Save on Kids’ Activities: Get Creative with Extracurriculars

Financial Freedom in 2021! Take Action: Day 13

Gymnastics for the preschooler to help with balance. Music class for the baby to encourage language development. Soccer for the big kids to teach sportsmanship and teamwork. Riding lessons for the horse-lover. Dance camp for the tiny aspiring ballerina. Yoga or a Bible study group for Mom’s mental, physical, and spiritual health. Monthly golf games to counter Dad’s work stress. A YMCA or pool membership for the whole family to spend time together.

It’s all too much. These extracurriculars can become easily justifiable, but the expenses quickly add up. I’ve often heard friends of mine say there’s nothing that can be cut in these areas; I’ve been there before too. We’ve tried all of the above, but I needed to cut back. We were over-committed and over-spending. Plus, the kids weren’t getting as much out of every experience as I had hoped.

I quickly realized that we had to limit everything to what was providing the most value and determine which extracurriculars could wait til later. This required asking some hard questions and thinking outside the box (or even counter-culturally) for solutions.

I recommend asking the following questions before signing up for something or continuing with an extracurricular activity:

  • What’s my WHY? What’s the true reason for this membership/activity/group?
  • If I’m doing this to learn a skill, can I learn it for free from a library class, a You Tube video, a good book, or a friend?
  • If I’m doing this so my kids will learn teamwork and participation, can that be accomplished through free school activities such as UIL or PE classes already offered? Can I organize a weekly kickball game in the neighborhood?
  • If I’m doing this to make friends for myself or my kids, can I find other options such as a neighborhood bunco group or small group at a local church or a nearby parent/child playgroup? (Search Facebook or Meet Up and ask around for options.)
  • If I want to start a young child in a sport or activity that I love, can it wait until he/she is a tad bit older? Many times, we sign our kids up for something and get so disappointed when they show no interest or seem to have no idea about what’s happening. But give it a few years and that will likely change. Also, at an older age, kids can articulate what they do and don’t like about an activity, helping you determine which are truly the best options for them. Despite considering lessons as an earlier age, my eldest daughter got into music, theater, and dance once she entered middle school. Because she was old enough to know what she liked about them and was mature enough to put in the effort necessary, she learned new skills rapidly, much faster than the pace that would’ve been required had she started in elementary school with private lessons. And the middle school classes are free as a part of her school day.
  • If the extracurricular is for exercise, what are our family’s favorite options to get in free work outs? What about that class, sport, or gym truly motivates us? Can it be replicated elsewhere, including at home or in a local park?

When you determine which extras are most important to you and your family, consider the following solutions or alternatives to save money:

  • Swap hours with a friend. Maybe you can tutor her kids and she can teach sewing to you and yours. Maybe you can mow a friend’s lawn in exchange for guitar lessons for your kiddo. Maybe you and a neighbor can swap babysitting hours for kids’ swim lessons.
  • Take a You Tube class. My 5 year old occasionally asks to attend dance class. We’re not sure if she’s truly that interested in learning dance, if she likes the idea of dance because friends attend lessons, or if maybe she just wants to wear a leotard and tutu. So, we found a You Tube channel with adorable and easy-to-follow ballet lessons. When my little one is “in the mood to dance”, she goes to that channel and follows along. She’s quite good at it, but she’s not consistently interested, and this type of video lesson is enough to satisfy her for now. We’ll reassess in a year or two but save our money for the time being.
  • Offer to work. If you love your gym or yoga studio or Pilates class, can you offer to work one morning a week at the front desk in exchange for a membership or a significant discount? What if you volunteer for the sports board? Can you get a discount on registration? It doesn’t hurt to ask.
  • Skip the skills camp in the summer (for younger Rec-level kids). A week of soccer camp can cost as much as the fees for a whole season of Rec soccer. A week of dance camp is equivalent to a few months of classes. A week of horse camp can exceed the cost of 5 private lessons, and while at camp, riding time might be very limited. If you still want your kiddo in camps for summer so they can be with other children and get out of the house, I get it! Try swim team, which provides daily swim practice for 2 months and a team full of friends for a fraction of the cost of private lessons. Check out the local VBS camps in your area. Most are free. Libraries (if re-opened this year) often offer free summer camps or day programs as well.
  • Take advantage of all the extras offered when you register. Does enrollment of the gymnastics class allow you to attend open-gym days for extra practice time? Does your sports program offer additional clinics or trainings? Does the gym membership offer 2 hours of child care? (If so, then exercise for an hour and use the extra hour to catch up on work, reading, phone calls, etc.)

Today’s action step is to re-evaluate all the extras. Be sure to know WHY you’re involved in them and whether they’re worth what you’re paying. If not, cancel and try an alternative!

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