By: Martianne Stanger
My children are now at the age where they are interested in things such as karate, dance, skating, soccer, piano, art, swimming – and, believe it or not – learning about running a personal business. Although I would like to give them an opportunity to try out each and every one of these activities, I cannot. At least, I can’t if I want our family to keep moving toward financial health, because – wow – the fees for kids’ activities add up!
I am a big believer in not spending money that you don’t have. Sure, spending it might bring temporary pleasure, but the long-term effect of financial strain eventually negates that happiness. While I know that filling my children’s schedule with an exciting array of “healthy” sporting and cultural activities might be fun for them in one way, I also recognize that the resulting stress on our family budget would be detrimental to us all in a much larger way. Thus, my husband, our children and I are carefully weighing cost against value as we decide which lessons we might pay for this fall.
We are also looking at alternatives to paid classes for some of the activities:
- If we don’t continue with karate lessons after a free trial, maybe we could make a family practice of doing beginning karate using videos from the library or online.
- For dance, instead of taking traditional classes at a studio that does a big end-of-year recital, might we find a place that offers beginner classes in 8-10 week sessions, where we could do just one or two sessions a year? Or, might there be a teen dancer who would be willing to teach my daughter and some friends core dance skills for a small fee on a regular basis?
- Instead of paying for skating lessons, would it be more cost effective and just as fun to participate in family open skate times until the kids get to a skill level beyond what Mom and Dad can teach them (which, honestly, won’t take long since Mom and Dad are such poor skaters!)?
- Can we just kick a soccer ball around on weekends this season and play town ball just one season a year?
- Do we really need piano lessons at this age and skill level? Nope. We are content with Free Piano Lessons 4 Kids online right now.
- Have our older children gone beyond the skill level that story hour and other freebie options for arts and crafts we have found require? What books, online sites, local courses, etc. might help them continue to grow in this area?
- Might we just pay for family swim times at local pools when its convenient for us throughout the winter instead of stressing budget and schedule with formal lessons?
- How can we all learn about building businesses? There are plenty of books and CD’s on the topic available from the library (which, oddly, our six year old has been requesting to listen to and have read to him – books meant for adults!) And, we are excited to try out a trial period with GoRichKids.com, Mark Victor Hansen’s new initiative to help any child tap into their entrepreneurial genius. (I had an opportunity to interview Mark Victor Hansen, co-creator of Chicken Soup for the Soul and creator of GoRichKids.com about kid entrepreneurs. The interview can be found here.)
In asking ourselves these questions, we are beginning to think creatively about how to introduce our children to new interests while staying on track to be a financially fit family. We are not planning to do it all ourselves. In fact, we are happy to budget for classes and experiences where value outweighs cost. (Case in point: We just experienced a fantastic family art day at the MFA last week. It included a morning at a homeschool tour and an art class followed by time to explore the museum at our own pace using the Family Activity Totes – all for the bargain price of $16 for the entire family, plus T-fare and parking. Repeating this experience once a month throughout the school year will likely be a “keeper” in our schedule this year, and, then, next year, we may involve the children in some fantastic local art classes that I have heard about.) We simply want to think before blindly signing the children up for classes that come with relatively high price tags. Are there inexpensive alternatives that would allow the children to explore their interests while also helping us all stay financially healthy?
We weigh options, choose ones that we can afford, and keep in mind that we don’t need to do everything now, and certainly not everything at once. Our children are young and we have years to come to explore different interests and activities. This year, we will pace ourselves, including a high-value, paid lesson or two each season, and saving the rest for another time or finding a less costly way to explore.
How do children’s activities affect your family budget? Have you come up with any creative alternatives to traditional weekly classes? What resources do you use and can you share? Are there traditional classes that you value enough to find a way to budget for? What local classes would you recommend as “worth it”? Please share!