Parents spend a staggering amount of money on their children’s after school activities. According to an April 2019 survey by Compare Cards, “46% of parents spend more than $1,000 annually on their kids’ activity – and 27% spend more than $2,000.”
Furthermore, the survey reports 62% of parents have gone into debt for their kids’ after school activities. A staggering 27% of them owe more than $3,000 in debt due to their children’s activities, and 9% owe more than $5,000.
As a mom to five year old twins, I know what it’s like to feel pressure that you’re not doing “enough” for your kids or that you’re not providing enough opportunities for them. However, I also know the greatest gift I can give my children is a financially stable household. Sometimes that means making hard choices about when and where to invest in their education and development.
If you’re trying to put your kids in after school activities without going into debt, below are some suggestions.
Choose One Activity Per Child
In our family, each child chooses one activity. This decision is multipurpose. First, it means I’m not running my kids to different activities every single day after school. It means they get some downtime and a chance to play outside and just be kids after a long day of school.
It also means they develop their skills in one activity and can become proficient at it. Plus, putting each child in one activity saves money, time, and allows them to get into a routine.
I know that as my kids get older, this might change, but as a young family who is paying down student loan debt, it helps us to stick to a monthly budget. It also allows our children to develop skills in activities they love without overwhelming or over scheduling them.
Start a Savings Bucket for Extracurriculars
Just like I save for Christmas all year round, I also save for my kids’ extracurricular activities and start up costs several months in advance. When my children first started participating in extracurricular activities, I was surprised at how expensive the start up costs were. I had to pay deposits as well as buy certain clothes and sports equipment.
Because they’re kids, they grow quickly, and I’m lucky if everything fits them throughout the year. I’ll often have to buy a new pair of ballet shoes or sneakers at points throughout the year, and it helps to have money set aside for that.
So, if you happen to get a refund check, an unexpected bonus, or make $200 by having a garage sale, go ahead and start a separate savings fund for your children’s extracurricular activities. You can keep the money in a cash envelope or in a separate high yield savings account. Keep saving in this throughout the year so you can easily afford your children’s activity fees (without becoming part of the 62% of parents who go into debt for their kids’ extracurriculars.)
Offer to Barter Your Time for Your Children’s Lessons
Another way to save on costs is to offer to exchange your time for lessons. There are many parents who help out at the front desk of a dance studio or offer to coach a sport in exchange for reduced activity fees.
It’s up to you to ask if this type of arrangement is possible. And, you might be pleasantly surprised at what business owners will agree to. They are often in need of help, especially if that help comes from people who are supportive of their industry.
Don’t forget to think outside the box too. You can help manage their social media pages or run Facebook ads for them. Think about your skillset, and see if it matches up with something they need.
Join (or Lead) School Clubs
School clubs often come with club dues, but they aren’t nearly as expensive as team sports, music lessons, gymnastics class, or dance lessons. See what your school has to offer. They might have robotics, chess, or a school newspaper club for a small fee. Your kids still learn valuable skills, just without the cost of extensive travel sports.
Lastly, another easy way to save when it comes to after school activities, especially sports, is to register as early as possible. Teams usually offer discounts if you register early so they can get an accurate count of how many kids will be participating.
There is a lot of value in encouraging your kids to have interests outside of school and to be well rounded. And, it’s no secret that if your children excel at certain extracurriculars, they could earn college scholarships. However, no one can predict the future, and what’s really important is providing your children with a financially stable home.
Having debt causes stress, money fights with your partner, and can put your own financial future in jeopardy. So, instead of borrowing money to pay for your children’s after school activities, try to find creative ways to save money on them.
Remember, you can purchase sports gear secondhand. You can volunteer your time. You can sign them up for a league at a church or community center that has more affordable fees. Also, you can try your hand at teaching them some skills yourself with online tutorials.
Either way, just know that the amount of activities your kids participate in doesn’t necessarily equal a quality childhood. You don’t have to sign your kids up for everything to be a good parent.
The best thing you can do is provide a stable home for them, and sometimes that means choosing just one after school activity or deciding against competition teams or travel sports. They’ll be ok and you’ll be okay regardless of the path you choose. And, if you do want to sign them up for a few activities after school this year, use the above tips to help you save money doing it.