You may not know this about me, but I was a karate kid growing up. I was a happy little ten-year-old with permed hair (thanks for that one, Mom) that loved sporting her Gi. I worked my way up to green belt before becoming side tracked and switching gears to cheerleading for a brief stint. Then, in high school it was yearbook editor, leadership, track and a bit of soccer. It was extracurricular activities galore! Many of us had similar experiences growing up, with a variety of lessons and classes plugged in to the family calendar. Our parents wanted us to become the well-rounded adults that we are today, and now, from what I can tell, our generation wants the same for their children as well. The issue I see come up with clients is that many of these sports and lessons come with a hefty price tag attached. While we all want our children to lead lives enriched by participation in activities such as sports, music lessons, spelling bees, dance classes, and cub or girl scouts – it’s important that your family doesn’t get burnt out financially. So how can you ensure your kids have an opportunity to lead an active life without throwing your financial plan out the window? When it comes to keeping your children’s extracurricular activities in line with your spending plan, think about the following:
Set a Budget
Determine how much you can afford to spend on extracurricular activities. This amount should be considered only after you’ve put aside savings for retirement to ensure you remain on track with your financial goals. Once you’ve determined the amount you have to spend, consider sitting down with your child (if they’re old enough) to discuss the cost of each activity and how they may be able to participate by saving or prioritizing commitments.
Consider Quality, Not Quantity
When considering activities, less may actually be more. Ask yourself, what your child will experience with each group? How will this activity add value to the development of their social and educational skills? Sit down with your child and have a conversation around why they want to participate in each event. Is it because their friends are involved? Are they enjoying it? Is it an activity you chose for them? Make sure the activity is a fit with both your desires for your children as well as their desires for themselves.
Create Goals for Each Activity
While most kids will want to participate in activities because its “fun” or they “get to spend time with friends,” take time to set an overall goal for each activity. If they have a Math or English tutor, perhaps the goal would be to earn a B in the class. If they’re participating in an event such as cub or girl scouts, it could be to earn a certain number of badges representing various skills. For sports, it could be to improve endurance, a basketball shot, or to just make a goal. The conversation doesn’t have to be a serious one, but by setting goals you will have a way to evaluate the success of each activity and get your child into the habit of thinking about their future and achieving their goals.
Establish a Schedule
While you may be tempted to sign your children up for 3 or 4 activities at a time, look in to alternating activities between fall and spring, or between weekdays after school and weekends. Sticking to a set schedule will help better manage your financial commitment along with your personal time.
Consider creative alternatives to expensive activities by checking out your local YMCA, civic or community center for youth-based classes. By joining one of these organizations, you may benefit from a lower overall financial outlay. Many parents don’t enjoy telling their children “no.” However, helping them to understand that you’re working together as a family to ensure they have a great experience while staying within a budget will help to manage both their expectations and your overall financial plan.