Kids Sports and Extra Curricular Activities have become a must have in our kids lives today’s. For many families who participate in multiple sports and other activities, the skyrocketing costs of many of these programs is becoming unmanageable and even keeping kids from participating in their passions.
Here are a few things to consider as you make choices about sports and activities as well as a few tips for keeping costs under control.
Evaluating Your Participation in Extra Curricular Activities
In today’s society, it’s become the norm to fill our children’s free-time with numerous enrichment opportunities from extra tutoring and music lessons to demanding and time consuming competitive sports. As a culture, we’ve bought into the external messaging that this is the key to a child’s happiness and long-term achievement. However, mounting evidence suggests this hyper-scheduling is actually leading to emotionally and financially stressed out families.
Does this mean that there is nothing of value to be gained from girl scouts or the school football team? Of course not. However, it does suggest perhaps our kids don’t need to do both at the same time along with the local theater production and violin lessons. As parents, we need to take back control (and our own lives) by setting limits on what is reasonable, both in terms of time and money, to spend on our kid’s extra curricular activities. Yet, even when we cut back, the financial hurdles can still seem overwhelming for a large number of families.
Scholarships, Financial Aid and Other Ways to Off-Set Fees
Many organizations such as the YMCA, city parks and recreation programs or youth sports leagues offer various forms of need based financial assistance as well as scholarships to make participation more affordable. You’ll find most of the information and forms required on their websites.
However, it may really pay off to contact someone directly via phone or email, as they may be able to talk with you about opportunities to volunteer at events or help out in other ways in exchange for reduced fees. Also, if you have two or more children in the same organization’s sports or other programs, there may be a sibling discount. Don’t hesitate to ask when you’re signing them up.
Getting Gear for Less
Whether it’s school clubs, private music lessons, dance classes, or team athletics there is almost always some type of equipment, instrument, uniform or costume required and for some it may be all of the above. All the necessary “stuff” can add up fast and become a prohibitive factor for many families.
Before you throw in the towel on your child’s hoop dreams or visions of Broadway, there are definitely ways to decrease what you pay for them to play. First, consider purchasing items second hand. There are a variety of outlets that sell quality used goods. Check online at Craig’s List or EBay (I just got my daughter a pair of $90 skates of $20 and they were hardly used) or stop by your local resale or Play It Again Sports stores.
If you’re on Facebook, be sure to post and tell your friends what you are looking for, since you never know what is hiding out in other people’s garages. Lastly, reach out to the coordinators of the program your child wants to participate in and see if they have any kind of trade-in or swap meet set up. These are becoming increasingly common, especially for sports teams, as a way of raising funds or just helping offset increasing costs. If they haven’t set one up, consider volunteering to get one started as it could be well worth your time.
When you have to buy new, don’t ever pay full price. Almost all the major sporting good stores such as Sports Authority and Dick’s Sporting Goods have offers in the marketplace regularly. Many retailers are making discounts easily accessible to customers on their websites or via their own brand apps.
You’ll also find coupons on websites like couponcabin.com or retailmenot.com, in the Sunday newspaper circulars or on popular coupon apps like the SnipSnap Coupon app.
In addition, if your confident your child will be sticking with their chosen pursuits, wait for end of season sales and buy shoes and clothes items in the next size up or other gear for up to 75% off.
Competitive Travel Teams
The prevalence of highly competitive sports teams from soccer to baseball to gymnastics has proliferated in recent years and is expanding to include younger and younger age groups. These select teams can easily cost $400 or more a season just to secure a spot. Once additional costs like specialized coaches, tournament or competition entry fees, uniforms or costumes, and all the travel expenses are added to the total some families will spend in the range of $2,000 to $5,000 per year.
Overall, parents have to be realistic about their children’s capabilities and commitment to determine if such an investment is really worthwhile and affordable. Many kids will be just as happy playing on significantly less expensive recreational teams that don’t travel. If you decide to hit the road by signing on to a travel team, then you can buffer your budget with the following tips. Sign up for hotel loyalty programs where you can earn free nights after so many stays as well as other perks.
Look into getting a credit/debit card that offers points that can be redeemed for rewards like lodging, dining out or even free gas. Invest in an extra insulated cooler so you can pack some of your meals while you’re away. Also, when possible book hotels that have kitchenettes or who at a minimum provide a free continental breakfast to hotel guests so you can avoid eating out constantly.
Gambling vs. Investing
As parents, we want to give our children every advantage in life, but it may not mean having them take part in every extra curricular activity available. There is often the misconception that supporting our child’s talents, despite the financial toll it takes in the short term, will pay off in the end with college scholarships.
Unfortunately, even for children who truly excel in sports, music, dance or whatever their special talent, the reality is that less than 2% of students will receive scholarships in these areas. Therefore, we may want to evaluate if gambling on our child being one of the elite 2% is really in their best interest, or whether it might be better to give back a little free time to our kids today and invest the money saved in an educational account for their future.
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