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Making Extracurricular Activities Extra Affordable

Guest Post by Sarah at Read Cook Save

Your eight-year old is excited about playing soccer this spring, your six-year old says she wants to take violin lessons and your four-year old has her heart set on ballet. In addition to paying for the classes, you’ll need shin guards and a uniform, ballet shoes and a violin. How are you going to afford it all?

The trick, as always, is planning ahead. Way ahead, if possible. Here are a few tips for making extracurricular lessons both fun and affordable:

The Lessons

  • Know your options. Dance academies and martial arts dojos often require lengthy (and costly) commitments. If your child is new to the activity or if you prefer a more low-key environment, check out community education programs, your parks and recreation department and local YWCA/YMCA. Some churches also sponsor youth programs. Start asking around your community — you may be surprised at what’s available.
  • Ask about trial lessons. Your child may be able to take a trial class for a pro-rated fee (or possibly free). This gives you and your child a chance to make sure the class is a good fit all the way around before committing to an entire class.
  • Understand registration fees. Some programs require a registration fee in addition to class fees. Find out if there is one, if it is for the family or the individual and how often (annually, seasonally, etc.) it is required. Ask if there are circumstances in which it can be waived and see if you qualify.
  • Sign up early. Many programs offer a discount of 10-30% if you register several weeks in advance. Of course, this is more time for something unexpected to come up on your end, so be sure you understand the cancellation/refund policy.

The Equipment

  • Ask when you sign up. Make sure you understand exactly what kind of supplies, equipment or clothing are required and what, if anything, is covered by the cost of the class. Ask where you can buy or rent what you need at a reasonable price. Ask if there are stores in your area that give students in this program a discount.
  • Put the word out. Let your friends know what you’re looking for; if someone has it in her attic or garage she may be willing to lend it or give it to you.
  • Consignment shops. Call the children’s consignment shops in your area and ask if they carry the kind of equipment/clothing you’re looking for.
  • Yard sales and thrift stores (of course!). With some lead time, these can be good places to browse for outgrown leotards and sports equipment. You’re less likely to find a second-hand flute or a pair of size two tap shoes — but you never know!
  • Craigslist and Freecycle. Better if you’re looking for specific brands, sizes or styles.
  • Retail stores. By planning ahead, you can still find bargains. Ask when their sales are, if they give discounts to students in your program, and find and use coupons.

Sarah Barbour blogs about her adventures in new-found thriftiness at Read Cook Save.

photo by Summers

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  • Jennifer says:

    If you have money set aside try to pay in one lump sum. We get a 10% discount for my daughter’s dance and my son’s karate lessons by settling up when I register. It is less paperwork for both places and they know I’m one less person that they may have to chase down! I really enjoy it because I don’t have to worry about paying them every month.

  • Great ideas! My 6-year old is in karate and my 4-year old is in ballet. When we first started karate, we went to a fancy (expensive!) martial arts studio. BUT, we got the first month for “free” – we just had a to buy the uniform. At the end of the first month, we got a little sticker shock at the actual cost of the program, and dropped out. But, we found out that the school district was offering a karate class at a much better price, and we already had the uniform! It’s not as intense, but really, what 6-year old needs to go to karate more than once a week? And he’s still learning a lot and has a great time!
    As for my daughter, we started her with a program through the city. But it was only a 6 week class, and she loved it. In talking with some friends, I found out that a friend of a friend was teaching ballet out of her home for only $20 a month. We’ve been going there for almost a year, and love it!

  • Christina Albea says:

    If your child is wanting to participate in sports (basketball, cheerleading soccer, or football) check out to find your local Upward churches. You’ll find a program there unlike any other youth sports program you have ever seen! It’s cost efficient in that everything you need is covered in the cost of the registration fee (the entire uniform that that church requires, any special equipment that sport needs [i.e. poms and a megaphone for cheerleaders], and other materials geared just for your child’s sport.

    It works on the premise that to teach a child a sport doesn’t mean you have to take up every hour of every afternoon. Every child practices 1 hr each week and plays 1/1hr game each week verses peers that have been rated on similar skill sets to match even teams. (There are 8 games in a season- more practices obviously as they start a few weeks prior to games).

