Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Back to School, Back to Extra-Curriculars #TDStartSaving

As we approach the coming of fall, many of us are beginning to plan for the school year and all the fun that entails. Shopping for the first day outfit, the new backpack, the "indoor" shoes, and picking out the selection of clubs, teams and lessons that will fill the non-school hours for our kids.

Do your kids participate in after school or weekend programs? We've insisted on swimming lessons for the boys, and have tried various activities over the years with each of them. Our rule has generally been swim lessons, plus one other activity at most during the school year, and then in the summer they can enrol in a sports program if they like. Boo has chosen to continue with swimming, because he loves the water, and both boys got hooked on karate. We try to keep the extra-curriculars limited, and stick to things they love, both to reduce stress in our lives, and to reduce costs. One fall Boo did karate, swimming, and guitar lessons. I thought I was going to lose my mind, and he was exhausted.

A photo posted by Deb Coombs (@raisingmyboys) on

The planning can be a little overwhelming. Deciding which program will be the best fit, getting a spot in your top choices, and even, maybe expecially, finding the money to pay for them all. A recent survey by TD found that 40% of Canadian parents with children under 18 spend $1,000 or more on extracurricular activities per child during the school year, and 51% find budgeting for these activities stressful. Half of Canadian parents surveyed say they limit the number of, or don’t sign their kids up for, extracurricular activities due to cost. And looking at our bills, that makes sense to me.

So what can you do? Well, you can actually decide to not sign your kids up for extra-curriculars, and that's ok too. So many kids are over-scheduled these days, with so little down time to relax and recharge. Kids need unstructured play time as well for proper development. I would add to that, if your child is not interested in signing up for extra-curriculars, that's ok too. There's no need to push the issue. Honest - they'll be ok without the dance lessons or early morning hockey practice.

But if you and your child are into the idea, check out the following advice for finding affordable extracurricular activities, offered by TD.

Tips for affording extracurricular activities
from Shirley Malloy, AVP of Everyday Banking at TD:

  • Avoid costly surprises: Before signing up your child for an extracurricular activity, think beyond the cost of the class itself. Sometimes it’s the incidental fees related to that class or league – such as the purchase of equipment or an instrument, or accommodations for weekend tournaments – that breaks the bank. Be sure to thoroughly research the class and ask instructors or coaches about all of the materials needed and any extra costs before signing up. 
  • Create a budget and stick to it: Before the school year starts, create a budget for all the annual expenses you can think of related to that extracurricular activity, plus five to 10 per cent extra to cover potential surprises like the end-of-season framed team photo or a championship sweatshirt. Online budgeting tools can help you determine how much you’ll be spending monthly and ensure you stay on track. Saving a little each month and putting it into your savings account or TFSA can also help offset extracurricular expenses. Also, consider having your child sit down with you as you plan for these costs as it’s a great way to teach them about the importance of budgeting and saving. And, it’s never too early to learn about responsible money management, so even if it’s very little, have your child contribute to the cost of their activity.
  • Shop around for discounts: You can find bargains on used equipment and gear (and instruments, too) at yard sales or consignment stores, through friends and neighbours, or even online. Considering that kids will most likely outgrow equipment and gear quickly, there are plenty of gently used items available. Look for opportunities to also save on the activity, through group buying options or online deals. 
  • Don’t invest too much off the bat: If your child is young or starting an extracurricular activity for the first time, consider signing them up for classes offered through the city’s parks and recreation department, as they can be less costly than going the private route. Or, ask if you can try out activities before you commit or negotiate a trial to see if the program is a fit for your child. As younger children are still discovering what interests them most, you may not want to invest too much in one activity at this young age. 
  • File your receipts: Keep a record of all your child’s extracurricular activity costs and payments. Some fitness and art classes could be tax deductible on your 2016 tax return. Receipts also act as a good reminder of what items you paid for this year when it comes time to plan for the next time around.
  • Think return on enjoyment: Remember that at the end of the day you are paying for these extracurricular activities and experiences, so they should be providing your child with a return on enjoyment. Each month, sit down with your child and evaluate what they are learning through the class, if they are having fun, what they like about it and what they don’t like about it. Use this information as a guide to when you are choosing next season’s activities, and don’t feel tied to that one activity.
His favourite part of soccer was actually the treats they got afterwards.
Soccer didn't last.
Another piece of advice I'd add - ask around. I have a friend who has a real knack for finding free programs that her son loves. While you're chatting with the other parents at school drop off or pick up, ask for their advice. What great, local programs have they found that won't break the bank? You may be surprised at the hidden gems that are out there!

Parenting coach, Terry Carson, has great advice around choosing activities for your child that will be the right fit. She says to be sure to talk to your child and find out what interests them, rather than blindly signing them up for the same programs their friends are doing. And don't put them in piano just because you loved it. Maybe they'd prefer guitar, or computers, or who knows what else! It's important to try new things, but let them take the lead. But if they choose and then change their mind part way through the season, Terry advises against letting them drop out. Obviously, if they are truly miserable, that's different - use your common sense here. But if they are just bored or want something different, hold them accountable - they made the choice and you paid the bill. They can learn about responsible commitment by seeing the program through to its end, knowing they don't ever have to go back again.

Finally, Terry points out that extra-curriculars help prepare children for adulthood in a variety of ways, such as:
  • Music exercises both the right and left side of the brain, which helps kids become better multitaskers. 
  • Scouts or guides are great for learning to get along in social settings as well as working towards achieving goals. 
  • Competitive sports help kids promote physical fitness along with team development skills. 
  • Drama helps kids sharpen their memory and improve concentration. 
  • Debating is great for improving one’s reasoning and intellectual abilities, while still being part of a team. 
  • Running, a terrific solo sport for all kids including those with ADD or ADHD, helps kids stay focused on self-made goals and accomplishments while keeping an eye on their own personal best results. 
  • Swimming or diving are also great solo sports that help kids focus and are ideal activities for kids with ADD and ADHD.
 What do you think? Do your kids participate in after school or weekend programs during the school year? What are their favourites?

Disclosure: This post is brought to you by TD. All opinions on this blog, as always, remain my own.

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