Summer Camps That Teach Kids About Money

These camps offer lessons on the basics of personal finance.

Looking for a summer activity for your kids that will pay off down the road? Consider a summer camp that teaches about money and personal finance. You’ll find day camps across the country, and it’s not too late to sign up if there’s one in your area.

Two of my favorites are Camp iCare, for children ages 6 to 12, and its companion for teens ages 13 to 18, called REAL Cents REAL Change. Both are located in Auburn, Ala., under the auspices of Auburn University’s Cary Center for the Advancement of Philanthropy and Nonprofit Studies and its Department of Human Development and Family Studies Early Learning Center.

What’s noteworthy about both camps is that in addition to traditional lessons about spending and saving, wants versus needs, and debit versus credit, they teach the value of philanthropy. That doesn’t necessarily mean donating gobs of money. It does mean learning to be “financially responsible so that you can maximize what we call the four t’s: your time, talent, treasure and trust,” says Sidney James Nakhjavan, executive director of the Cary Center and the Women’s Philanthropy Board at Auburn. “What matters is not what you have but your choices in what you do with it.”

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Auburn’s camps will reach about 200 students this summer, including 70 in nearby Macon County, birthplace of Booker T. Washington and home to Tuskegee University. Nakhjavan has ambitious plans to double that number next summer. Camp iCare still has openings in its session from July 6 to 9; the fee is $160 (see the website, or call Lauren Reynolds at 334-844-3506). Note: For children younger than 13, day-camp expenses can qualify for the child-care tax credit if you pay for the camp so that you can work (see Can I Write Off My Kid’s Summer Camp?).

Other options. If you don’t happen to live in the Auburn area, you still have plenty of choices.

Junior Achievement sponsors summer camps throughout the U.S., including JA BizTown camps in Charlotte, N.C., and Indianapolis, and an entrepreneur boot camp for rising 11th and 12th graders at Virginia Commonwealth University, in Richmond. Common themes are exploring career opportunities, creating and managing a budget, running a business, and becoming involved in the community. Find a camp near you.

Camp Millionaire offers both a summer camp program and a financial education curriculum. Students learn how to make, manage, multiply and donate their money using 30 “creative wealth principles.” Among them: “Money is a tool to reach your dream.” “Pay yourself first.” “Financial success comes from managing risk, not avoiding it.” “If you can’t afford it in cash, you can’t afford it at all.” Locations include Anaheim Hills and Santa Barbara, Calif., and Edmonds, Wash.

Registration is closed for this summer, but looking ahead to next year the Young Americans Center for Financial Education, in Denver, operates “FUN-ancial” summer camps for 2nd through 6th graders.

Finally, the Montgomery County (Maryland) Public Libraries, in suburban Washington, D.C., are sponsoring a series of weeklong financial boot camps for teenagers ages 13 to 17. The camps are being presented by the Financial Literacy Organization for Women and Girls. I’ve had the pleasure of speaking at a FLOW event, and I’ve also attended one of its summer sessions. What impressed me was that so many young people were willing to give up a week of their summer vacation to learn about budgeting, credit and investing—lessons that will last a lifetime.

Janet Bodnar

Janet Bodnar is editor-at-large of Kiplinger's Personal Finance, a position she assumed after retiring as editor of the magazine after eight years at the helm. She is a nationally recognized expert on the subjects of women and money, children's and family finances, and financial literacy. She is the author of two books, Money Smart Women and Raising Money Smart Kids. As editor-at-large, she writes two popular columns for Kiplinger, "Money Smart Women" and "Living in Retirement." Bodnar is a graduate of St. Bonaventure University and is a member of its Board of Trustees. She received her master's degree from Columbia University, where she was also a Knight-Bagehot Fellow in Business and Economics Journalism.