    BUT the program also includes GOD. Every practice and game has a devotion time to help each child/volunteer learn more about God in a very new and non-confrontational way. Parents are HIGHLY encouraged to participate not to just sit on the sidelines and ‘stay out of the game’.

    I can’t speak highly enough for this program where they teach not just how to play the game correctly but good sportsmanship and God all at the same time!

    • Christina Albea says:

      I completely forgot to mention most Upward leagues offer scholarships (whole are partial) to this who can’t afford the cost. a full 1/3 of our league was on scholarship this season.

    • Tina says:

      I totally second this – Upward is a wonderful program and very cost-effective. It’s especially perfect for kids just getting into sports. It gives them exposure to the sport while teaching them the more important things like teamwork, sportsmanship and a focus on God in all things (even sports) AHEAD of winning/losing. It’s a wonderful foundation.

    • Anon says:

      I agree! I volunteer to help with Upward basketball in my community and am blessed to meet all the kids & families who can participate in these activities because of the low cost!

    • Amy says:

      We LOVE Upward! My daughter, age 5, is cheerleading for Upward basketball this season. The announcer at our games is constantly encouraging the players and praising the cheerleaders; it has been a great way for our family to spend a happy Saturday morning together!

  • Marian says:

    I recently tried to sell all of the old soccer cleats to a second hand kids shop. They wouldn’t take them because they had too many. So ask friends for equipment! I would love to get these out of my garage.

  • Pamela says:

    My daughter is taking up to 10 lessons a week plus doing open studio practice at least 5 days per week – something I could never afford. She is working off the extra lessons by cleaning the studio about an hour a day (she’s at the studio 5-6 days a week for 3-5 hours at a time).

  • Natalie says:

    Around where we live, many places will offer classes through our city recreation department – for much less. For example, my daughter wanted to take gymnastics, but I wasn’t crazy of committing for 12 weeks and having to pay a yearly family fee on top of the expensive class cost. I saw that our city offered essentially the same class through the same facility- but for 6 weeks at a much cheaper cost per class, plus without the yearly fee!

    We have also found that many places will give a discount for taking a two classes in the same semester, or a discount for a sibling. It doesn’t hurt to ask!

  • Jo says:

    We love Upward!!!

    My 5 year old plays Upward Soccer, YMCA basketball and now Dixie Youth baseball. I generally know what he needs for years to come. Last summer, after baseball season was over, I got him 3 pairs of cleats for $3 each at Walmart. I bought the 3 different sizes they had because I know his feet will get bigger and he will still be playing baseball.

    I pay attention to what my friends’ kids are playing so I can buy their outgrown stuff. Sports are expensive but they are so wholesome!!

  • Kelly says:

    We signed my son up for soccer this spring and he is so excited! We are playing through AYSO and something I thought was really neat was during registration there was a table with cleats, socks, shinguards, and shorts that other parents brought in and were giving away. It helped us out tremedously!

    Also, we saved up our change to pay for the cost of fess and the jersey. My son knew what we were saving toward and it helped incoroprate him into the saving process.

  • Megan says:

    We <3 the Y! Our daughter starter swimming lessons last year at age 3. Even though we don't have a yearly membership, the rate was about $50 for a 6-week round of lessons.

  • Melissa says:

    Great advice! Also, don’t forget the power of bartering.

    My 6 year old wants to be involved in everything! He has taken tap dance for nearly 2 years now, so when I became a SAHM and our income dropped significantly I asked his dance teacher if she could work with me. We bartered, and now I get his monthly $50 dance fee waived in return for cleaning the studio one day a month for about 2 to 3 hours.

    • Sarah says:

      Yes. Can you trade violin lessons for piano? What other resources might you have that the teacher or coach might want?

      • Cathy says:

        Yes, you can trade violin lessons for piano. I am doing that right now with another mom in my area. We are both former music teachers and met at a church we both visited one Wednesday (truly the Lord’s working). She was looking for a violin teacher for her daughter and I was looking for a piano lesson for my very young daughter. She is not only willing to trade lessons but she has worked with very young children before and has done wonderfully for my little girl.

