First Person: 8 Ways to Cut Extracurricular Activity Costs

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One of the many challenges faced by parents today is the cost of extracurricular activities for their children, since many cash-strapped school systems have initiated participation fees or have asked parents to foot some or all of the equipment and other costs. If, like many parents, you believe that participation in extracurricular activities is critical to a well-rounded education, you probably want to encourage your children's outside interests, but may find it increasingly difficult to afford them. In that case, here are a few tips for cutting extracurricular activity costs.

Limit the number of extracurricular activities. Ask your kids to choose one or perhaps two activities. There actually are advantages to a more focused approach beyond cost savings. Your kids are less likely to get over-tired and over-stressed from non-stop outside activities. Also, they will have more time to develop their skills and to excel in the activity they choose and to devote to their studies, and you will have more time to spend together as a family.

Limit your spending until you are sure that your child is going to stick with an after-school activity. Don't invest in expensive musical instruments or top-of-the-line uniforms until it is clear that your child is committed to the activity. Instead, turn to less expensive options, such as renting or borrowing equipment, first, then upgrade later when your child's ongoing interest is clear. When money is tight, the last thing you want is a trumpet gathering dust in the attic because your child decided he preferred to join the swim team.

Save on equipment. Sometimes the extracurricular activity is free, but you have to provide expensive equipment and apparel. There are plenty of ways to save on these costs, including renting equipment, purchasing it used, trading with other parents for equipment their children no longer use, and shopping at discount or consignment shops. Of course, some items, such as sports or dancing shoes must be purchased new, but you can find bargains on these as well if you watch for sales or shop at discount outlets.

Look for low-cost extracurricular activities in your community. The YMCA may offer low-cost extracurricular activities for children, as may local community centers or recreational departments. These can be a great way for you to save money and for your kids to expand their social network by meeting children outside of their schools and neighborhoods.

Volunteer your services. If you have the interest and experience, perhaps you can help coach your child's soccer team or provide volunteer services on game days. If so, your child may be able to participate free or at a discount rate.

Seek out local businesses willing to sponsor your child's team or activity. Many local companies are willing to support local teams or activities as a service to the community, as well as for the positive public relations their sponsorship can provide.

Keep an eye out for discounts. You may be able to score a discount on some activities by signing up early, paying in full up front, or having payments taken directly from your bank account.

Ask older children to pay some extracurricular activity costs. Requiring them to contribute can help them decide which activities are most important to them, as well as providing important lessons in financial management and the value of money.

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