How to Get the Most Out of After-School Activities

Extracurricular activities can help your kids grow far beyond book learning in the school years. Getting the most out of after-school or weekend fun and games, though, means sharpening how you control both the time and money you expend.

I was a karate kid growing up, a happy 10-year-old who loved sporting her white two-piece gi. I worked my way to green belt before switching gears to cheerleading. Then in high school I was off to yearbook editor, track and a bit of soccer. Many of us had similar experiences growing up; our parents wanted us to become the well-rounded adults that we are today.

The activities problem now for kids and parents? Many of these sports and lessons come with a hefty price tag. According to a recent survey, parents spend an average of $671 a year on kids’ sports – football leads the way in expense – and over a fifth of them drops $1,000 or more every year, per child.

More than one in four parents also said that uniforms and sports apparel constituted the biggest ongoing cost, along with equipment, team dues, travel, camps, practice space time and coaches’ fees.

We all want to give our children a shot at enrichment through sports, music lessons, extra tutoring or study in a favorite subject, spelling bees, performance classes and so on. But your family doesn’t need to burn its finances in the process.

Set a budget. Consider this amount only after you put aside savings for retirement and can see that you remain on track with your financial goals. Once you determine what you can spend, sit down with your child to discuss the cost of each activity and how you and your child can save or prioritize commitments to help.

Look for quality, not quantity. Ask yourself what your child will experience with each group. How will this activity add value to the development of your child’s social and educational skills?

Ask your child why he or she wants to participate. Because friends are involved? Are the friends enjoying it?

Make sure the activity fits both your desires for your children and your children’s desires for themselves.

Create goals. Benchmark each activity to mark accomplishment.

For instance, if your child sees a math or English tutor, perhaps the goal might be at least a B in the class. If in a group such as the Boy or Girl Scouts, he or she can aim for a certain number of merit badges representing acquisition of various skills. Sports goals might be improved endurance, a surer basketball shot or just scoring one run.

Fixing goals before an activity helps you and your child evaluate the success of each activity – and whether it’s worth the money – and gets your child thinking about the future and personal goals.

Establish a schedule. In a burst of excitement, you may be tempted to sign your children up for three or four activities at once. Don’t.

Look in to alternating activities between fall and spring or between weekdays after school and weekends. Sticking to a set schedule helps you better manage the activities’ financial commitment along with your personal time.

Control costs. Consider creative alternatives to expensive activities. Check out your local YMCA or YWCA or civic or community center. Joining one of these organizations may net you a lower price for your kids’ pursuits.

Help your kids understand that you work as a family to ensure a great experience while staying within a budget.

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Mary Beth Storjohann, CFP, is the founder of Workable Wealth, an RIA in San Diego. She is a writer, speaker and financial coach who is passionate about working with individuals and couples in their 20s and 30s to help them organize and gain confidence in their financial lives. She has been quoted or featured in various industry publications on the local and national level. You can find her on Twitter at @marybstorj.

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