    • Lea Stormhammer says:

      Our dance studio lets a certain number of people work desk shifts in return for reduced tuition. This means the studio doesn’t have to pay someone to work the desk during that 1 1/2 hour shift and the parent/person paying gets reduced tuition.

      Our son also gets 1/2 price tuition as a boy – they have few boys so it’s an incentive to parents to sign their child up!

      Check out consignment shops for sports/music/dance gear too – I got brand new tights and a lightly used leotard for my daugther for only a couple of dollars. A friend bought her son’s soccer cleats for about $10! Another friend bought a harp for about 1/8 the retail cost.


  • Danielle says:

    My co-worker is a part-time instructor at a karate school. Read your contract carefully! Her school requires that all equipment (shin guards, helmet, etc) MUST be purchased through the school, or the child will not be allowed to participate. Just something to double check when picking a program for your child 🙂

  • Catherine says:

    This might sound weird and be sort of off topic but. . .
    Does anyone know what sports/activities might be acceptable for girls who dress modestly? (i.e. covered neck to knees, skirts or dresses only, no pants)
    I’ve really been racking my brain on this one. I was thinking maybe swimming if a more modest suit would be allowed, or ballet if a skirt could be worn over the leotard? Has anyone had any experience with this sort of thing?

    • Lynn says:

      My daughter takes ballet, but we do it at our local cultural arts center – not only is it less expensive but the classes run in 8 week sessions. She is only 5 so she is finding what she really likes and isn’t ready for the discipline of a dance program with a recital, etc. I only mention that because in her class they pretty much all wear some sort of skirt over their leotards (I think that’s the part they like actually, they feel like princesses!) but lots of girls also wear leggings or sweats, just so that they can move in whatever they wear.

      Also, what about soccer? My daughter loves soccer – I think that will be her sport. She plays at our local Y and they wear a t-shirt and shorts. Between the shorts and the shin guards, there pretty much isn’t anything showing. I don’t see why your daughter couldn’t wear a skirt although I would so skorts or shorts underneath in case of a fall or wind so her skirt isn’t up!

    • Tina says:

      My girls’ Upward cheerleading is very modest. Their skirts go to their knees (buy a size bigger so it’s longer, they are drawstring so you can cinch up the waist). They wear turtlenecks under their tops. The cheers (at least in the program we go through) are 99% arm only – there is one cheer that they stomp their feet – but no hips or kicks or anything like that.

      The Upward basketball teams only require that you use their jerseys – you don’t have to use their shorts. So you could wear something under the jersey to make it more modest and wear a skirt as the bottom (knee-length would obviously make it easier to run than ankle-length). I’m sure the other Upward programs are similar but those are the two I have children in so that’s all I can vouch for 😉

    • Christina Albea says:

      With our Upward basketball program with have 2 girls who only wear skirts in basketball league. Their mom orders two pairs of the shorts a size larger than the girls need and deconstructs them since they are two-sided (basically two pairs loosely stitched together to make them reversible). She takes the deconstructed shorts and makes long reversible skirts from them and just for safe measure has the girls wear a shorter pair of gym shorts under them in case they slip and fall on the floor and the skirts ride up.

    • Teresa says:

      We had the same problem with our daughter, but she has found music is more preferred then sports. We do take swimming at a local beach, and they let her wear a coverup suit and the boys can keep the shirts on. We have a local home school swim club, but it cost twice as much and does not work with our schedule.
      She still play ball in the back yard with dad and brothers, but wears long knee length skorts when she does that and bike rides.

      • Lea Stormhammer says:

        I read somewhere about some cities having special soccer leagues for those who dress modestly (long skirts in particular). They have slip on tunic-style jerseys that fit over modest closthes.

        The team featured in the article even showed that the skirts didn’t hinder the playing as they won the tournament!

        Sorry I can’t remember the name of the city or league, but I think it’s a great idea!


    • Music is a great choice, as well as art classes, or sewing classes. A long dress is perfectly suited to all of these.

  • Rachel says:

    We let my two girls do activities during the summer. You only have to usually pay for June and July. It works out nice because they can try stuff and we do not have to pay for an entire year. They have April birthdays so we then ask grandparents to buy whatever is needed. This summer is swim lessons and gymnastics. One set of grandparents will buy swimming items and the other set will buy gymnastics clothes.
    We also have a soccer called hotshots were you pay only the days you come. So it works out really nice and you do not have to have any gear. (for 1 1/2 – 4 year olds)

  • Del says:

    The YMCA offers scholarships based on a family’s monthly income. This usually also makes class fees lower as well so it’s something to look into if you have a hard time affording extra activities.

