Is your children’s excitement about summer camp counteracted by your utter lack of excitement over the camp packing list? At first glance, it can seem like a daunting and expensive list of things to buy and somehow cram into a duffel bag. But you can make it a positive (and affordable) task with a few simple hacks. Here are some tips for a painless summer-camp packing experience.

Start the Hunt at Home

Turn the packing chore into a fun game by making it a big scavenger hunt, and enlist your children’s help. Not only will finding items at home save you money on everything from bug spray to nail clippers, but it will also help the kids get familiar with what they’re bringing and why they need it. Try these other money-saving hacks as you complete your list:

  • Portion out toiletries. Pour some of your larger, less-expensive bottles of shampoo, conditioner and shower gel into smaller, labeled plastic bottles. Just send the amount of product the kids will need for the time they are at camp. After all, there is a good chance these items might not make it back home.
  • Repurpose what you own. Last year’s school backpack is perfect to take to camp. It will come in handy for daytrips or hiking, and most of them are washable. An extra pillow-case makes a fine laundry bag — there’s no need to buy a new one.
  • Retrieve seasonal items from self-storage. If you’re stashing any seasonal items in self-storage like tents, sleeping bags, beach gear, or other supplies be sure to get them at least a week before camp starts to give your self time to make sure they are still in good working condition.

Look for Special Deals Before You Buy

Once you’ve gathered up all the things you already have at home, complete the remainder of your list with some smart shopping. Use these budget-friendly hacks:

  • Look for sales and bargain days. No matter if you’re shopping in retail stores or online, visit websites to see what the retailer has on sale. Many stores offer special discount days, such as the one offered for senior shoppers. You may not be a senior, but perhaps grandma is willing to go shopping with you.
  • Hunt for coupons or promo codes. Many retailers offer coupons you can clip or load on your phone to take a deeper discount on your purchase. It’s a good rule-of-thumb to check for a promo code before completing an online purchase.
  • Don’t buy more sleeping bag than you need. Pay attention to sleeping bag temperature ratings. Assuming your child isn’t camping in the dead of winter or in the Arctic, you’ll be safe buying a less-insulated one. This could be less-expensive while being perfectly suitable for summer camp (and future sleepovers). Just be sure to check out the expected low temperatures of your summer camp before shopping. Some mountain or lakefront locations can see the temperature drop off significantly after dark.
  • Look for secondhand options. You may be able to buy gear from the parent of an older child who has outgrown camp. Or, you can turn to a resale shop or a website promoting gear exchanges.
  • Keep back-to-school in mind. Before you know it, you’ll be shopping for back-to-school clothes. Keep that in mind as you’re shopping for camp. The things you buy now can help fulfill your back-to-school list, so you don’t have to spend money twice. Choose socks, undies, t-shirts, hoodies, and raincoats that your child will be happy wearing to school when summer has passed.

Save Space (and Hassle) with Smart Packing

Now that you have everything you need, it’s time to get it all neatly organized and packed so everything is in order when the kids arrive at camp. (Unpacking when they return may very well be a different story!)

  • Label every item to be sure it makes its way back home to you. Use permanent marker on clothing tags or use sticker labels with your kids’ name on them.
  • Once you’ve packed all the toiletries in a toiletry bag or shower tote, put it in a sealable plastic bag. Then, place it in another plastic bag. This will help prevent your child from opening a suitcase full of clothing covered in shampoo.
  • For first-time or young campers, resealable zippered plastic bags can be a lifesaver. Pack each outfit — shirt, shorts, undies and socks — in a one-gallon plastic bag. As they head to the shower, kids can just grab a plastic bag. In the wet shower room, their clean clothes will stay nice and dry. They can stuff their dirty clothes into the empty bag after dressing.
  • Sleeping bags, sets of sheets, blankets, and pillows are all bulky to handle and haul to a cabin or tent. For easy carrying, roll them into a laundry bag or pillowcase, or tie the bundle with a bungee cord.
  • The very best of tips is to let your children help pack their bags. This will ensure that they’ll be able to find everything on their own — from sunscreen to pajamas.

Getting ready for camp is just part of the fun of anticipating summer. If you plan your purchases and pack carefully, it can be a pleasant start to an exciting adventure.

A home and organizational expert, Lea Schneider has published advice in publications like The Washington Post, Woman’s Day, Family Circle, Consumer Reports ShopSmart, and Better Homes and Gardens. She covers shopping tips for Groupon. You can find savings on camp supplies and more on Groupon’s JCPenney page here.

Lea Schneider