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Coping with expensive kids' extracurricular activities

Coping with expensive kids' extracurricular activities

By, Carla Hindman, Director of Financial Education, Visa Canada

When budgeting for back-to-school expenses, parents generally include routine fare like clothes, school supplies and maybe a new backpack. But if your kids participate in extracurricular activities, whether it's sports, music lessons or art classes, you could be on the hook for hundreds–or even thousands of dollars in additional expenses throughout the year. According to a May 2016 Investors Group Study, the annual cost of children's sports is just under $1000 per child. These expenses can increase as our kids become older and more competitive in their activity.

As parents, we strive to encourage our children's athletic and creative urges, especially when it can be so difficult to drag them away from their tablets and game systems. But sometimes you're just got to step back, weigh the different options available and decide what you can afford without upsetting your other financial goals and responsibilities.

You'll face tough questions like "Is it better for my child's future to spend $500 on a day camp he'll really enjoy or invest the money in a Registered Education Savings Plan?" or "Is a $300 soccer program really worth it for a two-year old?"

With two young children at home, my family often faces these decisions. And among the best advice I've received from other parents is, when your kids are exploring new activities, don't overcommit your time or money until you know whether they'll stick with them, or quickly move on to the next thing.

For example, before you sink a small fortune into private swimming lessons, start small with a summer class at your local recreation centre. If your kid shows a genuine aptitude and enjoyment – and doesn't balk at long hours of practice – then you can explore more competitive, costlier alternatives. Just remember who'll be driving to practice and out-of-town games or meets; in other words, make sure you can honour the time commitment before signing on.

Here are a few tips for prioritizing extracurricular events and keep your costs down:

  • Focus on one sport or activity per kid, per season, especially if they involve multiple practice sessions or games per week.
  • Form carpools with other parents. You'll save money and time, especially if your kids are practicing at different locations
  • Learn how much equipment and instruction the sport requires. Some, like soccer and basketball can relatively inexpensive; while others, like horseback riding, golf and ice skating involve expensive equipment or facility rental time.
  • Rent or buy used sporting equipment (or musical instruments) until you're sure they'll stick with the activity. Try online ad sites, secondhand stores and yard sales.
  • Seek out or form a sports equipment exchange in your community where families can donate outgrown or cast-off equipment and uniforms for others to use.
  • It's probably best to invest in new protective gear, like helmets and masks, than to buy used – unless you are absolutely certain that the item hasn't been damaged or compromised in any way.

Sometimes the benefit of an activity is worth making sacrifices elsewhere in your budget. For now, we're trying to expose our little ones to lots of different activities in that the hopes that one of them will catch their attention and potentially become an outlet for making new friends and developing social skills outside of school.

This article is intended to provide general information and should not be considered legal, tax or financial advice. It's always a good idea to consult a tax or financial advisor for specific information on how certain laws apply to your situation and about your individual financial situation.

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