    Ebay and second hand stores are great places to find used sports equipment. Don’t forget to ask others who have children just a little older than yours. I’ve gotten some cheap cleats this way.

  • Ask about scholarships!!!

    My daughter has had her (private) piano lesson scholarshiped for over 2 years now – her instructor knows people that want to pass on music to others – we still pay for the younger two girls, but every little bit helps! Her books were donated by the company that makes them, so we have no fees there either. Also, piano books (usually with the exception of a “theory” book, which is like a workbook) can be handed down, so this saved money too!

  • Our city recreational department offers soccer, basketball and other sports at a discount. Also, a lot of church’s have sports programs for young kids. Ask around in your community and check the bulletin board in your local library, they will often list community activities for kids.

  • Elise says:

    When my daughter wanted to try martial arts they wanted a long-term commitment. We explained that we weren’t sure she’d be interested long-term and were only interested if she could try it out for a shorter amount of time. They agreed, and our contract was always short-term with them (though she did stick with it for many years and eventually became a black belt!). So it never hurts to ask for a shorter contract.

  • Kristin says:

    My daughter love ballet and I am thrilled that we are able to provide the experience for her. Her teacher gives a discount (10%) for people who pay at the first lesson of the month so I ALWAYS make sure to pay then. I purchased one leotard and skirt. It has fit her now for over a year…although she’d gotten pretty tall this year and I think we’re about due for a new outfit :). As for the shoes, I bought the first pair and we’ve been lucky enough to be the recipient of hand-me-downs ever since! Eventually this won’t probably work out but at this age (5) their feet grow so fast no one has time to wear the shoes out! We moms now have a little group so we can pass down/share shoes and leotards. It’s very helpful for saving money.

    The other big expense is the recital costume. Our studio does one recital a year (which is much better than some that do as many as 4!) but the costume can be fairly expensive (depending on the year’s theme). This year it was $50 but I knew it was coming and saved up. We are planning to talk to the teacher about re-using some costumes next year so hopefully we can save some that way too.

    Finally, we have a rule in our house: one thing at a time. She would love piano lessons and karate but she chose ballet…this year. Maybe next year she’ll want to try something else!

  • Jennifer says:

    You can also steer your children into the less expensive sports that require little equipment, like soccer versus football or lacrosse.

    My daughter is in competitive gymnastics. we have the monthly tuition automatically charged to our credit card (we pay it off every month) and get a $5 per month discount. $60 for the year is nothing to sneeze at. We pay the yearly team fees in one lump sum to get a discount. We are all over used leo sales and get nice leos for $10 versus $50 new. When my younger dd wanted to try gymnastics too I opted not to send her to where my older dd goes because the beginning class was TWICE as much as a different gym an equal distance from my house. Now that she loves it too and is moving up quickly as well, I will probably move her over this summer. But by starting her where I did I will save at least $500 this year.

    We paid for the entire 4 seasons of soccer for my son and got a $40 discount this year. We also got a sibling discount as well for 2 of my other kids. Kids activities are expensive, but well worth it in my opinion.

  • Becky says:

    We’ve found some kids activities listed in our local Timebank such as swimming, karate, various art programs, music lessons. We can “hire” someone with our earned time dollars (that you earn when you use your time to help others). If you have a timebank in your area, I encourage you to check it out.

  • Heidi says:

    We asked our daughter’s piano instructor if there was a student who would be willing to sell their old piano books to us. We ended up getting free books from an older student who is an only child. Now, both my children use the books at no cost to us! And it doesn’t violate any copyright laws becasue we aren’t reproducing the book.

