I'm always writing out a check for something related to my 12-year-old daughter's passion for acting, dancing, and singing. But since her first ballet lesson nine years ago, I've somehow avoided adding up how much I spend in a year. So last Sunday when my husband and I sat down to make the family budget, I was shell shocked at the total on the calculator: more than $3,000—and that's not counting her summer camps (which is a financial black hole all on its own) or "little" extras (like the countless pairs dance tights she's ripped or the 9 p.m. Chipotle runs because she's starving after play practice). I fessed up on Facebook about how much money I spend and asked friends to do the same. While some friends are still in avoidance mode ("I'm afraid to add it all up!" one mom of a 2- and 5-year-old wrote), many did privately share:
"Competitive gymnastics is costing us almost $6,000 a year now and she's only 8."
"It's $3,710 per year for my boys, ages 2 and 5, to have swim class, gym sessions, and learn the Chinese language."
"We spend $10,000 a year for our two kids to play ice hockey."
"$1,700 on piano lessons for two kids—plus we pay for dance and sports too."
"We're at $5,000 since summer for competitive soccer."
"Competitive cheering costs us $10,000 a year."
"Just one gymnastic competition leotard costs me $300." (Makes me feel better about those $4 kids' dance tights from Target.)
"We spend $425 a month on music lessons for two kids. I don't even want to do the multiplication."
"Between horseback riding lessons and competitions, I spend $4,000 a year. That's why she has to teach herself piano."
Before you think I must have rich friends, I need to tell you that's not the case. These middle-class families devote a lot of their disposable income to helping kids pursue their passions. As one friend said, "I spend $3,000 a year on piano lessons for my two boys. I love their teacher, and it's worth every penny."
I know my daughter would freak at the prospect of cutting back her theater activities—and whether or not she ever realizes her Broadway dream, the confidence and friendships she's gained are more than worth the tuition costs. (So what if I can't afford to re-model the kitchen right now?) Weigh in: Do you think it's absurd to spend that much? Or are you doing the same? Tell me in the comments!
Karen Cicero is the Contributing Nutrition & Travel Editor at Parents and mom to a dramatic tween, who was just cast in a local production of Narnia. Follow her on Twitter @karencicero.