4 tips for balancing budgets and extracurricular activities
Ballet lessons. Math tutors. Debate club. Boy scouts. Every afternoon, your child heads off to yet another activity that costs you money. Should you pay for everything? Should you limit his choices? And what about when you're feeling the pinch of tough times? Should your kids share that burden?
Hardly a family in the country isn't feeling at
least a little bit of the economic crisis in an up close and personal way. Nearly everyone has to take a long, hard look at the family finances and determine what stays in the budget and what's out
With kids in the family, budget cuts are felt more deeply, certainly. And it's hard to cut out things that your kids count on, like that weekly pizza dinner. But what's a financially strapped family to do? With the costs of kids' extracurriculars skyrocketing, how can you possibly manage the budget effectively?
1. Set a budget and stick to it
Figure out how much you can afford to spend on after-school activities. Then sit down with your child and see what that cost will cover. If there are more activities than money allows, let your child know that it's time to start thinking. Maybe he's willing to earn the money to pay for one or more of his choices. Maybe there are fundraising opportunities through the clubs themselves.
2. Evaluate activities carefully
Now's the time to sit down with your child to evaluate his activities. Is he still taking piano lessons to fulfill your childhood dream of being a musician? If he's committed to the instrument,
fine. But if he never practices and just goes through the motions, maybe it's time to stop.
Ask your child which one activity is most important to him. Let him know that you'll do whatever you can to keep that activity on his schedule and in the budget. It's important to ask your child this question, because you might spend a fortune to salvage drum lessons, only to find that your son really wanted to stick with tae-kwon-do.
You can also determine the activity that most matters to you. Because, for example, it's unlikely that you're going to give up the math tutor without a fight, or at least a significant grade improvement.
3. Get creative
Some of your child's activities may have free or lower-cost alternatives. Look into lessons offered at your local community center or place of worship, or through your child's school. Even if you
have to join a community center, your total cost may be lower, so it's worth running the numbers.
Believe it or not, there are sometimes scholarships for extracurricular activities. It never hurts to ask, and you may find out about some grants that can make all the difference. Check with your local civic center and community-based service organizations like the Lions Club or Kiwanis.
You can also consider a staggered schedule. Instead of taking drama and art lessons all year long, consider setting one class for the fall and one in the spring. This lets your child participate in both activities and lightens the load on your purse.
4. Show your own sacrifice
Let your child know that he's not the only one being asked to give something up. Let him see that you're also cutting back and making changes to keep to the budget. Help him understand that this is
part of what being in a family means.
It's never easy to say no to something legitimate that your kids want. But if you teach them by example to live within their means, you're giving them something truly priceless.