How to Pay for Your Child's Extracurricular Activities


 If you're the parent of a child who's involved in extracurricular activities, you know the participation costs can really add up. Classes, lessons, uniforms, equipment, competitions, tournaments...the list goes on. It's easy to join the 46% of parents who spend more than $1,000 annually on one (just one!) extracurricular activity, according to a recent survey by CompareCards.

That’s a lot of money, especially considering a) many families have more than one kid who wants to play sports, take music lessons, or learn karate and b) that $1,000 only covers one year of said activity. Imagine how high those costs can get over time!

And while parents naturally want to provide these types of opportunities to their children, the result is often parental burnout and financial difficulty. In fact, a recent Harris Poll found that many parents are delaying retirement, taking fewer vacations, and going into debt in order to pay for their kids’ activities. Some have even declared bankruptcy! No wonder nearly two-thirds of parents in the CompareCards survey report feeling stressed.

Aside from saying no to the expensive extracurricular activities or going into debt and bearing the financial stress, what's a parent to do? Here are a few creative strategies to help you budget for your kids’ activities.

  • Have your child help foot the bill. If you have a teenager old enough for a summer or after-school job, encourage them to get one. Younger teens and tweens can babysit, mow lawns, or walk dogs. Even school-age kids can earn money by watering plants for vacationing neighbors, collecting cans and bottles for recycling, or hosting a lemonade stand. When the cash starts rolling in, a portion of it can be put toward activity fees. 
  • Sell your (or your kids’) unwanted items. A weekend garage sale could potentially bring in a couple of hundred dollars to put toward soccer or football gear. Another option is to list household toys, tools, and household items that are no longer being used through selling apps and websites.
  • Organize a fundraiser. A dance mom I know recently had a brilliant idea to help cover the costs of her daughter’s dance team competitions — a team fundraising campaign. Team members are working together to sell roses and concessions at their studio’s upcoming recital. The proceeds will be split among all dancers participating in the fundraiser. It probably won’t cover the entire dance team fee, but it might take the edge off!
  • Get a side gig. We get're already swamped for time. The idea of working even more might not be appealing. But a short-term or even a one-time side gig could help ease the financial pressure created by extracurricular activities. One mom I know recently earned $400 in one week working as a paid shopper while her kids were at basketball and band practice! Signing on as a driver for a rideshare service like Lyft or Uber is another option, as is getting a short-term/seasonal retail job.
  • Ask family members to contribute — as a gift. Grandparents, aunts, and uncles often ask: “What does Suzie want for her birthday?” Instead of suggesting another toy or electronic device, how about asking them to pay for a month of the music or tennis lessons Suzie loves so much? They give, Suzie receives, and your budget benefits. Win-win-win.
  • Put bonus or unexpected money toward activity fees. If you work for a company that provides quarterly or annual bonuses, decide in advance to use that money (or a portion of it) for extracurricular activities. That way, when it arrives, you won’t be tempted to use it for something else, like a vacation, albeit a well-deserved one. Same goes for tax returns or any surprise money that happens to show up in your mailbox. Another idea: if your paycheck arrives on an every-other-week basis rather than twice-a-month, you will occasionally get three paychecks in a month. Instead of just placing those funds into the cash flow, put them toward those expensive activities.
  • Finally, budget and plan ahead. Congratulations! Your son made the team. That will be $500, by next week. Scenarios like this are bona fide budget busters. But if you can manage to anticipate it even a little, you’ll be less likely to panic. Start by designating a specific dollar amount for potential extracurricular expenses even before your kids start playing sports or taking acting classes. This might seem extreme, but let’s say you put away $20 per month starting at age 3. By the time first grade arrives, you’ll have close to $1,000 in the bank for whatever teams, classes and/or activities your child wants to pursue. Not only that, you’ll be in the habit of setting money aside for this purpose. You can even save as little as $5 a month up to $500 a month with Hanscom FCU's Your Way savings program, which also offers an amazing interest rate that will help boost your savings.

Of course, all of this is much more palatable if your overall budget is dialed in! And HFCU’s free downloadable Money Management Planner can help you get on the right track (if you aren’t already), whether you want to budget for violin lessons, art classes, little league or something else altogether.

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Dawn Weinberger

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