Kids’ Activities: The End of Frugality?

If you ask my kids what they want above all else, you’ll hear all about their newest obsession: Shopkins. The tiny, plastic figurines have practically taken over their imaginations and our family dinner conversations – much to the dismay of my husband and I.

But it’s not that big of a deal. My kids do love Shopkins, but no one is forcing us to buy them. When they ask, I am perfectly fine with saying “no.” And to be honest, I have said “no” to their requests for Shopkins more times than I can count this year. Yes, they’re cute and of course they’re fun, but my kids just don’t need any more. So, with that in mind, I tell them to play with the Shopkins they already have.

Unfortunately, not everything my kids ask for is so easy to say “no” to. And I’m finding that, while it’s easy to turn down requests for toys, it’s much, much harder to say no to activities that could actually help them.

Navigating the Expensive World of Children’s Sports

It all started with gymnastics. Based on advice from our peers, my husband and I have shied away from some of the sports and activities that require a huge commitment of time and money. According to a friend whose kids are deeply invested in karate, trying a new sport often means making a lifelong commitment to it – whether you intended that or not.

With that in mind, we put our young daughters in a weekly gymnastics class for now. It does cost around $140 per month, but since there are no “games” or “meets,” there’s very little additional investment required.

And so far, we’ve been happy with the whole experience. My kids love going, we’re not losing too much family time sitting at the gym, and I have made my peace with the money we’re spending.

The problem? My kids are built like tiny tanks and way ahead of the curve in their sport of choice. My six-year-old is currently in a class with 8- and 9-year-olds who have serious gymnastics skills, and my four-year-old is extremely focused, absolutely fierce, and not the least bit afraid of falling on her head.

Recently, they both qualified to join the tiny tot team, which is a primer for more advanced, competitive gymnastics. That’s great and all, but that would mean meeting three times per week! Not only is that a huge time commitment for our family, but it also means paying 300% more for their classes. Because that’s more than we feel comfortable spending at such an early age, we ultimately said “no.”

The Piano Problem

Fortunately, both of our daughters understood why we didn’t want them to join the team. In fact, our oldest seemed slightly relieved she wouldn’t have to give up so much time with her friends. She’s only six years old, after all, and would rather spend most evenings riding her bike in the cul-de-sac.

However, she quickly turned her sights on something else – piano lessons – after receiving a flyer in music class. I was shocked at first, but piano really does make sense. We actually have a piano in our home, and I myself started taking piano lessons when I was around her age.

Unfortunately, piano lessons cost $25 per week, per child. And while that isn’t exorbitant, it does mean paying $200 more monthly on top of their gymnastics classes.

But, to me, this dilemma is different. Unlike Shopkins or an excessive gymnastics schedule, piano lessons could benefit both our children in a number of ways. As a child, piano lessons helped me improve my hand-eye coordination, learn a skill that lasts a lifetime, and explore my musical talents.

And truthfully, I would love for both of my kids to do the same. But at $200 per month ($2,400 per year) I desperately need to make peace with the cost.

Balancing Kids’ Activities and Frugal Living

I’ve always said that children can be as expensive or as cheap as you want them to be. If you buy them everything under the sun, the price tag can surge quickly. But if you’re sensible and prudent with your budget, children don’t have to cost an arm and a leg.

With that being said, there are some things you can’t buy used at a garage sale or skip altogether. Sports, group activities, piano lessons, and summer camps can’t always be recreated at home for a fraction of the cost.

As parents, it’s our job to create a financial plan we can live with, but also to expose our children to as many real benefits as possible. Sometimes, figuring out what could really make a difference in our children’s lives- and what won’t – is the hardest part.

Being a parent isn’t easy, and neither is balancing a family budget. In the end, all we can do is make the best decisions we can – and hope for the best.

How has your family handled the cost of your children’s sports and activities? How do you decide which sports to participate in – and when to pass?

Holly Johnson
Contributing Writer

Holly Johnson is a frugality expert and award-winning writer who is obsessed with personal finance and getting the most out of life. A lifelong resident of Indiana, she enjoys gardening, reading, and traveling the world with her husband and two children. In addition to The Simple Dollar, Holly writes for well-known publications such as U.S. News & World Report Travel, PolicyGenius, Travel Pulse, and Frugal Travel Guy. Holly also owns Club Thrifty.

Loading Disqus Comments ...