Frugal Camping – Tips for Camping on a Budget


I’m in the midst of packing for my youngest son today.  He turned six this year, which in our family is a huge right of passage.  He gets to go on an outdoor camping / hiking adventure with his dad and grandpa all by himself.  No older brothers to compete with or share s’mores with… it’s all him for 3 days!

Each of our boys has made this right of passage and they honor the tradition.  The older two aren’t the least bit jealous today because they know this is an important ritual in the life of their littlest brother.  (It may also help to know they get to spend 3 days with mom and grandma doing fun things and going to fun places.)

As I was putting together a list of food and snacks, it dawned on me how expensive camping can be if you aren’t penny wise.  Fortunately, there are a number of ways to go camping on a budget.

My husband asked for some quick snacks and easy prep meals since they will only have access to a campfire.  I looked at some of the prepackaged camping food and was shocked at their $7 + price tags – EACH!  Hmm… I need to come up with something just as quick and easy, but more on the frugal camping side.

I turned to a great little cookbook called “Cooking the Dutch Oven Way” by Woody Woodruff.  A-ha!  Salisbury steak!  What a perfect meal for 3 hungry backwoodsmen.  Since the guys are taking a cooler, it gives us a little more flexibility in meal planning.  Here is the recipe:

Salisbury Steak

  • 8 oz lean ground meat (I used elk)
  • 1 Tblsp dried onion flakes
  • 1 tsp dried parsley flakes
  • 14 soda crackers, crumbled
  • ¼ cup skim milk
  • 2 packages of gravy mix (I used one brown and one mushroom)
  • 2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 Tblsp Ketchup
  • ¼ tsp black pepper
  1. Combine the meat, onion flakes, parsley flakes, cracker crumbs, and skim milk.
  2. Form into four patties and place in a dutch oven over a 350 degree fire.
  3. Make gravy per package directions.  In a small bowl, combine the gravy, Worcestershire sauce, ketchup and black pepper.
  4. Spoon gravy mixture over the meat patties and bake for 1 hour.

I pre-made the gravy and put it in a small container.  I also made up the patties.  So, my husband only has to throw everything in the pot and cook it.  Easy — and inexpensive!

Meal planning is critical in saving money and time when you camp. You can do lots of preparation before you leave.  Frozen meals work well because they can serve as another way to keep your cooler cold.  Plus, they are easy since you’ve already done the work.  How awesome would it be to come back to camp after a day of hiking and fishing to Homemade Spaghetti Bake and a fresh salad?  Satisfying AND simple!

As for breakfasts, oatmeal is the hero for ease and cost.  Of course, this year I will also be slipping in a jar of “sprinkles”…you know the colored sprinkles used for decorating cookies?  Our son insists on having those on his beloved oatmeal EVERY morning.  Peanut butter toast and dried fruit would also be a great option for a low-cost breakfast.

PB and J’s rate #1 for lunches.  They can be made in the morning before leaving camp and easily tucked into a pack for a mid-day meal.  Sometimes, the guys like to make a small fire wherever they are during the day and heat up some soup.  We found discounted cans of soup at the Grocery Surplus Stores which I talked about last week.  At 49 cents a can, it makes for a cheap and easy meal out in the woods.

Occasionally, packing the makings for s’mores is difficult or sometimes there is a ban on campfires.  Here’s a great homemade recipe you can use as a substitute.  Again, you make this beforehand so they are ready at a moment’s notice. (My kids almost love these more than s’mores!)

S’More Drops

  • 4 cups Golden Graham Cereal
  • 1 ½ cups miniature marshmallows
  • 1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
  • 1/3 cup light corn syrup
  • 1 Tablespoon butter
  • ½ tsp vanilla extract

In a large bowl, combine the ceral and miniature marshmallows, set aside.  Place the chocolate chips, corn syrup, and butter in a 1-qt. microwave safe dish.  Microwave, uncovered, on high for 1-2 minutes or until smooth, stirring every 30 seconds.  Stir in vanilla.  Pour over cereal mixture and mix well.  Drop by tablespoons onto waxed paper.  Cool.

We also have a Rubbermaid tote filled with necessary items for camping.  My husband is diligent about keeping it stocked so we are never faced with having to purchase something, such as a bottle of ketchup, at a convenience store for $6!

We have essentials like salt, pepper, garlic powder, a little cooking oil, peanut butter, ketchup, honey, jelly and all the utensils we need to prepare and eat a meal.  We also keep toilet paper, paper towels and wet wipes in there as well.  A well-stocked and well-planned camping bin reduces your costs and reduces your stress!

Bringing along your own firewood saves lots of money if you are staying in a campground.  Just be aware of the rules about firewood.  Due to prevention of the spread of tree diseases, firewood is not allowed to cross international borders and some state borders.  But if you can take it with you, it’s a great tip for camping on a budget!

Consider Forest Service campgrounds instead of private commercial campgrounds as a way to save money on campground fees.  I am always amazed at the meager fees the Forest Service charges for their beautiful and well-kept campgrounds and cabins.  Have you ever stayed in one of their rentable lookouts?  That is on my bucket list!

Camping is a fun activity for all ages.  Our family has enjoyed numerous camping trips over the years.  It is a wonderful opportunity to leave the distraction of busy lives and just reconnect with one another in a beautiful and serene environment.

Regardless of what level of camper you are (RV, tent, cabin or out under the stars), if you plan and prepare you can reduce lots of extra work and actually have fun camping on a budget.  And isn’t that what camping is all about… living a simple and easy life while you “get away from it all?”

Enjoy this blog?  You might also like Erin’s previous posts on Discount Shopping Deals…Even on Vacation,  Orchard Homes Country Life Club Celebrates 100 Years, and  Saving Money with Christmas is July.   AND, be sure to check out the “Missoula Save it Club”  on the home page of (See the Daily Missoula Fix buttons in the left navigation bar) for savings updates throughout the week!

Back to the Save It blog home page.

Click here to see the Coupon Queen’s “Save It” archive.


Erin Eisenman-Turner is proud to be a native Missoulian.  Along with her husband and three sons, they raise chickens, pigs, rabbits, and vegetables at Turner Family Farms in the Orchard Homes area. When the farm chores are done, the coupons clipped and the blog written, you can find Erin exploring Montana, collecting antiques and trying to maintain a well-run, happy and organized home for her family.