Kids are beautiful creatures. They laugh easily, even when they spill cheerios all over your freshly mopped floor. They bring joy to our lives, even when you’re a zombie from 3 weeks of no sleep. They’re also soooo adorable in their adorable tiny shoes, even when they’ll grow out of them in 2 months and then you’ll have to go shopping again.
They also have a lot of energy. A LOT. If you told them to run in a circle for an hour as a game, they would probably do it, because their brains aren’t developed yet so they can’t tell how pointless it is, but also because they just have so much freakin energy!
Which is why parents like to stuff their kids away in activities. To use up some of that battery power. Also so they’ll learn valuable life lessons like how not to drown (swimming lessons), how to stand on their heads (gymnastic lessons), how to entertain old people (violin lessons) and how to fight off potential kidnappers (karate lessons).
The problem is…all these activities add up. Kids are already so expensive. Those diapers don’t pay for themselves, even when they’re cloth and you can trade them on Bunz next year.
CTV says parents are struggling to afford extra-curriculars:
- Nearly 80% of Canadians say they, or someone they know, have pulled their kids out of extracurricular activities, such as hockey, or have borrowed money or used retirement savings to keep their child in the game.
- In 2016, 29% of Canadians borrowed money from a line of credit, credit card or personal loan or know someone who borrowed money to pay for extracurricular activities. That number is up three per cent from 2014 when 26 per cent of Canadians needed to borrow for activities.
- A small percentage of families (16%) have resorted to using their retirement savings, or know someone who is, to help pay for the cost of their children’s activities. That percentage is unchanged from last year.
Rate Supermarket says parents spend $1,658 a year on kids sports activities. Those are almost two new pairs of Loubitons you could buy for yourself instead!
So how much should we aim to be spending on kids activities then?
Of course, there’s no right answer for everyone! It really depends, like everything else, on your overall financial picture.
First, realize that all extracurriculars are wants, not needs
Billy will be FINE if he can’t play hockey this year. Even if all his friends are going. Even if your husband has dreams of him being in the NHL, and at 3.5 years old he’s already late to start. No kids needs extracurriculars to be happy, so to get rid of the guilt if you can’t afford them. You are doing Billy a MUCH greater service putting the money in his RESP.
Then, ask yourself if the extracurricular fits comfortably within your budget.
This entails actually knowing how much you earn and spend per month, so make sure you have that data first. The most important, and first step of any financial planning is awareness, so start tracking everything. Do you have money leftover for extracurriculars? Is there anything you could cut out to make room? Don’t use a credit card or line of credit for extracurriculars, you’ll pay for it later, literally.
Once you’ve decided you can, in fact, afford Susan’s Jazz lessons, ask yourself these two questions:
Have I included incidental costs?
Don’t forget to budget for costumes and gear.
Can I get it cheaper?
Does the city offer a version of this activity? Is there any way to negotiate with a private business, like asking for a discount for putting 2 kids in?
Is there a free substitute?
Maybe the neighbourhood parents get together in the park to put on a baseball game every Sunday? Can you trade piano lessons with your elderly neighbour for cat sitting?
Remember: There’s always the option of giving Billy a dry branch instead and tell him to hit a rock with it or something. He’ll probably be just as amused.