“Mom can I play hockey?” “Mom I want to try baseball.” “Mom lets go swimming.” ”Mom I want to learn to play guitar.” These are all requests that I have received from my oldest in a single day! When talking about having kids people worry about saving for university or college, but really it is the extracurricular activities that can take a big bite out of your bank account. Multiply that by two, or in my case three, and ouch – it can feel like you need a second mortgage just for your kids to do sports or arts activities. As overwhelming as it can seem there are things that you can do to make extracurricular activities more affordable no matter how many children you have.
As September is racing towards us many parents start to plan extracurricular activities for the school year. According to a recent TD survey 40% of Canadian parents with kids under 18 years old spend at least $1,000 or more on extracurricular activities per child during the school year, and over half of them find budgeting for those activities stressful. My first thought when reading that was whoa, that is a lot of money, but then I started to add up the activities Monkey, who was 5 at the time, did last year – swimming, ball hockey, skating lessons, hockey… and yep we are probably in that range and I can only see it going up from there. It is easy to see why the same TD survey showed that 50% of parents said they limit the number of activities, or don’t sign their kids up for any activities, due to cost. Here are some tips from TD to help make extracurricular activities more affordable and help you keep your sanity when you are getting “Mom can I….?” on a daily basis.
8 Tips To Make Extracurricular Activities More Affordable
- Avoid costly surprises – Before signing up your child for an extracurricular activity, think beyond the cost of the activity itself. Sometimes it’s the incidental fees related to that class or league that put us over our budget – such as the purchase of equipment or an instrument, or travel with a team (umm hotels, and meals add up really fast!). Do your research ahead of time and talk to the instructors, coaches and other parents who have had kids in the activity to find out about the materials/equipment needed and any extra costs not included in registration before signing up.
- Create a budget and stick to it – Before the school year starts, create a budget that estimates all the annual costs you can think of related to that extracurricular activity, plus 5-10% extra to cover potential surprises like the end-of-season framed team photo or a championship sweatshirt. If you need some help there are online budgeting tools that can help you determine how much you’ll be spending monthly and ensure you stay on track. Saving a little each month and putting it into your savings account or TFSA can also help offset extracurricular expenses (consider making this an automatic deposit so you don’t even have to think about it). Also, get the kids involved as you plan for these costs as it’s a great way to teach them about the importance of budgeting and saving. It’s never too early to learn about responsible money management. And if your child is asking for fancy extras or new equipment talk about ways they can earn money and save so that they can purchase it themselves.
- Shop around for discounts – You can find bargains on used equipment/gear and instruments at many consignment shops, online or even yard sales. Also, many sporting groups will have a used equipment sale at the beginning of the season where you can pick up what you need for your child at a fraction of the price. Considering that kids will most likely outgrow equipment and gear quickly, this is a good option. You can also look for opportunities to save on the activity, through group buying or online deals. Make sure you also check for sibling discounts; for example, my city offers 10% off families with 3 or more children, and they don’t all need to be registered in the same program to get it.
- Don’t invest too much off the bat – If your child is starting an extracurricular activity for the first time see if there is a shorter session you can try or a few trial classes they can attend before committing. Another great way to start out an activity is through your local Parks & Rec department rather than private classes as they tend to be less costly. I LOVED a program that Monkey tried for Hockey last year, it was affordable, and only lasted 8 weeks. He was able to get a taste for hockey and I was able to see if he actually liked it before investing in a full season.
- Create FREE Fun– Not every activity has to be a registered one. Connect with other parents in your area and organize activities for kids at your local park or in someone’s backyard. In my area there are not a lot of sports offered for 3-4 year olds, so a few moms got together and planned a free drop in sport activity every Saturday morning for the summer. The kids have a blast, it is some nice social time for the parents, and the only cost is bringing your own equipment (mini soccer ball, mini basketball, etc.) and a picnic for after the fun is over.
- Build Extracurriculars into Birthdays/Christmas– This year for Monkey’s birthday we asked that instead of family buying individual gifts they consider putting money towards his hockey registration. This worked great as not only did he get gifts that added up to over half of the cost of registration, but he also got fewer toys, which is a HUGE bonus in my books.
- Keep your receipts – Keep a record of all your child’s extracurricular activity costs and payments. Some fitness and art classes could be tax deductible on your 2016 tax return. Receipts also act as a good reminder of what items you paid for this year when it comes time to plan for the next time around.
- Think return on enjoyment – Remember that at the end of the day you are paying for these extracurricular activities and experiences, so they should be providing your child with a return on enjoyment. Each month, sit down with your child and evaluate what they are learning through the class, if they are having fun, what they like about it and what they don’t like about it. Use this information as a guide to when you are choosing next season’s activities, and don’t feel tied to that one activity.
Right now I have all the kids in swimming, because I think it is a life skill that everyone needs to know, and let them pick 1 additional activity (with the exception of Roo who just does swimming for now). I am sure it will get busier as the kids get older, but it is working for now.
How do you manage your kids’ extracurricular activities?
Disclosure: This post was brought to you by TD. All opinions are strictly my own.