Extracurricular activities are great for children. They help kids learn new things and perfect their skills. They provide opportunities to bond with peers and a constructive use of time. They look great on college and scholarship applications.
But all that enrichment comes at a cost. And these nonessential additions to the household budget can be expensive to keep up with — especially when you have multiple children with multiple interests.
Huntington Bank and Communities in Schools’ 2019 Backpack Index estimates extracurricular fees average about $150 for elementary students, $250 for middle school students and $350 for high school students.
Of course, there are parents who spend much more. A 2017 Capital One poll found that over a third of those surveyed planned to spend more than $1,000 per kid on extracurricular activities for the school year.
If the cost of after-school activities concerns you, consider these ways to make them more affordable.
1. Turn to Government or Nonprofit Programs
Before signing your kids up for private music lessons or a traveling sports league, check to see if there are similar offerings located at or sponsored by your local:
- Library system
- Boys and Girls Club
- Police Athletic League
- Girl Scouts/Boy Scouts
- United Way
- Salvation Army
- City or county parks and recreation department
- Community college
2. Ask About Discounts
Be thrifty and save where you can by asking the activity provider about discounts. Is there a trial period where you kid can take a class or two for free before signing up for the season? Can you get a discounted rate for being a returning participant, enrolling more than one child or recommending another family to sign up?
Some programs offer a reduced rate if you register before a certain date, if you sign up for a package of sessions or if you volunteer to coach. Others offer scholarships or set their prices on a sliding scale based on income. You might want to ask if the organization will allow you to set up a payment plan rather than requiring all the money upfront.
Check discount sites like Groupon or Living Social for current deals on activities.
3. Reduce the Associated Costs of After-School Activities
The cost to enroll your child in an activity is rarely the only expense you’ll encounter. Equipment, supplies, uniforms, fundraisers, travel and performance tickets can greatly increase your investment.
Find ways to lower these additional costs whenever possible. Arrange a carpool with team members. Buy secondhand equipment and attire. Limit the family members who attend smaller performances throughout the year, and save up so everyone can attend the major show at the end of the season.
4. DIY Your Extracurriculars
Your kid can get the benefits of participating in an activity without it being a formal program that you pay for. Consider your children’s interests and figure out how to pursue them on an individual scale.
If your kid is into music, hit up YouTube for free tutorials. There are tons of cooking blogs with detailed recipes for those who want to master baking. Your library may provide free access to software to learn a foreign language.
Tap into your network of family, friends and neighbors to expose your child to different pursuits. Commit to teaching their kids about a skill you’ve mastered in exchange. It might be a bigger investment in time, but you can save a lot of money by creating your own means of developing your child’s interests.
5. Talk to Your Kids About Making Sacrifices
There may be times where you simply have to say no to your kid’s request to enroll in another extracurricular activity. If you don’t have the funds and you’d have to charge expenses on a credit card, you should reevaluate things.
Parents never want to put financial stress on their kids, but it’s okay to be up-front about the limitations of your budget. This might mean having your kids choose one sport to commit to rather than two, or asking if they prefer dance lessons over vacationing at the beach next summer.
If you have teenagers, get them to contribute to their extracurricular expenses with money from babysitting, mowing lawns or a part-time job. Depending on the activity, you can challenge your child to turn their hobby into an entrepreneurial pursuit — like selling handmade bracelets at local festivals or giving piano lessons to younger kids.
Nicole Dow is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder. She’s a parent who’s always looking for ways to save money.