How to Pay Off Debt When You Have Kids- Part 3- Kid's Activities

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This is part 3 of “How to Pay off Debt With Kids” we’re focusing on how to save on kids’ activities this week – (You can find the Introduction on this series HERE,  Part 1 Here and Part 2 Here) a 4-part series that encourages and guides you to believe you CAN pay off debt, even when you have kids! It provides practical tips, and includes a Free workbook, to guide you in changing your money mindset, beliefs and behaviors to create lasting change!

Do you ever find yourself wondering, “when should I start putting my kids into all those extra activities?” Or, “it seems like everyone else is putting their kids into violin or soccer or gymnastics starting at age 3. Do I need to do that?” Or, “Should I make space in our budget to pay for X?”

I will start by saying that I believe if any question you ask of yourself has the word should in it, that is a pretty clear sign that you’re going down a road for the wrong reasons. Never “should” yourself, friends. Never.

Should I buy that toy for K?

Should I go to so-and-so’s party?

I feel like I should want to do X.

Just stop shoulding yourself already. Especially when it comes to your kids.

Kids’ activities can be the blossoming of your tiny human. I know for our kids, the first time they joined in a team situation, be it gymnastics or baseball or music lessons or dance, they became better versions of themselves. I could clearly see their confidence and skills increase little by little. It’s a beautiful thing, to see your children living fully into the best version of themselves.

Here at Greatest Worth, living fully and with truth is at the heart of what we stand for. We also like to live with intention and within our budget! Sometimes, those things can be at odds. Making sure we can afford all the activities is a real struggle for a lot of people. So, let’s talk about some tangible ways to save on kids’ activities!

BEGIN WITH AWARENESS

Starting with awareness is the key to everything – without it, you’re starting in the middle and working both ways. It’s possible, but, golly, it’s a lot of work. Taking the time to see – really SEE – what’s going on and what’s at play is not something that’s widely accepted in this day and age. We’re so scrambled and pulled by feeds and needs, judgment and consumption. Making the choice to honestly notice and explore is an act of radical defiance to the status quo.

Without awareness, though, we react out of habits and expectations, often thrashing around like a fish on a hook.

I’ve felt like that fish, particularly when it comes to my kids. I’ve noticed guilt and shame and comparison and anxiety directing my decisions and pushing (or pulling) me into over-scheduled, over-budgeted chaos. It is not awesome.

Some questions I’ve found helpful to extract (or even avoid) the hook:

  1. What is going on inside of me right now?

This is so simple, but it’s also not. It requires that you choose to dig into the spaces that you often ignore, but that refuse to ignore you. With my kids’ activities, this question helps me name the concerns and uncertainty that often fuel my reactivity.

2. Where is the SHOULD in this decision?

Maybe there’s not a should. Maybe, though, there are SHOULDs in the plural. Explore those. Own those.

3. What season am I living in?

Look around at your family, and yourself, and name the season – back to school time, summer travel time, new job time, tight budget time. Be honest. Don’t judge. And be willing to say no if your current life season doesn’t allow space for you to be a soccer mom.

It’s OK. Soccer mom time will come – and you’ll be ready and joyful and the loudest cheerer for your tiny person. It will be AWESOME!

USE YOUR VALUES AS A FILTER FOR DECISION MAKING.

I know…I talk about this ALL the time. Defining your values, and then applying those values as a filter for your decisions will Change. Your. Life. It’s the only way to live into the fundamental ambiguity of your complex life, and these tension-filled choices that leave you overwhelmed and paralyzed.

I know I’ve shown you this before, but let me just review  So, this is an actual framed poster we have hanging in our home. It’s a list of our family values. We’ve found that the easier it is to access what you stand for and what you hope for  – the easier it is to say yes to those things that coincide with your values and no to the things that don’t.

We are being pulled in a million different directions every second of the day. There are so many things and activities and newsfeeds vying for our attention. Having this poster in our home tends to ground and redirect me.

For example, just yesterday Sam and I were having a discussion about putting our two oldest girls into gymnastics. Our oldest daughter, E, has been begging to join back up and A, her little sister idolizes her big sister so she wants to do it, too. I was ready to just put them in gymnastics and call it a day.

Sam, with the help of our values poster, helped me to realize that to be true to our values of simplicity, intention and creativity we may need to think outside of the box a little bit. Negotiating time for kids’ activities with four children is proving to take as much skill as a brain surgeon. The real trick is ensuring we find some downtime where we can ALL be together as a family.

What we came up with is the girls can join gymnastics for a 3 month period. At that point we’ll likely take a break for a few months while their brother plays spring baseball. After that we’ll figure out when they could start back up again.

I’ll be honest, I’m still struggling with this decision. I love watching E do gymnastics. That girl loves to tumble and jump and flip – and she gets stronger physically and grows emotionally with every session of gymnastics she takes. It will be a sacrifice for her to have to stop after a few months, but it will also be a sacrifice of my time and our time as a family for her to be in gymnastics year round. A sacrifice that we are not willing to take…at least at this point in our life.

BARTER YOUR WAY INTO AN ACTIVITY.

