Are your kids’ activities killing your budget?

Sandra struggles with cash-flow issues as the bills for her kids’ activities start to roll in.

Photo: Sandra E. Martin

Hooo-weee! After surviving back to school with minimal financial bloodletting (the girls were mostly able to re-use their supplies from last year and, clothing-wise, needed only a pair of shoes and a couple pairs of pants apiece), Matt and I were hit with the girls’ activity fees.
 
No one tells you, when you are helping your adorable, pot-bellied three-year-old into a tutu, that by the time she is “nine going on 10” (as Bronwyn likes to say) her dance studio may require that she takes two ballet classes, one conditioning class and one historical dance class each week. Jazz is optional, and we opted out of it.
 
Furthermore, no one tells you that the dance studio will decide that your child must wear a different-coloured leotard when she reaches a certain level of study. And you probably won’t have any way of knowing that the blue leotard she wore at the last place won’t be OK at the new place you’ve moved to because your kid was bored at the last place because the classes were “too easy.”
 
Bronwyn is one year away from starting pointe in the National Ballet School’s Associates Program. She wishes pointe started this year, but my bank account is grateful for the reprieve. Certificate 4 is a “colour-changing” year, so Bronwyn needed a new “cranberry” leotard, even though last year’s pink one still fits ($46.80, and that’s after her student discount). The matching skirt was $36; tights, $18; new slippers (because her feet grew three ballet-shoe sizes over the summer), $33.30.
 
As our very lovely and helpful sales associate was ringing up all our required purchases, I looked up at a sign on the wall, which read that with every purchase totaling $150 or more before taxes, you get a free reusable bag. “I think we’ll get the bag, Bronwyn,” I said. “Oh, yeah —you’ll be fiiiinnnne,” the sales associate assured.
 
Gulp. As much as it gives me joy to see Bronwyn get so much joy out of her dance classes, the costs are killer — especially for this mom, who, just this very week, has become a self-employed writer and editor. We’re trying to save money, but September, being “open a vein for your kid’s extracurriculars month,” is kind of a write-off.
 
That same day, Matt paid for Isobel’s hockey equipment. (Did I tell you that my five-year-old has been begging all summer, and practicing her slap shot behind the garage, in her campaign to play ice hockey this fall?) We compared costs to get the best deal, even returning the first bag we bought for a slightly smaller one that cost less than half the price of the original. And we saved a bit more money by letting Isobel use the Olympic hockey-style jersey I bought to honour the 2000 games as her practice jersey. (She looks pretty cute in it, too! Check out the pic above.)

According to research from the national money-management firm Investors Group, Canadian parents spend an average of $1,658 a year on kids’ athletics — plus, they invest 15 hours a month of their own time. If you want to know what that amounts to over a year, consider how much you earn per hour at your paid job and multiply by 180. So, if you earn $20 an hour, the time you spend driving your child to and from sports, lacing on skates, cheering from your seat, etc., is worth $3,600 over the course of a year.
 
Investors Group points out that the federal government offers help with the cost of kids’ athletic pursuits —but you have to apply in order to get it. Click here for details on how to shave up to $500 per kid off your tax bill under the Child Fitness Tax Credit. If you send your kids to sports camp so that you can work or take care of other business, you can also claim the Child Care Expense Deduction (if you’re married or in a common-law relationship, the partner with the lower net income will be the one to make the claim). 
 
That’s all good advice over the long haul. But the catch is you won’t be able to claim the Child Fitness Tax Credit or Child Care Expense Deduction until you file your 2012 tax return — early next year.
 
So unless you were able to save in advance for the September onslaught of activity costs, your cash flow for the next month or two is going to be compromised. In other words, if you’re directing a bunch of money to your son’s archery lessons, or your daughter’s soccer club, there’ll be less money remaining after taxes to pay your mortgage or rent, your utilities and your food costs. And let’s just forget about saving for the moment, shall we?
 
How will you cope with the shortfall? One mom quipped that she’d be serving bologna sandwiches for lunch. We will definitely be cutting back on our grocery bill, as much as that’s possible while still offering our kids healthy foods (whole-wheat pasta is a great healthy tummy-filler and a money-saver).
 
As Investors Group suggests, I’m going to look into carpools, which will cut down on the cost of getting to and from lessons. But every little bit helps, so I’d love to hear your tips for saving money on kids’ activities, too.

Are the activity fees mounting at your house, too? How does your family try to save money on kids’ activities?

FILED UNDER: