Summer Money Camps: Making Finance Fun

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These are not like the summer camps you remember from your youth.

Kids at Camp Millionaire in California build a whole mini-society based on “moola” — a mock currency with – wait for it – a cow’s portrait on the money. The tweens at Camp Challenge in North Carolina immerse themselves in an online simulation called “Life With Bills” where they virtually apply for jobs and pay their way.

And you thought Facebook was absorbing.

Business camps used to attract primarily those kids with a precocious interest in finance and a desire to pad their résumés for college admissions. But in the current challenging economic environment, more kids and parents are recognizing the benefits of finance camps.

Because, let’s face it: Practicing archery and roasting marshmallows over a campfire may be fun, but they don’t exactly prepare campers for the real world. Which survival skill is your child more likely to need in the future: Knowing how to build a lean-to shelter, or understanding how mortgages work?

DailyFinance has compiled a list of some of the best business- and finance-oriented camps around the country. (And, kids, it’s worth noting. These are, at most, weeklong programs. That leaves plenty of summertime for swimming, lanyards and campfires later–after you balance your checkbook.)

Camp Millionaire

Company: Camp Millionaire
Founder: Elisabeth Donati
Ages: 10-13
Cost: $199
Duration: 2- to 5-day sessions
Locations: Anaheim Hills, Santa Barbara, Los Gatos, Palm Desert, Montclair and Santa Clarita, California

Description: Camp Millionaire is a game and activity-based financial literacy program for kids and teens. Students learn how to make, manage, multiply and donate their money wisely during this weekend event. The camp features The Money Game, where kids create a mini-society based on “moola”–mock currency. Kids spend the weekend learning how to invest in stocks and pay credit card and phone bills.

Young Americans Center for Financial Education

Company: Young Americans Center for Financial Education
Founder: Bill Daniels
Ages: 7-13
Cost: $185 (scholarships available)
Duration: 5-day and 1-day sessions
Location: Denver, Lakewood and Stapleton, Colorado

Description: The Young Americans Center for Financial Education offers eight types of weeklong camps throughout the summer. They focus on teaching youngsters to be financially responsible through real-life experiences and hands-on programs. Themes include personal finance, free enterprise, global economics or entrepreneurship. Each session culminates in a one-day real-world scenario in which purchases are necessary and financial assets limited. Examples include running a kid-sized town, running a “world economy” (with a focus on trade, currencies and deficits) or hosting a marketplace to sell products from a newly created business.

Camp BizSmart

Company: Camp BizSmart
Founders: Dr. Michael Gibbs and Peggy Gibbs
Ages: 11-15
Cost: $595 to $1,400
Duration: 5- or 10-day sessions
Locations: Stanford University, California; Punaho, Hawaii; Silicon Valley Community Foundation, San Mateo, California; JFK University, San Jose, California; JFK University, Pleasant Hill, California

Description: The camp’s mission is to “train aspiring entrepreneurs in the ‘thrival skills’ required for success at home, school and in the increasingly competitive global marketplace.” Michael Gibbs, founder of Camp BizSmart and a former Fortune 500 executive, started the camp with his wife, Peggy, during the height of the economic recession to focus on “tweepreneurs.” Students work on “hot topic” business problems offered by hip companies like Hope Lab, NeuroSky, Hara and Serious Energy.

Students are mentored by industry executives as they learn and practice business skills including competitive analysis, design innovation, cost analysis and profit-and-loss cash flow. Students are coached by executives from companies such as Cisco, Apple and Google, and apply the skills they learn to the business case they are solving, as teams of six come up with ideas for business solutions.

Camp Challenge

Company: Camp Challenge
Founder: Thad Woodard
Ages: 10-13
Cost: Free
Duration: 5-day sessions
Location: Westfield, North Carolina

Description: Run by the North Carolina Bankers Association, the camp mixes financial education with traditional outdoor camp activities like horseback riding. Students learn financial literacy through an online simulation called “Life With Bills,” which allows them to design an avatar, apply for a job (based on desired salary), get paychecks (and learn the difference between net and gross pay) and pay bills. Students also learn about civic responsibility, etiquette and entrepreneurship.