How Much Should You Pay for Your Kids’ Extracurricular Activities?

by TTMK on November 13, 2013 · 12 comments

The following post is from staff writer Melissa Batai

I was listening to NPR a few months ago, and they were featuring a family with 4 kids.  Each kid was involved in multiple extracurricular activities.  In fact, the family never sat down together to eat because each parent was always shuffling one or more kids to activities in the evening.  Dad worked two jobs to pay for their many activities.  The parents didn’t have retirement accounts except what their employer provided.

Why were they living like this?  They thought doing so would increase their kids’ chances of getting scholarships to college, which was essential because they had not saved any money for college.

So far, their strategy has worked.  Their first child has a full-ride scholarship to college; the other three are still in high school and middle school.

Still, we can all likely agree that this isn’t a feasible plan for most families.

How much should you pay for kids’ extracurricular activities?

This is such a personal question and really depends on your financial situation.

Some financial experts argue (and I tend to agree) that if you don’t have money to set aside for your retirement, you shouldn’t pay for extracurricular activities at all.

However, if you are able to do that, there’s no hard and fast rule for how much you should or shouldn’t pay.

In our family, we let each child do one activity that costs money, and one that is free.  My son plays AYSO soccer which cost us $125 at the beginning of the season, and he also sings in the church choir, which is free (except for the week I have to bring snacks for all 40 kids–ouch!).

However, I have relatives who paid serious money for their daughter to be in a traveling soccer team for many, many years.  If their goal was to get her a scholarship, it didn’t pay off.  She graduated last year and is now attending the local community college.

Should You Pay for Activities with the Expectation of a Scholarship?

The question, for many, is a matter of motivation.   Are you enrolling your child in extracurricular activities because you want them to develop good characteristics that kids learn in sports and because you want to enhance their personal development, or are you enrolling them with the expectation that they will eventually qualify for a scholarship?

If it’s the latter, is it right to put that type of pressure on kids?

Being devil’s advocate here, wouldn’t it be better to take some of the thousands of dollars you’re investing in your child to participate in many different activities and instead invest in a college fund so you don’t have to rely so heavily on your child trying for, and hopefully getting, a scholarship?


{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Joe Saul-Sehy November 13, 2013 at 10:39 am

I made the decision to drop some activities for the twins when I realized that we were running ourselves ragged. I don’t remember as a kid being so hyper-scheduled. Luckily, none of our sports/extras cost a ton, so I got off lucky, there. I just don’t want my kids always involved in some contest/planned activity. I think creativity should be nurtured, too. I remember chasing cloud shadows with my brother when I was a kid….talk about being bored! It was a blast.


TTMK November 14, 2013 at 10:31 am

Totally know what you mean, Joe. Creativity and inventing things to do have benefits for kids!


Simon @ Modest Money November 13, 2013 at 3:53 pm

When spending on a kids extracurriculars, the amount to spend shouldn’t necessary be guided by the expectation of a scholarship. Its dependent on the parents financial situation and their dreams and aspirations for the kids. One rule of thumb though, it should be within the set budget.


TTMK November 14, 2013 at 10:52 am

Parents can only do so much, and excessive extracurriculars shouldn’t mean sacrificing retirement savings!


krantcents November 13, 2013 at 6:38 pm

When our children were young, we had them participate in a variety of after school activities. I never set an actual budget, but looked at each activity as a value issue. If I felt it was good for their personal growth, we did it. We also sent them to private school because it was a better choice.


TTMK November 14, 2013 at 10:30 am

That’s the thing, everyone has to look at their own situation and determine if a decision provides overall value and a net benefit for the kids and family.


SuburbanFinance November 13, 2013 at 9:09 pm

My mom worked really hard – and took out a lot of debt – to pay for our extra curricular activities. We benefited greatly from them, but I don’t think we had to be in the expensive ones.


TTMK November 14, 2013 at 10:29 am

Great that you can objectively look at your own childhood that way. Kudos to your mom for working so hard and sacrificing so much, even if you understandably recognize that it wasn’t totally necessary.


jim November 13, 2013 at 11:23 pm

I learned my lesson – ONE sport/extracurricular activity at a time – period. Not that I actually practiced that rule (’cause I was coaching my kid’s baseball and hockey teams – their seasons overlap for several months) until my wife had a meltdown. She ran from work (a 45 minute commute) in a suit, nylons, heals etc to pick our son up from hockey practice, feed him quickly (in the car) and get him to baseball practice. When changing him out of his hockey gear (to get into his baseball uniform) the velcro on one of his knee pads shredded her nylons. That was her final straw (that, coupled with watching our son gobble down crap food in the car). That’s when she said she’d never do this to our kid again and “we” (my son and I) could both pick ONE sport. Best thing we ever did. We started living sanely again – with sit down family meals. Yikes! Sometimes testosterone can take over and you need some estrogen to reign it in. The $ part of it was a minor factor. The impact it had on our family was the clincher.


TTMK November 14, 2013 at 10:28 am

That’s good that she set you guys straight 🙂 I’ve gone from 2 to 1 activities and found it to be better all around, at least at this point in time. Quality of life for the family is important.


dojo November 14, 2013 at 7:06 am

We’ll have our daughter in 1-2 sport activities ONLY (swimming and maybe martial arts). Nothing else. We want her to spend time with us at home and we can surely make her days full of fun activities. Were planning on saving for her college, so we won’t need extracurriculars for her.


TTMK November 14, 2013 at 10:27 am

Seems like a sensible plan. My kids are in one non-school extracurricular each at this point as well. Have done 2 before, but 1 is more feasible.


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