Kids Activities vs. Financial Health

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!

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5 thoughts on “Kids Activities vs. Financial Health

  1. Yikes! I know how the costs add up. We have one child, and while that makes it all the more tempting to give him absolutely everything, he is limited to the two activities he truly loves (piano and karate) and excels at – and to be able to continue, he must continue to excel (that piano ain’t gonna pay for itself!) He will be achieving his black belt in the next six months (he’s been at it for 4 years now) and he performs at a piano recital every year and performs at school functions. I also don’t believe in throwing money at activities for activities’ sake, but he’s gained so much confidence from these and the skills learned will last a lifetime.

  2. Our kids aren’t at the age to be involved in too much right now, but we have already decided that whatever we do needs to involve the entire family. We don’t want our kids to miss their childhood’s by traveling town to town for games each night of the week. If the whole family can do the class or activity then definitely!

  3. Mom Meets Blog, you are doing what I always thought I would — one sports activity and one cultural one a season. Compelledbymel, I like your commitment, although, admittedly, I am not sure I would be able to model after it. As a homeschooler, I want my children to be in some activities without me or each other. It’s not a necessity, of course, just my choice.

  4. My older son (now 15) has pretty severe ADHD. He has always been involved in multiple athletic activities and we have seen the drastic difference it makes in his behavior when we cut back. This is a sacrifice that we make. At the high school level now, being on a team costs $250 per season, plus additional costs for uniforms etc not covered by the booster club. Each club at school is another $50. It definitely adds up. We took advantage of a number of things when he was younger such as tennis lessons at the city park program rather than the racquet club or country club. Locally, the Y offers a kids running program that is wonderful and has meets/races throughout the year that are either free or minimal cost ($3-$5 each). He also has done art and music programs over the years, mostly through school-based clubs and programs for minimal cost.

    For my younger son who has ADHD and other social/communication issues we tried a few low-key team sports with mixed results but recently ‘won’ a trial of karate classes at a school auction for much less than it would have cost us to pay normally. He loves it and so do we. This is something that we will find a way to continue for him. We’ve also done programs through local parks and recreation such as dance classes and skating. I think these are great ways to let kids try something to find if they really love it.

    My brother and his wife combined with a large group of friends to hire a swim instructor once a week to teach all the kids at a home with a pool. The parents got to socialize, the kids got swim lessons, and it was much cheaper than paying for individual lessons for everyone. I’m sure that could be done with other groups as well.

  5. Thank you all for the ideas. We ended up enjoying the karate trial and calling it quits after that b/c it was affecting behavior. Now, we are doing a homeschool skate thing every other week and will look into swimming soon. There have also been lots of short-term and one-time activities.

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