We don't have to tell you that there are tons of benefits to laving your kids participating in after-school activities. Extracurriculars help a child's physical development, boost social skills, improve academic performance, and build confidence. The only potential downside is the cost. Not to worry: These smart tips can help you save on your child's extracurricular activities.
Fill out your child's registration paperwork and pay the fees as early as possible. Some organizations give a discount for early registration, and registering early gives you time to prepare for the activity so that you can accommodate it into your budget without last minute surprise expenses, says Clare K. Levison, author of Frugal Isn't Cheap: Spend Less, Save More, and Live Better. Another reason to get your child enrolled early: you don't have to worry about forgetting to do it in time and then having to pay a late registration fee!
Ask for a discount
Some activities offer a multi-child or sibling discount, but you may not get it if you don't ask. Even if you only have one child participating in the program, check if there are any other discounts for which your child or family might qualify. You never know. A program may give a small percentage off if you or your spouse are military or law enforcement, or if your child is on the honor roll at school. "It never hurts to ask for a discount because every little bit helps," Levison says.
Look for a coupon
Yep, you may be able to find a coupon for your child's baseball team or dance class. "Thanks to sites like Groupon and LivingSocial, there are coupons for just about everything now, including extracurricular activities," says Michael Catania, co-founder of the savings community PromotionCode.org. "Do a quick search for the activity along with the month and year (for example, Pony League Baseball, Las Vegas, August 2016 offers) to see if what discounts might be available before you register," he says. It's also a good idea to look for discount codes when shopping for uniforms, equipment and other required items. Even if it's only a 5 percent off or BOGO offer, those savings add up.
Volunteer or barter
Volunteering with the organization can often reduce or remove the participation fees for your child, says consumer and money-saving expert Andrea Woroch. "You can offer to help with bookkeeping, coaching, or cleaning a dance studio, or you could offer your professional skills, whether that be marketing or web design," she says. Whatever you do, it doesn't have to be too time-consuming. It could be as simple as running the concession stands once a week. Every little bit helps, so talk to the program coordinators to see if there are ways you can pitch in while also reducing your child's fees. A couple of bonuses: You get to spend more time with your child doing something he enjoys, and depending on the activity, you may even get in a mini-workout.
Do a trial run
It's frustrating and financially draining when your child asks to participate in something, you fork over the cash, and then she begs to quit a couple of weeks later. If you're not sure that your kid will stick with a particular activity, ask if there's a way to try it out before making a full commitment. Some organizations will let your child to attend a class or two on a trial basis. It may be at no cost, or you may have to pay a small fee. Either way, it will give you and your kid time to see if this is really an activity she wants to be involved in, without you having to pay (and possibly lose) the whole fee.
Of course, there are some things that should only be purchased new (such as mouthguards and helmets), but for many other things, secondhand is just as good. Asking family, friends, or neighbors for hand-me-downs is a great way to score gently used items like cleats, uniforms, bats, and art supplies for free or cheap. Buying used can keep more money in your pocketbook too. Check out thrift stores, eBay, Craigslist, yard sales, consignment shops, resellers like Play it Again Sports, or swap sites like SwapMeSports.com. And don't think that buying used means your child will get beat up gear. "A lot of times people try something, decide they don't like it (see above!) and then they have a piece of equipment that's practically brand new that they don't have a use for anymore, so it ends up at a thrift store [or other resale shop]," says Levison.
Rather than paying for instruments, which can be expensive, look into renting. You can likely find rental options locally or through an online dealer. Another possibility: your library. "Some libraries, particularly those in big cities, offer rentals of musical instruments with just your library card," Catania says. Since you obviously won't be able to keep a library rental for the full school year, this option is best when your child is undecided about which instrument she wants to play and trying out different options. Once she's found the instrument she likes, you can look into a long-term rental from a music store or online.
Make meals/snacks ahead of time
In addition to the costs of the activity, many families shell out extra cash on food and snacks. Think about it: When you're leaving a long day at work and then heading to this or that practice or game, the last thing you want to do is stand over a hot stove. So you load up on snacks at the concession stand or grab takeout on the way home—and increase your spending. "Usuallly we find we spend too much money when we find ourselves in a time crunch," Levison says. "So if you can plan your meals ahead, do your shopping at the beginning of the week, and plan easy but healthy meals on the nights you have activities, it can save a lot of time and money."
Save on gas
Another area that many parents don't factor into their budget with extracurricular activities is the added travel expenses. "Organize carpools with other parents and take turns driving to practices, games, and performances," Woroch says. Since everyone's schedule is likely to be busy, reach out to others to try to create a game plan as early in the season as possible. When it's your turn to drive, make sure you save on gas. "Start off by finding the lowest local prices with an app like Gas Buddy—a crowd-sourced app that offers near up-to-the-minute gas prices sorted by zip code," Catania says. And most gas stations have affiliations with credit cards and grocery stores, so if you carry a card or shop at a specific store, look to see if it can help you lower your fuel expenses.
Skip the add-ons
Just because your child participates in an activity doesn't mean he has to have every little item the team offers for sale. "Professional photos, videos, and extra shirts are fun to have, but the costs can really add up," Levison says. So pass on things that aren't necessities. You can take your own photos or videos, and skip the team shirts for mom and dad and show your support by wearing the team colors instead.
Just say "no"
If your kid wants to do football, soccer and swim, you may have to give him a choice. "I think we tend to want to sign our kids up for a lot of organized activities these days, but you don't have to go overboard, especially if it's affecting your finances," Levison says. Limit your child to one activity per season, and tell him to choose the one he wants to do most. If he has an interest in something else, he can do it at home or find a community center that is more affordable than, says, private art lessons. Sure, there may be some whining (or even tears), but you have to do what's right for your financial situation. And, add Levinson, this is a good opportunity to something else that's beneficial to your child: have a conversation about budgets and the cost of activities.