Extracurricular activities used to be the domain of the child prodigies. Little ones who were training for the Olympics or the children’s orchestra were the only kids you saw going to gymnastics or violin lessons after school. For the rest of the kid population, doing homework and riding bikes was more than enough activity.
Times have certainly changed, with younger and younger children going from school to music lessons to sports practice to scouts. Not only do all the extra activities take up a lot of time in the car, they can also be difficult for parents to afford. In addition to the clear registration, activity, and equipment fees, there can also be unexpected fees for things like team photos or group snacks.
Here are four ways to reduce the costs of your children’s extracurricular activities, without giving up the fun:
1. Know what you’re getting into.
One of the reasons that parents find themselves surprised by the total cost of an activity is that the numbers are rarely broken down for them from the beginning. You’ll certainly be able to determine registration fees and such ahead of time, but the incidental fees have a way of creeping up on you.
To combat this problem, talk to the coach or other parents before signing Junior up. Even if no one has ever recorded every cost associated with the activity, you should be able to get a ballpark estimate of what the activity will cost over the course of the season or year. If you budget that amount, plus 10% extra to cover potential surprises, you won’t be scrambling to find the money to pay for a team tee-shirt you didn’t know you needed to buy.
2. Prioritize activities.
There are certainly children out there who thrive on having a jam-packed schedule, but most kids will be happiest when they’re only focusing on one or two activities outside of school. So let your child decide on what they’re interested in pursuing. By allowing them to follow their interests, you’re also less likely to have the “I don’t wanna go!” reaction — after you’ve already dropped a hefty amount on the activity.
3. Find cheaper options.
One way to reduce the overall costs of extracurricular activities, as well as mitigate the costs of your child “trying on” different activities before finding something they love, is to find non-profit or school-based programs. While every sport and activity has coaches who offer private instruction or private sports clubs, those are going to be the most expensive method for getting your kids active.
Instead, sign your children up for intramural sports at your local Boys & Girls Club or YMCA. Find introductory classes for music, language, or individual sports like ice-skating, at local recreation centers. While none of these options will be free, they’ll be a great deal less expensive than the private options.
4. Have your children help pay.
It’s a good life lesson for kids to understand how much their favorite activities cost. Even if you don’t have your children chip in some allowance money to purchase equipment, you can spend some time talking about what trade-offs you have to make in order to pay for their karate lessons.
The Bottom Line
Extracurricular activities can be expensive, but they don’t have to break the bank. The trick is to be proactive both in your extracurricular budget and your choice of activities.
What extracurricular activities does your child participate in? How have you made it affordable?