Hey everyone! Today's post is from my blog friend Jefferson. He lives in the St. Louis area and I've had the pleasure to meet him and his awesome wife. We don't have children, but I know that many of our awesome readers do!
Most parents want their kids to grow up to be well-rounded individuals, with a wide variety of experiences under their belt. To help facilitate this, we try to get them involved in activities from an early age, to explore their interests and to discover things in life to become passionate about.
From getting involved with sports, to taking dance or music lessons, to heading to camp in the summer, these activities can often be the very things that kids enjoy most in their lives.
From a time perspective, keeping your kids involved is very demanding on parents. You will likely need to drive regular carpools, and many activities will require you to sit through long competitions to support your child, some of which may even require extended-day travel.
From a dollar perspective, the demands can be even greater. The registration fees themselves can vary wildly, but typically- the more competitive the league that your child enters, the higher the cost will be. You may also be required to purchase expensive equipment or uniforms so that your child can participate (dance and ice hockey come to mind as two quick examples).
Despite the high demands on your time and your wallet, the alternative to keeping your kids active is not an attractive option. Participating in sports and activities will teach your kids how to work well with others, and how to handle life's successes and failures.
It will also show them how to set and then realize their goals, and that the harder that you work on something, the bigger the payoff will be in the end. Physical activities will also keep your kids active and healthy, and give them a reason to go outside and be around other children their age.
In addition, my own experiences as an adolescent showed me that being involved in activities, will actually keep kids out of trouble during their teenage years. If a kid is going to swim practice or dance class after school, they are far less likely to be out looking for trouble.
Ideas For Affordable Activities:
My wife and I recently finished off paying over $20,000 of debt, an experience we continue to write about on our website, and during our period of family budget attrition, we remained determined to keep our kids active. We actually had to drop out of one or two of the more expensive activities that the kids were participating in, but we found some nice alternatives to keep them busy and social to replace them.
Your Local YMCA : The fees to have your kids join a sports league can really pack a punch. Uber-competitive soccer or baseball leagues can have costs that run as high as $1000/season! Those costs have always been far too rich for our blood, which is why we have always opted for sports leagues run by our local YMCA.
Even if you are not a member, you can often join these leagues for around $50-$100/season. If you *are* a member, the cost will be far less than that. The competition level won't be as high as is seen in the high-dollar leagues, but you can always step up if your child shows serious potential. We have also use the YMCA to introduce our children to dance, tumbling, and martial arts, at a fraction of the cost that those activities would have required elsewhere.
Join Scouting! : My middle child has been a cub scout for years, and they are easily one of my favorite organizations around. I have heard similar positive things about the girl scouts as well, and will likely sign my daughter up when she is old enough.
In my experience, the kids in scouts typically come from good families, and the focus on parent involvement really helps bring a sense of togetherness. In addition, the activities are focused around being a good citizen, and making the world a better place. The cost of signing your kids up for scouts is relatively low (around $100 yearly), considering that most packs will have 3-4 planned activities every month.
After-School Activities : My children are not yet in high school, but are getting there quickly. Even still, one rule that we will have for them is that they are REQUIRED to participate in at least one school-sponsored sport or club in school at all times.
Most of these school-sponsored clubs are totally free to participate (yes, there are exceptions), although many will require participation in fund-raisers. After-school activities are also a great way for your kids to make friends, as they will be interacting with others who have common interests, and seeing them every single day.
Religious Organizations : If you are attend a church or other religious institution, I can't recommend enough getting your children involved in the youth programs offered there. Nearly all of them will be completely free for your kids to attend, and they are a great way for your child to have something on the calendar each week where they can hang out with friends, and receive a nice message at the same time.
Jefferson writes for the family finance site, See Debt Run. The site began as a place to chronicle a family's journey out of debt, but has evolved into a place to discuss a whole spectrum of topics around family finance. They discuss everything from saving money on groceries, to how to teach your kids about money, to even how to find out if your co-workers are making more money than you.
How do you keep your family active on a budget?
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