It's back-to-school season and you're just about ready to zip that backpack closed before tossing that supply list into the trash. You've been shopping for weeks to get the right pencils and pens, binders and the dozens of other must-haves. This, of course, is in addition to the perfect school shoes and autumn wardrobe. But now you're done, done, done! Your sanity and your budget are ready for a breather - at least until the Christmas shopping season starts.
But then your daughter comes home breathless from school telling you they've made it onto the school's pom pom team. She's thrilled and can't wait to start attending practices and games! Oh, and did she mention she'll need some money for her uniform and equipment?
Before you can finish digesting this piece of news, your son barrels through the door and announces he's decided to take drum lessons. It'll only be, say, $600 for the drum set, plus the price of lessons. But that's not a big deal for you, is it?
Extracurricular activities are an important part of a child's development. They allow students to shine in ways that may not be possible for them in the classroom. Plus, it helps kids step out of their social circles to forge new and lasting friendships. They serve as a creative outlet and can improve your child's physical and cognitive health. If you have a real prodigy in your family, they may even be your child's gateway to a college scholarship, and possibly a lucrative career.
But there's no getting around the truth: Extracurricular activities are expensive. If you've got several school-aged children at home and each one wants to participate in two activities, you can be looking at an investment as high as $10,000 or more because of fees, equipment, uniforms, instruments and supplies.
No worries, though; you don't have to choose between your budget and your children's happiness. Here are some ways you can save on your kids' extracurricular activities this year:
- Limit the number of after-school activities you allow for each child
If you've got several over-ambitious young ones at home, consider limiting extracurricular activities to just one per child. You'll actually be doing your children a favor by forcing them to pick one activity of focus where they'll be channeling all their energy in one direction.
They'll also be more dedicated to perfecting their game or hobby when they own their choice. Plus, it'll be easier for them to keep track of just one practice and performance schedule - and a lot easier on your carpool calendar, too! Finally, you'll help your children avoid taking on too much so they are less likely to wind up neglecting their schoolwork or not having any time to spare for family and friends.
- Register early
Lots of children's' sports programs offer discounts of up to 30 percent just for signing up early. Speak to your children about after-school programs and sports teams months before the official season launch so you can register early and snag those early-bird specials. You might also be able to net a discount by pre-paying for the entire season instead of paying on a monthly basis.
- Purchase used equipment
- Swap equipment
If you have friends with kids who are (or were) also into sports and music, see if you can swap equipment and instruments from year to year. Maybe your friend's son was into guitar last year and baseball this year, while your daughter's interests ran in the opposite direction. Swapping with friends allows you to save on expensive equipment while putting your own unused gear to good use.
- Rent musical instruments
If you've got budding musicians at home, consider renting the instrument they've taken up this year. There's no way to tell if that burst of passion they're currently nursing for the oboe is just a passing phase or the beginning of a hobby that will last a lifetime. Why blow hundreds of dollars on an instrument only to see it lying forgotten in the attic in a few months' time? Some instruments, like the French horn, can cost as much as $1,000 but can be rented for as little as $50 a month.
If your child is convinced they've found their instrument of choice or you've already been renting one for a while, you can purchase gently used musical instruments from resale sites like Craigslist and eBay or through Reverb, a site devoted to selling used musical instruments.
- Volunteer your time
If you've got the time to coach or manage a team, or even just to walk around selling refreshments during games, you might be able to nab a discount on the program's fees and equipment.
Don't let a tight budget stand in the way of your child's creative and physical development. By making smart, frugal choices, you can turn your children's dreams into reality without draining your wallet.
Your Turn: How do you save on your children's extracurricular activities? Share your own tips and tricks with us in the comments.