  • Anne says:

    Where I live the county offers free sports programs for younger children. You sign up at your local town hall. We have soccer, baseball and softball. these are for children up to 16. They suggest the equipement that the kids like to have but they provide all the basics. ie bats, balls and helments. Most of the coaches try to get a business to sponser the team and that covers the uniform top. Baseball and Softball the only thing I needed to buy was gloves ( makes a great easter gift). We buy cleats for our older girls but our 8 year old just had sneakers last year and was just fine. Now that the older girls are playing school sports we tend to buy better equipment but when they were just starting out we went to play it again sports ( they sell both new and used equipement ) and traded in what didn’t fit for something that did. Great place and the staff is very helpfull. Our town also does arts and crafts during the summer. I think there is a small fee to cover materials for that though. The school offers a free summer swim program to.

  • Kari says:

    We have four sons…extra activitites can get expensive quickly.

    One thing we do is ask the grandparents to help pay for extra activities (drum lessons, guitar lessons, football, etc) instead of going overboard on birthday/Christmas presents that they may play with for a week and then forget about.

    It’s been an awesome way for the boys to learn a skill or participate in something they love that lasts a lot longer than a lego set….and takes up a lot less clutter too. 🙂

  • Maria says:

    My daughter is in ballet, and we put ballet shoes and leotards on her “birthday list”. I’ve also used Payless Shoe’s BOGO to get two pairs of ballet shoes, one to grow into and one for now. When she outgrew her leotard, I went looking at Target, where it was $16 for one! I found a lot of four (used) leotards on ebay, for the same price after shipping.
    She was taking lessons through a community center in our city, but I found out that lessons at a community center in another city nearby was half the price, with a better teacher. It’s worth the ten minutes of extra driving!

  • Amy says:

    We ask for classes or memberships (such as the Zoo) for Christmas/Birthday/Anniversary gifts from grandparents instead of toys or other ‘stuff’. This has given our oldest two (4,2) several opportunties already to experience different sports, musical instruments, and even a preschool zoo class! We want them to try many different things to see which they enjoy best!

  • My parents have been able to cover the cost of piano lessons for my oldest child. However, they worked out a deal to have lessons only every other week with her teacher (who comes to the house, too!). The teacher has been willing to work with having lessons less often (most will not do that, though) and my daughter is still getting to learn to play. In addition, her teacher let her use books that I had already purchased (used) as her books, instead of having us buy all new books.

  • Katie says:

    My son plays lacrosse (which is uber expensive for equipment, as it’s sized), so once we made the investment, of course he grew and needed new stuff. Some other parents complained about the same thing, so we started our own lacrosse equipment exchange group – you bring your items, worn or new, and can exchange based on a pretty simple system for other equipment. If you want to “buy up” to better stuff than what you have, then you donate $10-30 depending on what it is to make the exchange.

    The extra money we make goes into an ING savings account and at the beginning of each new season, we use that money to offset team costs for players who have a hardship (the league lets us know how many kids need help, we let the league know how much money we have, and they apply it). In the end, it’s a win-win for everyone.

    You can make this work for any sport that uses equipment (and I am sure we’re not the only ones that do it) – it really is helpful, especially during the constant growth teen years!

  • tiffany says:

    I coached gymnastics and cheer for 8 years before my daughter was born. My facility was mid-sized (300-400 students depending on when the last Olympics where) and my employer constantly bartered with people their services for lessons (she was very generous with her bartering and got great deals on things she needed).

    She had people do her books, advertising, photographs, web design, tax services, tutoring for her children, coaching, house cleaning, etc. Basically anything that could make her life easier and take something off her plate she would barter for. I train coaches for one hour a week and my daughter takes a one hour class each week for free (it does not always have to be an even time trade).

    My point is don’t be afraid to ask small and mid-sized business owners if there something that you can take off their plate (hopefully you have a special skills in some area, even if it is you clean a toilet really well) in trade for classes/lessons.

    • Kim says:

      I would agree. My daughter is a competitive USAG Gymnast and has been a state champion for two years now. I have sat with a needle and thread repairing mats and the gym has applied my time to her account. God provides a way.

  • Christy says:

    I work out regularly at the Y so we get the discounted member costs for sports, which really aren’t bad. Santa only brings 3 gifts, like Jesus got 3 gifts. My son expressed an interest in playing soccer so one of his 3 gifts was a soccer ball, shin gaurds, and cash to play at the Y next season (cleats are optional at his age, so we are doing sneakers right now that we already have). We’ve also done swimming lessons there and Tumblebugs when he was younger which was like Little Gym or Rolie Polies but way cheaper. I agree with the providing experiences instead of stuff. When relatives give money for Christmas/birthday, it goes to things like swimming lessons, not more stuff!

