Budgeting for the extras

Image of young woman preparing her tennis serve

From drumline to field hockey, teens’ extracurricular activities can quickly ding your wallet. Here’s how to keep your budget in check.

With four teens, I’ve learned how quickly expenses can add up from extracurricular activities. Beyond registration and regular monthly fees, we’ve bought a violin, a trumpet, a drum set, art supplies, swimsuits, goggles, soccer cleats, and many pairs of running shoes. We also paid for mission trips and international exchange programs.

As my sons and daughters improved in their respective sports, they were encouraged to move on to higher levels of training and competition, which sometimes required overnight travel — and expensive gear.

There’s no doubt participation in sports and other extracurricular activities teaches life lessons like perseverance, teamwork, and how to win and lose. But when signing your teens up for extracurriculars, it’s important to anticipate annual costs of an activity — and to make a budget to be able to afford it.

Here are some things you can do to make budgeting for extracurricular activities reasonable.

Plan ahead

When your student is considering an activity, ask lots of questions:

  • Is there a one-time fee to participate, and/or a monthly fee?
  • What does equipment cost?
  • Are there expectations for traveling with the team?
  • Are there opportunities to purchase used equipment or uniforms?
  • Are fundraising opportunities and/or scholarships available? And will I see results of the funds raised, or do they go into operating costs?

While every family’s budget is different, it’s important to have an idea of what you can afford before registering your teen. “If you’re talking about a $5,000 commitment, that’s a sizable chunk of a family’s budget,” says Andrew Smiler, a family therapist and author who writes about raising teenagers. Teens can be included in this conversation, he says. Seeing the process of budgeting for what you want is a healthy lesson. And, it may make them realize that they’re more passionate about pursuing those tuba lessons over being on the travel soccer team.

Ways to cut costs

  • Consider school-based or recreation league activities like band, dance, art, and sports. These programs are often more affordable than private clubs, especially if your child is just trying out different activities.
  • Focus on one activity per teen, per season. Not only will this keep costs down, but it will help prevent burnout from over scheduling.
  • Carpool with other parents to save on gas (and time in the car).
  • Rent or buy used sports equipment and musical instruments until you’re positive they’ll stick with the activity. Or borrow from friends and neighbors who have children who have outgrown their equipment.
  • Look into potential discounts: Many fee-based activities offer a discount for early registration or for registering two or more siblings.

Be realistic

Many of our students who train for years are not likely to receive full athletic scholarships to a college or university. Paying thousands of dollars a year to be on a travel team during high school could very well add up to the cost of a year in college.

“It’s important to identify the child’s goals and priorities,” Smiler says, “and not to become caught up in parents’ expectations.” In other words, make sure your student is really enjoying the activity, and it’s not just your expectation that they enroll.

Use My Money Map to track your spending, savings, and budget — in one place.

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