Camping always looks fun and relaxing: s’mores, hot dogs, comfy sleeping bags. Add in small children, and it is an activity that gets expensive and stressful fast! Oh, but there is hope.

During our last family outing to the great outdoors, my kids only wanted to play in the dirt and use sticks as magic wands (thanks, Harry Potter.) It taught me a lesson: the key to a stress free, affordable camping trip is to KEEP IT SIMPLE!


First-time campers will have to buy or borrow gear.  Here are a few tips to keep the budget under control:

The Tent

  • Here is a nice two room, five person tent for $152.00 from Walmart.
  • Find brand new two person tents for as little as $24.00. If you are comfortable having the family divided, you will save about $100 buying two smaller tents. The same tents are available at for a similar price.
  • For a used tent, check in your area or your local classifieds.
  • Borrow one. Friends and family often have unused tents in the garage. Free!

Sleeping Bags

  • Buy less expensive bags and bring blankets from home. Spend $13 to $20 and add warm blankets. Don’t forget a pillow!
  • Here is one affordable 40 degree bag at
  • Check out yard and estate sales. They may be used, but a trip to the laundromat will make them good as new.

Cooler and Food Bin

  • Most families already have coolers. If you need one, spend about $20.oo at Walmart or Target.
  • Use a storage tote as a food bin. Don’t have one? Spend only between $4.00 and $9.00.

Cooking Gear

  • A new propane stove and gas canisters run a minimum of $50.00. More likely, you’ll spend upwards of $1oo.00. Here’s a cheaper option: bring tin foil and a bag of charcoal briquettes for the campground-provided fire pit. (Or bring a long a box of wood.) Cook  right on the grill, or put down foil if you worry about the dirt. You’ll spend about $15.00 for foil and charcoal at your grocery store. Check the campground’s website to make sure it has a grill or fire pit.
  • Wrap veggies and potatoes in foil pockets and toss right in the fire. No cookware needed.
  • Cook hot dogs and marshmallows on a stick. You are camping, after all.
  • Buy paper products and utensils at the local dollar store.


  • You’ll need a lantern. With little kids around, battery powered is your best bet. Find one on the cheap at big box retailers. Here is an awesome deal on a flashlight/lantern combo from Walmart. Also look for flashlight combo packs. If you don’t want to invest in batteries, consider a wind-up flashlight. Here’s a great deal at Amazon. Every member of the camping party should have his or her own flashlight.
  • Bug spray and sunscreen are necessities. Find these items on sale with a coupon.

Bottom Line

With these tips, you can feasibly get started for under $160. A typical family of four may spend more than $440 to get started.  That is a $280 savings!

 Planning Stage

Once your gear situation is sorted out, you still have to find a campground, plan and shop for the meals, and organize activities. Here are some tips:


  • Find a campground that is within a two hour drive, if possible. Being closer to home makes everyone a little more at ease and saves on gas. It is also easier to head home if the trip turns out to be a bust. There are plenty of private parks as well as state and national parks. Your state likely has a website of state parks, or check with your state’s tourism bureau. You will have to pay for a camping space in most parks.
  • Find what activities are available at each campground. Hiking is free, of course. Swimming at a lake is free and so is site seeing. Playing in the dirt is free, and your kids will ALWAYS find the dirt, guaranteed. Bring along a few fun family activities like a card game (UNO, anyone?)


  • Think simple. Have cereal or cereal bars for breakfast, sandwiches or wraps with chips for lunch, and use a meat/potato/ veggie formula for dinner. Hot dogs and burgers are always easy and cheap. Hiking and playing makes for hearty appetites, so don't forget the snacks!  If you shop strategically, you can get all your camping food for $25 or less.

The Breakdown

  • Weekend campground fee: $12-$25/night = $24-$50 for a weekend
  • Camp food/supplies: $25 for food, $5 supplies = $30 (at most)
  • Gas: $20 (depending)
  • Activities = FREE
  • Total (without gear) = $100. Not bad for an entire family weekend.

Remember, camping is about connecting with nature and family time. You don’t need fancy gear and complicated meals to make the trip fun.

 This has been a guest post by Shauna from Castle Rock, CO
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Make Family Camping Stress Free and Affordable