family psychologist who helps mostly affluent families in Aventura, Fla., near Miami, said, "I've seen lots of parents having lots of bills but living a really nice lifestyle; and I've seen those lifestyles go downhill very rapidly."

Children and the Recession

How each family handles it and how the children respond vary widely, she said.

"There are kids who are entitled and spoiled who don't really appreciate their parents' loss and don't see how it should affect them, and I'm even talking about teenagers," she said. "And, then, on the other end of the spectrum, there are kids who do really have an understanding that they themselves have to cut back as a result of what's happening."

She said she sees a lot of "wonderful parents who would do everything for their kids." They cut back on vacations, music, the movies and clothing, but still try to do things for their children.

"It's really painful to say no," she said.

But Grashow said parents need to make sure they are spending whatever money they have free on the right things. It's not OK to buy something just to "keep up with the Joneses," she said.

For a lot of kids, the cuts can be hard, especially because most have never known any other way of life.

"In these times," Grashow said, "I have found that it's most helpful for parents to sit down with kids and be pretty candid without frightening them."

The Birnbachs didn't stop there, instead sending their children to camp as if this will be like any other summer.

"Camp provides a platform for kids to really be themselves and actually find out who they are," Gennifer Birnbach said. "They are exposed to so many activities and through that ... they don't have to sit down and be quiet the whole time. ... They can just be real kids."

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