Even as the sultry sun of summer beams down on me, I know that school lurks around the corner, along with after school and weekend activities. Maybe you’ve got your kids’ extracurriculars all lined up (more power to you) but I do not. I dread organizing the kids’ activities, and I know I’m not alone.
Few of us would argue against the myriad benefits of extracurricular activities. Parenting Coach Terry Carson explains that, depending on the activity, your kid could enjoy enhanced cognitive development, better social and physical skills, and heightened memory, concentration, and focus. To say nothing of the fun!
But enrolling in extracurriculars has many real costs – they take money, time, coordination, and energy. Registrations should be undertaken with care to ensure that benefits outweigh those costs. Carson says following our kids’ interests (as opposed to our own) and asking them about their preferences help parents make good extracurricular choices. Kids should also be held accountable for these activities and finish sessions that they opt for.
And the money! According to a recent TD survey, 40% of Canadian parents with kids under 18 spend $1000 or more per child on extracurricular activities. Multiply that for more than one child and the costs add up even more. It’s no surprise that half of Canadian parents limit extracurriculars due to cost and find budgeting for these activities stressful.
Planning and paying for those activities can be a daunting task, but preparation goes a long way to taming this particular beast. Shirley Malloy, Associate Vice President of Everyday Banking at TD, provides these tips for saving to help you do just that:
Avoid Costly Surprises: Remember to factor in fees outside the cost of the class itself, including uniforms or costumes, equipment, and tournament expenses. Ask coaches and instructors for details, and other parents who have taken the class before you.
Create a Budget and Stick to It: Save a little money each month to create a fund for extracurricular activities in a TFSA or savings account. You won’t feel the small deposits, but will be glad to have the lump sum when September comes. Decide what your budget is, add a buffer of 5-10% to cover surprise costs, and stick to it.
Shop Around for Discounts: You can save a bundle finding by finding gently used second hand equipment and gear. Let friends and neighbours know what you’re looking for, check out yard sales and consignment sales, and online sources. Sometimes you can also save on classes themselves through early registration or by bringing multiple participants – think beyond siblings, and see if you can find friends who would also enjoy the class (bonus: walkpooling or carpooling possibilities!).
Don’t Invest Too Much Right Off the Bat: Find affordable ways to try out new activities to see if they’re a fit for your child before making a significant financial commitment to it. Many activities offer free trial classes – and if they don’t, ask! Toronto (and other city) Parks and Recreations departments also provide a wide range of activities at lower cost than most private offerings.
Return on Enjoyment: Assess how much enjoyment these activities bring. Get feedback from your kids to assess the value of what they’re doing and to guide future decisions around extracurriculars.
This last tip is the clincher for me, and I would extend the assessment of return on enjoyment beyond the kids to parents: all things considered, is the activity worth the money, time, and energy the activity takes? An extracurricular activity may be fun, but disproportionately expensive or inconvenient, taking a toll on kids, parents or the family unit as a whole. Carson warns that rushing around, fighting traffic, eating less healthfully and on the run, doing homework late, and a lack of downtime are real casualties of overscheduling.
Maybe the extracurricular adventure is worth it, but maybe it isn’t. Do the financial and emotional calculation, then decide what’s best for your family. Armed with that knowledge and selective registrations, tackling the challenges of September will be a whole lot easier for kids and parents alike.
This post was sponsored by TD Canada Trust. All opinions are my own.