Are Parents Going Overboard Spending On Extracurricular Activities?

in Financial Planning by

  • Don’t feel pressured by other parents to over-schedule your kids.
  • Seek out free local events at your community hotspots, like libraries and parks.
  • Never go into debt or neglect your retirement for extracurricular activities.

The new school year has just begun and as a treat, I recently went to the library with my kids so they could pick up a few new books. Our local library has wifi and a little cafe so it’s a nice place for them to make friends and have a snack after school. Plus, libraries are always the first place to look for free local community events.

Usually I run into parents who also encourage their kids to make new friends by having some low cost local fun – but the last time I went, I overheard a few of the other moms talking about how they’re taking their kids to violin class and then Spanish class. Maybe I’m just too introverted or too budget-conscious, but I couldn’t fathom paying for so many different activities for each of my children.

Sure, one after-school activity each wouldn’t be a reach but the more I interact with other parents, the more I realize that many of the kids in my community have more social activities and are more scheduled than I am. Not only that, but their extracurricular activities can be extremely expensive. From music class to a specialized children’s gym to yoga and foreign language class, it’s incredible the amount of after-school activities a child can be involved in.

Fear of Missing Out Costs Hundreds of Dollars a Month

One of the hardest emotions to deal with when I hear about all of these activities is the fear of missing out, or the fear of my children being left behind other kids their age. I worry if there is going to be an obvious difference between my kids and other kids if I don’t put them in more activities. However, one call to the kids’ gym to inquire about pricing snapped me back to reality pretty quickly.

A simple membership to a children’s gym in the next town over would be $100 a month per child (but oh, lucky me, there was a 10% discount for the second one if I asked for it). Then, I looked at yoga classes. It would be around $500 to put both kids in sessions for a few weeks.

I can’t imagine that these classes – and the money for them – will somehow turn my kid into the next Simone Biles because he or she was able to jump on a mini trampoline at a kid gym. However, that common parental fear of your child being behind or not being the best is exactly what drives these businesses to succeed.

Most parents don’t even realize how costs can quickly skyrocket as a child gets older. So, while putting your kid in T-ball might start out innocently enough, soon there will be pressure to join other more involved travel teams and buy all the gear that goes with it. As parents, we should be able to say no if the time or the money required is simply too much for their family and supplement with less expensive activies – more on that later.

Is Sooner Better Than Later?

Over time, I’ve developed enough confidence in my parenting abilities and decisions to know that my kids are fine just being kids, even though I’m choosing not to place them in extensive extracurricular activities right now. Although I’m frank about my concerns that they’ll be behind other kids, I refuse to spend excessive amounts of my hard earned money on after-school extracurricular activities that might not make a difference down the road.

Though I fully expect to put my daughter in classical ballet class when she is old enough because I studied it for over 20 years. I’m sure we’ll find an activity that my son will enjoy, too, however I don’t plan on bankrupting my family now or robbing our retirement later to do so. I want them to be kids!

Keep in mind that sometimes starting children in an activity when they are older has a better chance of sticking because they’ll be more successful at it, such as music lessons. According to Dr. Robert Cutietta, author of Raising Musical Kids, “lessons with the goal of learning the instrument should start between six and nine.” The best time to start any extracurricular activity though also depends on the readiness of the child, their attention span, and their interest levels.

Is It Worth The Debt?

The American population has a tendency to overspend beyond their means. The average household in America has over $5,000 worth of credit card debt. We live in a culture of instant gratification, where anyone can pay for anything as long as they can break it into monthly payments or subscription services.

Needless to say, the significant amount of extracurricular activities in addition to the peer pressure to put your kids in after-school programs doesn’t help this spending problem. All parents want the best for their children but too many are confusing extra activities and the costs associated with maintaining them as a worthwhile way to get a leg up in society.

The real truth is though, that if you are already in financial trouble, spending on these activities will only do your family a disservice. The best gift any of us could ever give our children is a steady, safe household which includes being financially sound. Kids need stability, and having parents who pay their bills on time, aren’t stressed about money, and have the wherewithal to make sure the lights stay on and food gets on the table are all they really need at a young age.

So, if spending on activities is too much for your budget to accommodate, as it is for me, then simply don’t spend it. It’s that easy. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture the cost to raise a single child is already averaging $245,000, not including college. Don’t stress yourself by trying to increase that number as much as possible simply because other children are enrolled in several different activities. As your income grows and your debt reduces, you can start adding activities in slowly as you can afford them.

Alternatives to Extracurricular Activities

These days there are so many activities that your children can go to for free. Many museums have free days. Parks are wide open for imaginative play. Pinterest is full of crafts and tutorials that you can have your kids do using items you already have in your home. Even your local public library offers free classes and story hours, like the one I take my kids to. Just beware of eavesdropping on your fellow moms at the library and feeling like your kids are missing out – they aren’t and your parenting is just fine.

Do you enroll your child in extracurricular activities? How much do you spend on them and at what age did you start? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!

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Catherine Alford

Catherine Alford is an award winning personal finance writer who contributes to several online publications including The Huffington Post, top personal finance blogs, and her own site, She received a B.A. from The College of William and Mary and an M.A. from Virginia Tech. When she is not reading and writing, she is taking care of her young twins. Follow her on twitter @BudgetBlonde.

One Response

  1. Nontraditional mom

    I always said that I would not want to schedule my kids for a million things like other families do because 1) it’s too expensive and 2) its a hectic schedule. Now it’s a different story.

    My first child is 5 and did zero activities until last winter. All of our “friends” had their kids in T-Ball, Soccer etc. meanwhile mine went to preschool and then spent time with us during non-work hours, playing outside, visiting family or running errands with us while learning from day to day experiences and adventures. At night we always read to our son, we play old fashioned “memory” card games etc. Then we moved from the Southwest to the far north where it snows regularly. We decided to make “lemonade out of lemons” living in a place that snows 5 to 6 months out of the year. We put our son in skiing lessons. (Not cheap) but amazingly he showed a high aptitude for this sport in only 3 short lessons. Within 2 months, he was skiing down the big slope after riding up on the ski lift with an instructor. (while neither of his parents know how to ski)

    Then spring came along and we decided that both kids need to know the basics of swimming since there are a lot of lakes where we live. We do not have a swimming pool so we signed the kids up for swimming lessons. Not cheap either. The spring session was $450 for both kids. We’ve decided we need to continue lessons until they can both moderately tread water and swim to safety.

    Next, the oldest has been asking to play the piano. We have one in the home and he has shown steady interest in It since he was a baby. Unsure if he was ready for lessons – (he has an excellent attention span and can easily sit and focus for 30 min at a time). We found a reputable teacher who assessed his skills and deemed him not ready – but gave us practice activities and told us “come back in 6 weeks and let’s re-evaluate”. We went back in 6 weeks and his ‘shyness’ wore off – he has shown an aptitude for piano as well. After 3 months of lessons, he can play with both hands and is already learning to read notes.

    While I never set out to pack our schedules tight, I do want to encourage activities where the children enjoy, learn and gain confidence. Skiing, Piano and Swimming are activities we commit to on a monthly basis while the kids still want to do it.


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