Clever ideas that won't break the bank. 

By Marisa Cohen
Updated July 14, 2017
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When my daughter was at sleepaway camp two years ago, the care-package competition got completely out of control. I sent one or two packages over the seven weeks of camp with nail polish, Archie comics, and sparkly hairbands. But I couldn’t possibly compete with the parent of another girl in the bunk who sent daily packages filled with stuffed animals, new outfits, board games, and more. Who had the time or money to put that much effort into it, and who wants to make that many trips to the post office?

Thankfully, the camp informed parents the next year that they were banning all care packages, unless it was the child’s birthday. (Phew.)

I was reminded of this the other night when I watched the Season 3 premiere of the hilarious sitcom Odd Mom Out (catch it on Bravo). Jill visits her daughter Hazel at camp and brings her a basket of stickers, jacks, pencils, and other old-fashioned, low-tech goodies, then watches in horror as the girl across the cabin opens her crazy-expensive haul of French macarons and virtual-reality goggles.

But putting together a fun care package shouldn’t require breaking the bank. Paula Finkelstein Rosenthal, owner of Favorite Gift Baskets and a Long Island mom of three happy campers, recommends classic, inexpensive activity toys such as fidget spinners (or the newer craze, Squishies), Frisbees, emoji pillows, cool coloring books (like this Wonder Woman one or this one for your Harry Potter fan), Rubik’s Cubes, card games such as Set or Dweebies, and Silly String.

RELATED: How to Teach Your Kids Gift-Receiving Etiquette

We also spoke to the mom of one clever kid who found the perfect way to get exactly what he wants at mail-call. “My son goes to the camp’s computer lab and puts things he wants in an Amazon basket, then he sends me an email asking me to hit ‘purchase’ for him,” says Randi Pellett, of Brooklyn, NY. “Most of it is food, but the item he loved the best was an inexpensive lawn chair, which he uses to sit outside on the porch of his cabin, watching the stars and talking with his friends.”

Here, ten more perennially popular items that won’t break your budget. (We’re skipping food, which is banned at many camps because of allergy concerns and the very real possibility that little forest critters will sneak into the bunk and eat those M&Ms before your kid does.)