5 Ways to Make Kids’ Activities Cheaper

Parenting can be expensive. Very expensive.

I know. I have three growing boys in my house. They’re always hungry. They’re constantly outgrowing their clothes. Then there’s the school supplies. New shoes. Doctor visits. Field trips. Fund raisers. And three kids at the movies? Forget it!

Providing the basics for your kids can eat into your budget, and that’s not even adding up the costs for their extracurricular activities—which can make your blood pressure spike! One survey showed that youth sports alone cost $5 billion in the U.S. That breaks down to more than $670 per parent. And one in five parents spend $1,000 every year—per child. No wonder people say their kids’ activities are keeping them from saving for retirement. That’s not okay!

No Excuses

Listen up! Putting your kids’ activities ahead of your retirement is a not a smart choice. I know you want your kids to be happy, but they won’t be so happy when you have to move in with them later. If you want to retire with dignity, you have to start saving now—and the sooner, the better.

Let’s say you invest $2,000 (three kids times $670) a year for 30 years. With an average rate of return, you’d have over $360,000. If you invest that same amount for 20 years instead, the amount drops to $125,500. Start saving now!

How to Fund Their Fun

The good news is that you don’t have to say no to everything—but you can’t say yes to everything either. You need to play it smart. Here are a few ideas to keep your kids’ activity costs in check.

1. Test the Waters

Before you spend a fortune on equipment or fees for an activity that your kids may not enjoy long-term, find out about free or inexpensive trials. Look for Saturday workshops or after-school clinics. Once your child settles on something, then you can consider spending more.

2. Look for Bargains

This is especially true for items that your kids will grow out of. You don’t have to buy leotards through the dance company. Those high-priced ballet shoes could be half the cost online or at second-hand sports stores. A little work on your part could mean big savings.

3. Watch Out for Hidden Costs

Spending $50 a week for an art class might not kill your budget, but the supply list might! When asking the costs of activities, make sure you find out the total cost, including equipment, supplies, travel, uniforms, etc. And don’t forget the costs of things like entry fees, meals out and extra gas money.

4. Use the Barter System

You can trade off your skills in exchange for lessons or classes, especially if your kids are still trying to figure out what they like. You can do yardwork, housesit, home repair, tutor or practically anything else in exchange for payment for kids’ activities. And if your kids are old enough, they can do the work to pay their own way.

5. Say No

Parents often feel guilty for telling their kids that they can’t afford multiple activities. Don’t! You aren’t the worst parent in the world if you limit the interests your kids pursue. We live in a culture where kids are stressed out because they’re overscheduled. Saying no might be exactly what they need.

Here’s the deal: Statistically speaking, your child isn’t going pro as a football star, music prodigy or dancer. You’re not going to end up in an Oscar speech. Those activities are for their enrichment, not as a future source of income for you in retirement. Instead of going all out on their activities, invest your money into your retirement fund, and invest in quality time with your kids.

The payoff is much better for everyone.