Saving money on kids extra-curricular activities

September 19, 2013

By Sheryl Smolkin


Hockey. Swimming lessons. Dance classes. Piano lessons. Just when you finish paying for back-to-school clothes and school supplies, it’s time to register your child for sports and arts activities. And depending on which activity or sport your child selects, your budget can take quite a hit.

In a November 30, 2012 article in the Globe and Mail, Roy McGregor reported that that the average hockey family spends $1,500 a year to be in the game.  He said, “Given the choice between outfitting a kid for soccer rather than hockey can be equal roughly to the choice between walking to the corner store and chartering a helicopter to pick up the milk.”

Too many or the wrong extra-curricular activities can also stress out both kids and parents. For example, parents who have fought a losing battle to get a disinterested child to practice the piano regularly may wonder whether they are getting value for the money spent on lessons.

Here are some of the things you can do to both save money on extra-curricular activities and minimize the wear and tear on your family:

  1. Activities selected:
    When you are selecting extra-curricular activities for your children, consider their interests and aptitudes. If your daughter has been kicking around a soccer ball from a young age or your son begs for dance classes, the choices are obvious. In other cases you may have to be more intuitive.
  2. Public/private:
    Most community centres offer swimming classes and a full range of other activities that are less expensive than programs offered by private vendors. However, registration for publically-supported programs is typically limited or may be by lottery. Find out what is available in your area, when registration opens and what the deadlines are.
  3. Number of activities:
    There is no magic number of extra-curricular activities for each child. This will depend on the amount of homework typically assigned, transportation issues and the energy levels of both children and parents. With our children, I decided that two per child was more than enough.
  4. Family schedule:
    Before you commit time and money to activities for your children, think about how they will integrate into the overall family schedule. If you have one car and each child has an activity at the same time at opposite ends of town, it’s not going to work. If your two children have after school or evening activities four or five days a week, there will be little if any time for relaxation and unstructured play.
  5. Location, location, location:
    The best of all possible worlds is when your child’s school offers activities like sports, the school play or band practices at the beginning or end of the school day. I also struck gold the year that my son had a piano teacher who made house calls! If the only gymnastics class that trains elite athletes is miles away, driving and car pools may be unavoidable. However, whenever possible, stick to activities that are close to home, particularly for young children.
  6. Saving on equipment
    For sports that require expensive gear like hockey or skiing, many communities have equipment exchanges. There are also stores like the Saskatoon Skate Exchange where used equipment in good condition is discounted. Long & McQuade, also in Saskatoon offers rental and rent-to-own programs for musical instruments.
  7.  Stick with it
    Make a deal with your children that if you sign them up for a program they have to stick with it for the semester or the year. Often classes that seem onerous or too difficult get easier in time and by the end of the series a child who was initially reluctant gets great satisfaction from mastering new skills. Also, they need to understand that your budget is finite and they can’t just drop an activity and expect to be registered in another one.
  8. Cut your losses
    In spite of all of your planning, sometimes it doesn’t work. If an inept program leader, unexpected homework loads or frequent colds and flu mean that you and your children simply can’t face the grind of extra-curricular activities, bite the bullet, give something up and see if you can get a portion of the fee reimbursed. It is not worth punishing the individual child or the family for one bad decision.

Do you have tips for parents about kid’s extra-curricular activities? Share your tips with us at and your name will be entered in a quarterly draw for a gift card. And remember to put a dollar in the retirement savings jar every time you use one of our money-saving ideas.

If you would like to send us other money saving ideas, here are the themes for the next three weeks:

26-Sept Employee benefits Getting value for your employee benefits
06-Oct Seniors Colleges, universities offer free tuition for seniors
10-Oct Thanksgiving Paying it forward: Volunteer opportunities
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