Editor's Note: This story originally appeared on Living on the Cheap.
If you’re a parent, you know just how expensive it can be to raise kids, especially once they reach the “age of activities,” with participation in sports, dance, cheer, karate, band. You name the activity, and there’s nothing cheap about it. The key is to pick and choose the ones that offer the right mix of enjoyment and enrichment for your child, and affordability for you.
Here are four ways to cut the cost of kids’ activities …
Take advantage of free or cheap activities through school or local organizations
If you’re simply looking for ways to help your child socialize and develop a new skill, you may be able to fill his or her afternoons with low-cost activities like the school chess club or art classes at the local library.
As for sports, who says the games have to be so formal and official, especially if your kid isn’t particularly athletic? See if there’s an intramural club through your church, or talk to fellow parents about organizing a weekly trip to the park for some basketball or soccer.
If you choose a more competitive program, don’t let costs get out of hand
Be sure you know what you’re getting into by asking about extra costs before you sign up. It might be $300 for Little League, but does that include uniforms or entries into tournaments? Are there any fundraising activities that can help offset the cost? And what happens to those fees if your child gets hurt, or ends up hating the activity after a few weeks? You won’t know unless you ask.
Appeal to team spirit
When beginning a new activity, ask the other parents and coaches if anyone is willing to donate hand-me-down gear, uniforms, dancing shoes, etc., or if there is an option to rent equipment or instruments before you go out and buy new items.
If you do have to buy new gear, don’t splurge on top-of-the-line name brands, and always look for discounts and coupons. Also, don’t feel pressured to pay for clinics, private coaches, or extra classes to give your child a competitive edge if you truly can’t afford it. Unless you’ve got a future Olympian on your hands, your kids’ activities are not worth putting yourself into debt.
Have a heart-to-heart
Resign yourself to the fact that your child doesn’t have to play every sport or be at the travel competition level for every activity, especially if it’s going to affect more important areas of your budget. Have an honest conversation with your son or daughter about choosing just one or two areas of interest, and what your limits are in terms of how much you can afford.
When all is said and done, after-school activities shouldn’t require you to take on a second job. Sometimes such heavy investments of money and time end up stressing out your student. And once school activities and sports stop being fun, you should definitely question why you’re paying for them.
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