5 Ways to Save Money on Kids’ Extracurricular Activities

Whether your child is involved in school sports, music, dance, theater, art or some other activity that goes beyond the scope of ordinary schooling, participation is costly. There are activity fees to pay, lesson providers to compensate, equipment and supplies to purchase and, on occasion, trips to go on. All of this starts to add up. Even in the best of economic times, extracurricular activities can become a burden on the budget. So what is there to do?

Here are 5 things you can do to save money your kids’ extracurricular activities:

1. Limit the number of activities your children can participate in

We may want to provide a large number of activities for your children to experience, but the fact of the matter is that it is just too expensive to be involved in everything. Instead of letting your kids participate in five or six activities, limit it to two or three (or as many as your budget can handle). Have your child choose his or her favorite activities. This will not only save you money, but it will also require your children to learn to excel at what they do. Plus, it will provide you with more quality family time.

2. Rent necessary equipment

Many school districts allow you to rent various equipment and supplies. Band and orchestra students can rent instruments and athletes can rent certain pieces of sports equipment. Most towns also have rental offices and organizations for various types of equipment. Before you buy, it is worth it to check into rentals. This is especially important if purchasing something would be expensive. What happens when your child decides that playing the oboe was a phase? Renting sports equipment can also be helpful, as kids usually outgrow what they have.

3. Buy used equipment

In some cases, there is no avoiding the purchase of equipment. If it becomes necessary to buy equipment, see if you can find reasonable quality equipment used. There are a number of places that you can look if you want to buy used sports equipment, musical instruments, opened art supplies and other items. Obviously, eBay and Craigslist offer good places to begin your search. Your local Classifieds can also serve as a good resource. Freecycle is another good place to find used equipment. For sports equipment, Play It Again Sports is a great place for you to find used equipment — and even earn store credit bringing in your own used items. Just make sure you are getting something of acceptable quality.

In some cases, you may not have to buy used equipment at all. Put the word out among family and friends that your child is participating in an activity. It could be that you can get something on second hand for free from people you know.

4. Watch for sales

Some things, like athletic shoes and some dance shoes, should not be bought used. If you need equipment that is best bought new, or if you cannot find what you need used, it is time to look for the sales. If your child has been participating in the same activity for years, this can ease the planning process, since you will have an idea of what is needed, and can buy when you see a good sale.

Make a list of what you need and do some comparison shopping. Look online, and at multiple stores in town. Do what you can to find the best price. And, if you buy online, make sure you understand the return policy. You don’t want to be stuck with something that doesn’t fit your needs after all.

5. Have your kids help pay for their activities

When your children are younger, you may have to pay the entire cost for extracurricular activities. However, as they get older (and their activities become more expensive), there is nothing wrong with having your kids help you pay the cost of activities. They can do this by using some of their allowance money, participating in fundraising, or by using money earned from part-time jobs and odd jobs that they might do around the neighborhood. The key is to be clear about how much your child is responsible for. My parents required me to pay the cost of any trips I wanted to go on with my activities. It taught me to be responsible with money. They paid for everything else. It’s up to you to decide what you can afford to do, while at the same time making it possible for your child to afford his or her contribution to at least one extracurricular activity.

Easing your extracurricular budget

If you are concerned about the budget crunch that can come with paying for extracurricular activities, a little advance planning can help. Figure out how much you are likely to need, and divide that number by how many months you want to save up. My parents knew, every year, that it was going to cost $100 apiece for my sister and I to do do swimming. They also knew that my younger brothers’ activities were likely to cost close to $75 a year. That meant that they knew that, at the beginning of the school year, they would need $425. If they divided that number by eight months, it would require $53.13 each month. That’s a much more manageable number. Put the money into some sort of high yield account, and that money can work even harder for you.

About the Author

By , on Dec 17, 2009
Miranda Marquit
Miranda is a professional personal finance journalist. She is a contributor for several personal finance web sites. Her work has been mentioned in and linked to from, USA Today, The Huffington Post, The San Francisco Chronicle, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and other publications. She also has her own personal finance blog: Planting Money Seeds.

Leave Your Comment (5 Comments)

  1. Amy says:

    I love this article! My oldest just started Kindergarten so we’re not fully in the “extracurricular activities” mode yet, but I never thought of budgeting monthly for these. Great tips!!

  2. In southeast Michigan and northwest Ohio, it is common for school sports to involve quite a bit of expenses in the form of participation fees. One tip for parents who are on tight budgets, but want kids to stay involved in school activities, to find out whether the family is eligible for free or reduced-price school lunches — and if so, sign up. The reason is that participation in the school lunch program is used by some of the schools in my area as the eligibility test for financial need assistance. Even if your school doesn’t give an automatic break or the need-based aid runs out, you’ve reduced your grocery bill and the savings can help pay for the sports fees.

  3. Ken says:

    I like your ‘buy used’ suggestion. We have a large used shoe store in town that might have cleats on a great sale. Never thought of it.

  4. Derek says:

    One way you might be able to save is by becoming involved. If you sign up as a coach or assistant coach the organization might let your kid play for free or even offer you some money. I grew up playing 3 different sports and more often than not the coach’s son was on the team.

  5. Just read something waiting at the doctor’s office (I think it was in TIME) about research done recently with after-school activities which backs up your point. It revealed that as people cut back on their spending and commitments after school, an interesting thing happened–parents and kids were HAPPIER as a result (more time spent with each other, less stress, etc.).

    Definitely a good way to save money and regain your sanity at the same time.

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