Tips for affording extracurricular activities

Back to school also means back to juggling extracurricular activities for your kids. After-school and weekend programs like hockey, swimming, dance and music classes, can make the school year an even more expensive and busy time for families.

Photo credit Robert Hainer on fotolia

With two weeks left until the first day of school, our girls are already planning their extracurricular activities. So far, both of our girls have chosen to take a yoga class for kids and our oldest is going into her second year of piano. Swimming is always mandatory since it is a safety skill, but other than that, it is their choice. Looking at their list, I would say we are on the low end for out of school activities and I’m okay with that, but the cost still adds up.

According to a recent TD survey, four in ten (40 per cent) Canadian parents with children under 18 years old spend $1,000 or more on extracurricular activities per child during the school year and half (51 per cent) of parents find budgeting for these activities stressful.

On top of back-to-school expenses – such as new clothes and school supplies – paying for your child’s extracurricular activities during the school year can put even more strain on your budget. TD offers the following tips to help relieve some financial pressures.

Avoid costly surprises

Before signing up for an extracurricular activity, think beyond the cost of the class itself. Sometimes it’s the incidental fees related to that class or league that puts us over our budget – such as the purchase of equipment or an instrument, or accommodations for weekend tournaments. Ask instructors or coaches about all of the materials needed and any extra costs before signing up.

Create a budget and stick to it

At the beginning of the school year, create a budget that estimates all the annual costs related to that extracurricular activity, plus five to 10 per cent extra to cover potential surprises like the end-of-season framed team photo or a championship sweatshirt. Online budgeting tools can help you determine how much you’ll be spending monthly and ensure you stay on track.

Saving a little each month and putting it into your savings account or TFSA can also help offset extracurricular expenses. Also, consider having your child sit down with you as you plan for these costs as it’s a great way to teach them about the importance of budgeting and saving.  It’s never too early to learn about responsible money management, so even if it’s very little, have your child contribute to the cost of their activity.

Shop around for discounts

You can find bargains on used equipment and gear (and instruments, too) at yard sales or consignment stores, through friends and neighbours, or even online. Considering that kids will most likely outgrow equipment and gear quickly, this is a great option. Look for opportunities to also save on the activity, through group buying options or online deals.

When our oldest wanted to learn piano, we asked our friends if anyone had a keyboard we could borrow for a couple of months before buying her one of her own. A good friend had a spare that she didn’t need for a few months so we were able to make sure that piano lessons were a good fit for our daughter before forking over the money for a keyboard.

Don’t invest too much off the bat

If your child is young or starting an extracurricular activity for the first time, consider signing them up for classes offered through the city’s park and recreation department as they can be less costly than going the private route. Or, ask if you can try out activities before you commit or negotiate a trail to see if the program is a fit for your child. As younger children are still discovering what interests them most, you may not want to invest too much in one activity at this young age.

File your receipts

Keep a record of all your child’s extracurricular activity costs and payments. Some fitness and art classes could be tax deductible on your 2016 tax return. Receipts also act as a good reminder of what items you paid for this year when it comes time to plan for the next time around.

Think return on enjoyment

Remember that at the end of the day you are paying for these extracurricular activities and experiences, so they should be providing your child with a return on enjoyment. Each month, sit down with your child and evaluate what they are learning through the class, if they are having fun, what they like about it and what they don’t like about it. Use this information as a guide to when you are choosing next season’s activities, and don’t feel tied to that one activity.

We have a rule that our girls have to stick with their activity choices for the school year. Then they can decide if it is for them. Kids are often too quick to quit if something looks a little too challenging and sometimes simply overcoming a difficult hurdle can change a child’s outlook and confidence. At the end of the school year, we review the year and ask if they want to continue with the activity or try something new.

Post sponsored by TD, but opinions expressed are my own.

Found in Back to School, Money