I was always baffled when the parents of older kids talked about how expensive kids are. I understood that older kids ate more than my own toddler son, but without the killer daycare expenses, I figured kids got cheaper after preschool. That is, until I got a flyer in the mail.
The flyer advertised a $475 weeklong hockey camp for kids ages seven to 12. My husband took one look and said, “I think Kenny will play right wing, don’t you?”
His comment barely registered. I couldn't comprehend the price tag. The one-week camp cost the same as two credits at the nearby state university.
With price tags like this, how will we support our children’s outdoor activities and save money for them to attend college? To be honest, my husband and I don’t have a satisfactory answer.
Growing Up With Lots of Extracurricular Activities
My parents spent a lot of money on activities for me when I was a kid. I was involved in basketball leagues, tennis lessons and tournaments, and track. I craved the opportunity to excel under pressure and to indulge my passion for winning.
As a young athlete, I learned about goal setting, strategy, teamwork, work ethic, and discipline. I learned how to lead a team and how to work smarter instead of harder. These lessons carried me through more than 14 basketball tournaments and Division I track meets. Today, I carry them with me every day that I go into work. They serve me as I build my career and care for my family.
The childhood lessons that I learned from engagement in sports may not have been forged any other way, but they came with a big price tag.
However, while my parents spent huge sums and goaded me to succeed, they also skipped the opportunity to let me appreciate the value of life’s simpler pleasures. To this day, I must consciously remind myself to relax and enjoy each day.
My Husband's Experience With Extracurricular Activities for Kids
My husband wasn’t involved in many activities as a child. Outside of a single season of cross country, he never played organized sports. His parents emphasized family time instead.
They taught him to value simplicity and beauty in nature on hiking and canoe trips. My husband learned about thrift and self-reliance when he created heirloom furniture with his dad; their materials were often picked from the trash.
My husband’s family led a slower-paced life that enabled them to save money and send their kids to college debt free. These values stuck with my husband for life. He is forever pointing out the beauty around us, and he has the confidence to tackle any task.
The debt-free college experience was a huge asset for my husband, but it was not without a cost of its own.
After graduation, my husband’s values didn’t align with the values of the marketplace. As a result, he spent years as an underearner before he established a career foothold. Even with increased ambition and skills, career management has never been easy for my husband.
A Balancing Act
In most areas of life, my husband and I seek to balance each other out. He gets me to look at sunsets, and I get him to attend networking events. He teaches our son about the flora and fauna in our yard, and I teach our son how to win races. But how do these DIY activities compare with the hundred-dollar classes?
Are we teaching our kids the same skills as they would learn through a karate class or violin lessons? Maybe not, but we're enriching them in our own way.
For now, my husband and I have chosen a simpler life that we hope will lead us into future financial security. And no, we’re not signing our son up for toddler tumblers or little kickers soccer camps (and definitely not $475 hockey camps), but we’re reserving the right to change our minds.
Cheap or Free Extracurricular Activities for Kids
While there are a lot of expensive extracurricular activities out there, there are also quite a few more affordable options. You may even be able to find some cheap or free summer camps.
Expanding your children’s skills and self-awareness doesn’t have to cost a fortune. Here are just a few affordable (even free) activities that you can do with your kids (that can be fun for you, too!):
1. Stage a Play or Puppet Show
Let your kids pick a topic and help them write a simple script with a part for each of you. Maybe even get some cheap-but-fun puppets. Show them how to learn their lines and let them practice. Then put on an original show for your neighbors or grandparents. Kids will love the creativity, and their self-confidence will grow when they get into character.
2. Plant a Garden
Spark your children's inner green thumb and plant a garden with them either indoors or outside. Give them the responsibility of watering the plant every day and chart it as it grows.
3. Go on a Hike
Look up some trails near you or even in the next town. Pack a picnic and make a day of it. The fresh air and exercise will do you all the world of good — and it’s free.
4. Bake Something
Pass down a family recipe — or look up a fun new one — for some of your kids’ favorite foods. You probably already have most of the ingredients for most basic cookie recipes. If you don't, you can bring your kids to the grocery store and let them pick out fun treats to include.
5. Look at the Stars
Download an app that identifies constellations and teach your kids about the night sky. You never know — you might have a future astrologer on your hands.
6. Start a Book Club
Bring your kids to pick a book at the library and read it together. Assign different chapters for different days and mark them off on a calendar. Encourage them to talk about their favorite characters, or even write their own ending.
7. Have a Garage Sale
Encourage your kids to part with some toys and clothes they don’t use anymore and set up a garage sale outside. Let them handle the cash and teach them a little about money, too.
Additional reporting by Emma Finnerty