Whoever said camping was cheap must have eaten a few too many s’mores. Cuz camping can be downright pricey, y’all. By the time you buy equipment and hit the grocery aisles for everyone’s favorite campfire snack, you can spend a large portion of your paycheck. But there are ways to save money on camping that are not difficult to put into practice — so your next camping trip won’t break the bank, and you can relax and enjoy getting away from the normal routine.
Everyone likes to talk about camping as an inexpensive alternative to other types of vacations — but I know that I, for one, seem to spend a ton of money to get ready to go camping.
The food alone costs an arm and a leg – I can easily spend more than a week’s grocery budget for a 3-day camping trip — and then there is always new equipment that must be purchased, and special clothing or toiletries… and the list goes on.
Sometimes it seems that by the time you add it all up, it’s almost the same as getting a hotel room, and certainly more than it would cost to just stay home. What is up with that?
So I’ve come up with a list of ways to save money on camping so that we can turn it into the frugal experience it’s supposed to be! Because it really still does have the best potential to provide family fun for the lowest overall cost, if we approach it right.
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Ways to Save Money on Camping
This is one of the main expenses when we go camping. I hit the grocery store with what I think is a reasonable list and come out with a cartful of stuff and a very long receipt. These are the areas to be disciplined in:
1) Make a DETAILED menu plan. In the past I have been more of a “I need 5 meals and food to snack on” planner. Instead the thing to do is plan out each and every meal and each and every snack. AND they need to be inexpensive foods that can still be cooked easily over a fire. Hot dogs, rather than bratwurst (which has been a weakness of mine in the past). Eggs, yes; bacon — maybe not. Carrot sticks instead of chips.
2) Make a DETAILED shopping list. This is where it is good to figure out exact quantities. I have a tendency to overbuy snacks, drinks, and produce. I agree that I don’t want to run out of food while camping, but we usually have LOTS left over. In fact, it often goes bad, because it’s hard to keep things fresh when camping. Apples get bruised from being tossed around, or the ice melts and soaks into everything in the cooler… sigh.
And here’s a biggie: Stick to the list while you are at the store. It’s too easy to see something and add it to the cart because “so-and-so might like this” or “that looks yummy” or “oh, I forgot about this.” With a detailed list, that last one shouldn’t happen — and the other two excuses are just plain stupid. At least when you’re trying to stick to a budget. 🙂
3) (I think this bears repeating) Don’t overbuy snacks, drinks, sweets, or even produce. Plan a reasonable quantity for the size of your family. People will not starve. If you buy a bag of apples, you don’t have to take the whole thing camping; that’s a recipe for a bag of dead apples. Instead, take the quantity of apples you need (because you will have planned exactly when you’re going to eat them; see #1 above) and leave the rest at home. Water makes a great drink, and then you don’t have to buy several different 12-packs of soda to suit everyone’s tastes.
I seem to always get stuck with a last-minute equipment purchase, which means that I have to come up with the money to buy whatever it is, and I can’t get the best price. That happens because I don’t start looking over the equipment until two days before we plan to leave. (Please tell me I’m not the only one who does this.) So it’s a good idea to plan ahead. Each time you come back from a camping trip, make notes about what you need for next time and start saving for it then. Or if you know one is coming up, try to drag out the equipment at least a month ahead and check it all over.
Another idea is to just have a “camping equipment we need” list and buy the things on it gradually, over time. Then you can take advantage of sales. A friend of mine buys one new piece of equipment each time they go. They plan what it will be and save for it, and then they buy it before the trip. Love it.
Then there’s the whole thing of taking care of the equipment. Don’t abuse it on the trip. Clean and pack things up carefully when you get home. Sew up holes in sleeping bags. Don’t leave the tent lying out on the living room floor for the cat to pee on. Um. Don’t let the teapot boil dry. Any other stupid things I’ve done that I can list here??
Camp on weekdays. Campgrounds charge less for camping spots in the middle of the week. It’s also easier to get a reservation. And it limits the amount of time that you go camping, which means you don’t have to pack as much food and the fam doesn’t get as cranky with each other (which I’m sure happens to no other kids but mine…).
Bring games and books and other things that can be done at the campsite (although I think I would draw the line at electronic media; but that’s just me). I personally love just sitting looking at the flames in the fire pit… but the kiddos get restless. The point is to not have to go looking for entertainment elsewhere, such as the video games at the campground office or the movie theater in town. Hiking and swimming also work in this category, but they are not always convenient.
Set one and stick to it. This is where the rubber meets the road. This is where I struggle ALL THE TIME. I want to do something so bad that I overspend just to make it happen. Well, it’s time to grow up. We should be able to decide how much we should spend on camping and then not go over that amount. It’s called getting creative with how to meet needs without doling out the cash.
I actually really LOVE camping. Isn’t it funny how all the chores we complain about at home (cooking, picking up, etc.) don’t seem so bad when we’re camping?? Which is kind of silly, really, because camping is WORK. But at the same time there is something about getting away from the house and living more primitively that is very relaxing. Go figure.
So I’d love to hear from y’all about other ways to save money on camping, because I intend to go early and often. 🙂 What are your best tips??