This one takes some significant creativity and an open-mindedness that may not be available with all activities/teachers. But remember, we’re working hard to save on kids’ activities – so, let’s be open to getting outside of our comfort zone a bit.

When our kids were first about to join Kindermusik (a music program that I HIGHLY recommend), the school age program, I gagged a bit when I realized the upfront cost for two of our kids to go through the program at the same time would be $590 per semester.

My kids really hadn’t participated in any activity like this before so I wasn’t really sold on the usefulness for such small kids. I contacted the teacher and asked if she’d be willing to agree to some sort of barter system for this first semester. She was very open to it. We agreed to a set number of hours where I helped her clean and set up her music space before the semester began. Also, I agreed to take and edit some pictures for her to use as she would like, free of charge (I’m an amateur photographer).

The whole first semester was paid for with my time and talent alone. We started budgeting for the next semester immediately and setting money aside each month to ensure that we’d have the full amount ready when the time came.

I know this probably sounds intimidating to many people. Let me just say that the absolute, worst case scenario is that the teacher says no. Is that really so bad?! Best case scenario, you trade something for tuition for your kid. Pretty sweet!

Another idea might be if you’re willing to coach your child’s team for a season. Asking if my child’s fee could be waived in exchange for my time is definitely an ask I’d be willing to make!

REMEMBER TO BUY USED OR ASK FOR HAND ME DOWNS.

This one is more about how to save money on the equipment needed for kids’ activities.

Our son started baseball this past fall. He didn’t have anything except a glove. We received the list of equipment needs from the coach and I quickly got to work figuring out how to save money on all his STUFF!

I started out going to Play it Again Sports and found everything he needed right there. All of it gently used and more than 1/2 price off retail. It was really great.

In the past, when our girls have been in gymnastics I’ve asked on our neighborhood Facebook buy/sell page if anyone had any leotards that they would be willing to sell or hand down. Most often, people gave them to us for free! But even if you have to pay a little something, that something doesn’t usually compare to full price.

Lastly, I also check out the local kids’ consignment stores or annual consignment sales. We have a really great local store that might not be specific to sports but if I call ahead they will tell me if they have a specific item for sale or not.

BUDGET ACCORDINGLY.

We use the same method we use for saving for the holidays as we do for saving for kids’ activities. The gist of it is: figure out how much you’ll need to spend on a specific activity, divide it by how many months you have before the payment is due and then create a line item in your budget and start saving.

I’ll use our old Kindermusik payment as an example:

The total due was $590 (it actually was a bit less because there was a sibling discount but I can’t remember what that discount was, so we’ll keep it simple!). Let’s say it’s September and the next session begins in January – that means we have 4 months to save up $590. So, $590/4 = $147.50/month of savings.

I realize that sometimes the payment is due immediately. I would encourage you to NOT sign up for this session if you don’t have the money upfront to pay for it. Some activities, like gymnastics, are a pay by the month activity. These are a bit easier to see if they fit in your budget or not.

IF YOU’RE READING THIS AND WONDERING HOW TO KNOW IF SOMETHING ACTUALLY FITS INTO YOUR BUDGET OR NOT, OR HOW TO EVEN MAKE A STINKIN’ BUDGET, YOU CAN GO TO MY START HERE PAGE TO FIND A STEP BY STEP WALK-THROUGH TO GUIDE YOU IN BEGINNING TO LIVE WITH INTENTION IN YOUR PERSONAL AND FINANCIAL LIFE.

Oh, and remember to always ask for the sibling discount. This is usually for those of us who have more than one child enrolled in the same activity or the same facility. One little ask will often save you anywhere from 3-10% off one tuition!

USE ACTIVITIES AS A GIFT.

OK, one more workaround that Sam and I sometimes use in our alternative approach to kids’ activities is: we give the activities as a gift to our kids. For birthdays or holidays – we somehow figure out how to use the activity as a gift rather than just an extra that’s expected on top of all those gifts the kids get throughout the year.

I know this won’t ALWAYS work, but sometimes it will!

Also, we like to make sure that our kids REALLY want to do something before we sign them up for that activity. This usually involves:

  1. Making sure they beg to do an activity for at least a couple of months to ensure they don’t lose interest after a week or two.

  2. Having them practice for a bit (with friends or me) before they commit to a whole season.

  3. Allowing only one extra activity at a time. This ensures the kids pick something they REALLY love!

  4. Signing them up for one practice day to try it out before committing to the entire season. For example, our gymnastics gym, dance studio and tae-kwon-do studio are all places that offer this service.

Really, the key to saving money on kids’ activities is to remember that there are always OTHER paths and workarounds. Opportunities to think outside of the box and show our children that maybe, just maybe, choosing a completely different way might be the best option. An option that could lead to living life fully and with intention. AND, more likely lead to paying off that pesky debt and reaching towards goals you’ve always said were impossible!

Your goals are totally possible, BTW. I’m sure of it. But, from time to time, it is likely that difficult choices will still need to be made. Choices that are in line with who you are and your values but often out of line with society and norms.

You can do this! Share any tips you might have in the comments below – the community needs your awesome, outside of the box thinking!