The price of sending your child to an after-school program can add up in the blink of an eye. You want to give your child as many opportunities as possible to grow and develop their interests and skills without digging into your savings or jeopardizing your retirement. It may seem like these days nothing comes for free, but with a little ingenuity, at least you may come close.
Consider starting off by setting a budget for each school season. For example, consider letting your child choose one after-school sport, one academic club and/or one instrument. Help them to diversify their interests without going overboard. This can help them to focus not only on their studies but also to gain the most value out of each activity without burning out--not to mention burning a larger hole in your wallet.
Think about cutting down on costs for each activity by first searching for a school-sponsored activity. The cheapest way to curb unnecessary expenses for after-school activities may be for your child to join the school's soccer team, debate club or band/orchestra. Although there are costs associated with any school-related activity for uniforms or gear, it's the most economical way to get your child involved. Many schools also have booster clubs that help shave off any extraneous expenses.
For budding musicians, it may be cheaper to lease an instrument rather than to buy one. Most local music stores have leasing programs where you can lease on a monthly basis. Instead of taking your child to private music lessons, try looking for small group lessons, which also could provide high-quality enrichment at a fraction of the price. To save on uniforms and equipment for your young athlete, you could buy used gear that's still in great shape. Especially if your child is trying out a new activity, it's no use investing money in something they may give up by season's end.
Aside from school programs, your local YMCA and Boys & Girls Clubs can also be great resources for those on a budget. They offer a wide variety of programs for toddlers and teenagers. This can be a convenient option if your children are several years apart. They all can benefit from the diversity of these programs, and, better yet, you may save on time and gas driving them to opposite ends of town.
A recent study by the Afterschool Alliance shows that more than 15 million school-age children (26%) are on their own after school. Only 15% participate in afterschool programs. Some studies show that teens who do not participate in afterschool programs are three times more likely to skip classes and to use drugs. Other studies show students who do participate in afterschool activities are 30% percent less likely to participate in criminal activity. Studies on participation in high-quality afterschool programs are also linked with major improvements in standardized test scores and fewer behavioral problems.
Perhaps the most useful after-school activities that won't cost you a cent are community service projects. These projects, which can range from volunteering at the local hospital to planting a community garden, are hands-on activities that build character and instill values. Exposing your kids to these real-world opportunities help them establish a resume for college applications and can pay off invaluable dividends in the long-run toward a balanced life.