Avoid going broke paying for your kids’ activities
Half a decade ago, kids honed their athletic skills at the neighborhood park. Now, organized sports teams, camps and clinics have replaced parks and pick up games. What’s more the cost of youth athletics, like many consumer products, has dramatically increased.
In addition to team fees, there’s often pressure to buy expensive equipment and to pay for private lessons and pricey camps. Plus, the extras — such as out-of-town weekend tournaments, embroidered sweatshirts, team photos and post-game celebrations — can put unexpected strain your pocketbook.
But the cost of kids’ activities doesn’t begin or end with sports. Art, foreign language, dance and music lessons are among the seemingly endless list of extracurricular activities designed to enrich children’s lives. And the cost of these activities doesn’t follow the school calendar.
Summertime fun is also a big business: paying for day trips, educational and arts programming, day and overnight camps, pool and club memberships and other activities can add up, especially in families with multiple children.
So, it’s not surprising that many parents struggle with the question of how to provide their children with opportunities to grow physically and emotionally without breaking the bank. Here are a few tips that can help you identify the costs and rein them in.
Know your budget — Determine how much you can afford to spend on kids’ activities. Start by making sure that you’ve put aside cash for your family’s short-term financial stability, roughly enough to cover six months of living expenses if a job loss or other family emergency occurs. Also be sure that you are saving enough for retirement and future goals. Then, determine how much of your remaining flexible income you can — and want to — spend on your children’s activities.
Evaluate your goals and expectations for activity — Identify what level of play or involvement makes the most sense given your child’s time, talent and interest, and your budget. For example, an intramural sports team may be more affordable than a travelling team because intramural teams typically have fewer practices, games and travel expenses, which helps reduce costs.
Assess an activity’s actual cost — Start by talking with the instructor. In addition to a registration fee, there may be other expenses — such as uniforms, equipment, event tickets, travel and year-end gifts — that aren’t immediately apparent. Gathering this information will help you understand the activity’s total cost and whether it fits your budget before it’s too late.
Prioritize the options — Sit down with your child and list all of the activities he or she is involved in or would like to sign up for. Then identify which activities are your best investments by asking your child to rank those activities from the ones they like most to those they like least. When your children are old enough to understand the value of a dollar, discuss the amount set aside for their activities and help them decide if they want to participate in one or two more expensive pursuits or several less expensive ones.
Spend equally or close to it — Budget the same number of dollars to each child’s extracurricular activities and stick as close to that number as possible to help prevent feelings of unfairness among siblings.
Help reduce activity costs — Use parent meetings as an opportunity to ask important questions to the group. Do the kids really need new warm-ups every year? Can out-of-town travel be limited to one trip (or none) per season? Can a carpool be organized to help save time and money?
Share costs — Consider requiring your children to cover a portion of the extracurricular expenses when they are old enough to earn money by working part-time or doing odd jobs. This will help them learn to budget their own dollars while helping to lighten your financial load.
Match what you spend — Even though your child’s high school graduation date may seem far off, it will arrive sooner than you think. So for every dollar you spend on an extracurricular activity today, invest the same amount for your child’s post-secondary education if you’re able. Doing so will help ensure that long-term education goals for your child aren’t compromised by your current investment in their personal development.
West Jefferson resident Ronald Garver, CFP®, CRPC®, is a certified financial planner practitioner and chartered retirement planning counselor.