Just about every parent I know shares my struggle to manage our kids’ extracurricular activities. We all want to keep our kids active and expose them to positive and engaging opportunities, but within reason. Avoiding over-scheduling, choosing the right activities, and most critically, managing the costs, are ever-present challenges for most of us.
In fact, this year’s Beyond the Blue Line survey actually found that 2 in 3 Canadians are, or know someone who is, borrowing money or using their retirement savings to keep kids in various extracurricular activities.
For our family, the last 10 years have been challenging financially with 3 maternity leaves, fluctuating incomes and several career transitions. To keep afloat, we’ve sought out some creative ways to keep our budget—and our time—balanced with our kids’ after-school activities.
Family fun: extracurricular activities for kids and parents
Join a community centre. Community centres or organizations, like the YMCA, are goldmines for families. For affordable monthly fees, your whole family can participate in a huge range of drop-in recreational classes at any time of day, as well as register for more formal lessons like swimming and karate. Bonus: it’s all under one roof, which equals less chauffeuring time for busy parents.
Find a group class. My oldest daughter and I took an hour-long piano class for several years along with 5 other parents and their kids. This format was a fun and social way to introduce these youngsters to music, and the cost was less than half of a private lesson.
Invest in memberships. Similar to the “buy in bulk” principle for shopping, annual memberships can add up to big savings on your favourite activities. Our membership at a local ski hill reduces our costs per ski to mere dollars, with the added bonus of being able to head out for just an hour here and there as we please. Early bird sales and progressive pricing programs are extra savvy ways to manage the up-front costs of memberships.
A chance to try new things
Try a sampler. We cheat a bit each year to expose our kids to a variety of new sports and activities with day- or week-long camps. Often, a short immersion in karate, gaming, gymnastics—or all of them in one camp!—is all our kids need to quench their curiosity thirst, saving us both time and money in comparison to year-long commitments.
Look for low- and no-cost options. With school-aged kids, we are now gratefully able to take full advantage of all the school sports and teams my kids want to join, at no extra cost to us. Programs run by the library or the city are also usually more affordable options compared to private clubs or studios. And we are huge fans of organizations like Scouts and Girl Guides for offering our kids quality weekly programming, mentoring and positive community building skills for less than $200 per year.
The bottom line is that while the sky is literally the limit on the types and amounts of activities kids and families can do, there are plenty of ways to avoid paying top-dollar for all of them. Have fun, keep active and save money. That’s a parenting win we can all sign up for.