Back-to-Reality: Budget Tips for Affording Extracurricular Activities

Back-to-Reality: Budget Tips for Affording Extracurricular Activities

It’s almost the end of August, and you know what that means! Back-to-School and crazy schedules. Early morning wake-ups, rushed breakfasts, packed lunches, missing homework, carpooling, and extracurricular activities are piled onto the minutiae of daily living: work, laundry, cooking, cleaning, TRAFFIC!

Now that I’ve just got one left in high school, things have eased off. My youngest has never been big on after-school activities or programs, and he’s kind of focused on school at this point, so I’m getting off scot-free these days, but it wasn’t always that way. I used to be Busy with a capital ‘B’. Three kids in extracurricular activities sure cost a lot—in time and money.

Hockey, dance, swimming, rhythmic and regular gymnastics, fencing, Par Cours karate, guitar, drums, lacrosse, football, plus a thankfully brief stint as an aspiring actress.

Are you tired just reading all that?

We know that extracurricular activities are good for kids. They can learn lots of new skills, get fit, stretch their creativity, and improve their social skills. But all these activities can be stressful for both parents and kids. And expensive too. I know it was that way for me, and I’m not alone.

According to a recent TD survey, 40% of Canadian parents with children under 18 years old spend $1000 or more per child on extracurricular activities during the school year. Just like I did, more than half (51%) find budgeting for all these activities stressful, and 50% of Canadian parents say they limit the number of—or don’t even sign up for—extracurricular activities due to cost.

Back-to-Reality: Budget Tips for Affording Extracurricular ActivitiesI definitely belonged to the latter 2 categories. Quality programs are expensive, and worrying how we were going to pay for them all was definitely stressful (do you even know how much dance costumes cost?). And, there were times when we just had to say no because the well had run dry.

I recently attended an event with TD where Shirley Malloy, Associate VP of Everyday Banking, shared her tips for affording extracurricular activities. I thought they were helpful, so I want to share some of them with you.

Avoid costly surprises

Make sure you know what’s involved with the program, other than the initial registration fee. Are there uniforms, incidentals, equipment, travel costs, materials? All the extras add up, so know what you’re getting into before you commit.

Mara’s Tip: Connect with parents of older kids who are already enrolled to get the scoop. They’ll have a wealth of knowledge and tips for you.

Create a budget and stick to it

Figure out what you can comfortably and realistically spend on extracurricular activities and create a budget. Shirley suggests adding a 5-10% buffer to your budget for unexpected costs, like an end-of-the-year team photo, group sweatshirt, or dance video.

Mara’s Tip: When they’re old enough, make sure your kids are aware of the costs of their programs and how that spending impacts the family as a whole. I’m not saying don’t do it for them, but rather to help them to understand the value of their choices. I allowed my kids each one program plus the non-negotiable swimming lessons. This rule kept us within budget and also made sure they weren’t over programmed.

Don’t invest too much off the bat

If your child is young, they don’t need premium programming. Your town or city’s Parks and Rec will offer classes for just about anything, and are affordable. You may not want to commit to anything long-term until you know if the activity or program is a fit for your child, so inquire about trial classes or their refund policy.

Mara’s Tip: Connect with other parents and see if you can trade and share some of the gear. Find out if you can get used stuff or if there are trade-in programs for equipment. If you’re diving in to an expensive sport like skiing, buy used or rent for the first season to make sure they like it before you invest.

File your receipts

Keeping receipts and recording expenditures is good not only for 2016 tax purposes, but also to help you keep track of your spending and remind you in subsequent years about what your costs were.

Mara’s Tip: Some programs have monthly fees so keep track of when those automatic debits or post-dated cheques are coming out so you don’t have any surprises. Receipts are also good for equipment exchange programs or defective gear.

Think Return on Enjoyment

At the end of the day, you’re paying for all of these experiences, so check in frequently with your child to ensure they like the classes, are learning something, and having fun. Find out what they like or don’t like and remember: you’re not tied to any activity.

Mara’s Tip: To be blunt, extracurricular activities can be a real pain in the butt for parents. But we do it for our darlings because we love them and we want them to have lots of great experiences. But, we need to remember that the activities are for them, not us. We can’t live our dreams through our kids. So if they don’t like what they’re doing, it’s a poor use of our limited funds. They complain that they don’t want to go? Hit that cancel button and find something else to do.

When it comes to selecting extracurriculars there’s lots to keep in mind, and finances are just one of them. But when it comes down to it…

… if they love it, it’s worth the money

… if they don’t, it’s too costly even if it’s free

What are your extracurricular budgeting tips? Join the conversation online with the hashtag #StartSaving

Note: This post was generously sponsored by TD. All opinions are my own.

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