  • Kerry says:

    You can buy and sell used or new sports equiptment at play it again sports.

  • Andrea Q says:

    If you’re a homeschooler, keep an eye out for classes offered by and for homeschoolers. A homeschooling mom in our area is offering a six-week beginners ballet class for all ages…no long-term commitment and no recital. She isn’t strict about clothing either, as long as the kids have ballet slippers. We get a significant discount for our homeschooling gymnastics class, too.

    We once bartered sewing lessons for piano lessons with another homeschooling family.

    • I was going to make the same comment (asking in the homeschool community and bartering), and then I saw yours!

      I teach dance during the day, which homeschooling families tend to prefer. (I know we did!) My pricing structure also has a discount for multiple students from the same family, as well as a refer-a-friend rebate. I also allow parents to observe every single class, not just once or twice a year on observation days. Those are extra factors that can help with making a decision.

  • robyn says:

    check out your local colleges or universities! we have a couple large universities in town and both have their “specialties.” my daughter just took a 3 month “hip-hop” dance class for the price one month at the studio would have cost. the other university offers a plethora of art and music programs!

  • Patrice says:

    IF your kid wants to participate in a seasonal sprot, be sure to check the stores at the end of the season. I always get my son’s baseball equipment SUPER cheap by buing it a year ahead and storing it until needed.

    For dance lessons, we always had a “sale box” in the lobby of the studio. When shoes were outgrown, you could put a price and phone # on them and drop them in the box for someone else to use.

  • jeannie says:

    With four children those activies do add up. We tried Upwards which is really a great program though it was a little expensive to us. Usually we take the classes through the Park and Rec in our town. Also my daughter does take ballet lessons but the studio discounts if you pay in advance and they resell the ballet shoes she outgrows for you and credit your account and you can buy used shoes too.

  • Amanda says:

    I have two young children ages 2 & 4. We asked God for an opportunity to have an extra means of cash so we could get our children involved in activities outside of home and church.

    One month after believing God for this opportunity, a friend contacted me about teaching gymnastics at a local church. When I called the director, I asked her if I would be able to work in exchange for my kids to attend 1 class each for free. Since God is so good, she told me I would get paid the entry teacher rate AND my kids automatically attend free. Such a blessing!

    If you have skills in extra-curricular type areas, see if you can bargain for some freebie classes.

  • Flamingo says:

    What a timely post! I was just starting to feel the stress start today as I realize that my youngest 2 of 4 kiddos will be turning 5 soon. We made the “rule”that they can’t start an activity until they are 5. It is really to keep my sanity.
    However, it is so expensive for 4 kiddos to even do just 1 activity each. I am very frugal.I have never paid more than $1 for soccer cleats, but still things are expensive.
    I realized that I just need to pray about this…because so many of the commenters are right! Godwill provide a way for the activities that he wants your child to do!

  • Alison says:

    My daughter plays competitive soccer and has done for several years, it gets to be very expensive. Not only do we pay club fees but we have to buy uniforms, cleats, balls, shinguards and of course there are tournament fees, hotel rooms and lots of gas money. This past year after reading moneysaving blogs and trying to budget I noticed on one of the registration forms they mentioned something about sponsors, after asking what exactly that meant I discovered I could get businesses to sponsor my daughters club fees. I found 3 local businesses willing to sponsor her and saved myself the $1500 club fees!! I’d never actually asked anyone for money before but I took my daughter with me, found out who to contact and we sent out emails with a short resume. As a thank you to each company we framed a team picture for the local business office of each sponsor and made sure everyone could see they were the “proud sponsors” of said team, thanks to Walgreens the pictures cost next to nothing 🙂

  • Katie says:

    I wanted to add that we are very lucky that our dance studio also has setup a used dance equipment buy/exchange. You can bring your old dance shoes/costumes/etc and trade them in for new to you items. So make sure to check with the place where your activity is, as they may have set something up. Or even see if you can work with them to help set it up.

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