Saving Money On Kids Activities
As the mother of four kids, I know first hand how expensive it can be to have them involved in activities. Not only does it cost money to sign up for the activity, but it costs money to get there, it takes up your time and sometimes the activities even require equipment or special items that add to the cost. Let's look at some ways to save money while still allowing your child to participate.
Limit the number of activities for each child. Frequently children are over scheduled and downtime is essential for proper growth and development of children. Many people limit their children to one thing at a time. I think this is a great idea and it will be cheaper in the long run as well.
Start activities later in life. Your one year old does not need to be in costly activities, nor your two or even three year old. Set up a playgroup with other moms, make story time at the library a regular occurrence and go to the park to play. This will provide plenty of social opportunities for your child and cost you nothing. Personally I don't even think 3 year olds need preschool, which can cost thousands of dollars a year.
Check the prices of neighboring towns, or various recreation centers. Prices vary greatly I have found and sometimes by going with a group not in our town, the schedules work better for us anyway. There are lots of little towns surrounding us and it doesn't take much longer to get to them. Check your area though, you don't want to drive 30 minutes each way to save $10 in fees. That won't be worth it.
Figuring up the hourly rate will help you decide if it is a good price or not. For example, my oldest son is taking a track camp in a few weeks and the cost is $99. This seems high for a camp, but when I figured the hourly rate it costs $6.60 per hour that he is there. This is actually a good price for my area. On the other hand, my other son is taking a specialized music class later this summer and it is $125. The hourly cost is $12.50 an hour. This turns out to be a pretty expensive class, but since it doubles as therapy for him, it is worth it for us. I would not pay this for my other children though. Taking these things into consideration will help you make educated decisions about which activities to pursue.
Look for free activities. Libraries offer lots of things for kids of all ages. Typically there is little to no cost to be involved in these. Churches also offer low cost options like Vacation Bible School in the summer ($15 a child for us) and youth groups during the school year. Consider taking advantage of these at your church.
Adding a second or third child to an activity may get you a discount. Our lives are so busy that I frequently try to have more than one child signed up for something. Sometimes you will get a discount on siblings and having more than one child doing the same thing will save on trips out of the house, which saves time and gas money. I didn't get a discount for having a second child signed up for swimming lessons, but scheduling the classes back to back, means less trips to the pool for me.
Carpooling is another way to save money on activities. We have a neighbor that we carpool with to various activities. Her son and mine are the same age with the same interests and they love to take camps together. It is so convenient to carpool to these camps. Suddenly in one week I am only making 5 trips to the soccer field, instead of 10.
When children are young they are typically interested in lots of different things. Take this time to steer your children to less expensive activities such as soccer (little equipment) instead of horseback riding (very expensive) or ice hockey (lots of equipment). Let them try lots of things, but always keep in mind the price, not just for right now, but in the long run as well.
It all started out so innocently when I signed my daughter up for gymnastics at age 3. Had we known that her interest and skill level would increase to what it is today maybe we would have done something different? I don't know about that, but I do know that competitive gymnastics is not cheap!
If your child is really interested in a particular thing and the costs are a bit excessive, you can always have your child pitch in to help cover the costs if needed. Does your 10 year old have her heart set on a particular camp that is double what you planned on paying? Maybe she can pay for the difference.
For us we have chosen to pay for the gymnastics at this point, but she doesn't do anything else. We talked to her though and this is her choice. Frequently she mentions trying something else. After talking to her though, she doesn't want to stop gymnastics, so she keeps on doing that. She might change her mind down the road and that is fine. Just because your child says they want to do something doesn't mean you automatically have to pay for it. Talking to your child about really how badly they want to do it and how much it costs, etc. will help you make an educated decision. Even at 7 she is old enough to talk to about this and be in on the decision making.
Kid's activities can really add up fast. Remember that you don't have to do everything and keeping the communication open with your child will help you decide what your child should do. Look at all your options and limit what you do in the end. Your bank account will appreciate this!