The Best Kids' Activities for Your Buck

The Best Kids' Activities for Your Buck

There's lots to love about extracurricular activities.

Studies show that kids who attend after-school programs are more engaged in class—and less likely to skip school or start drinking. Older students who participate in after-school activities are likelier to attend college.

In fact, the only downside of extracurricular programs may be the tax they take on your wallet. Paying for a bunch of different classes, and all the extras that go along with them, can cost a lot. Which is why we're here to help you figure out how many activities—and which ones—best fit your budget.

A Rainbow of Potential Enrichment

Extracurricular activities can range from basic after-school programs at the Y to specialty enrichment classes (think: figure skating or basic Mandarin). Then there's the universe of school sports and clubs, which tend to be easier on the wallet—plus, if the activity takes place at the school, you won't need to chauffeur as much ... an added perk.

How Do You Budget for Family Fun?

What are your tricks for saving up money for fun activities for the family? Do you budget for your child's extracirriculars?

We recommend limiting your child's involvement to two activities per season, or else you'll be stretching your budget, your time and your kid's patience. If their hearts are set on many different activities, set a trial period of one season or three months to see if they stick with it. After that, assess their enthusiasm before deciding whether to keep paying.

Breaking Down the Costs

To help you assess what all this enrichment will set you back, we made a chart with the relative costs of kids' favorite activities. Use it as a baseline to figure out what your budget will allow.

To get a sense of price and how that varies by city, we spoke to community centers like the YMCA and JCC in Seattle and New York City. Depending on where you live, what kind of program it is and your child's skill level, prices may vary.

Our estimated cost for the required gear assumes you'll shop around and start with lower-end items in the beginning (like purchasing a used violin, or renting, before shelling out for a Stradivarius) and is intended to give you an idea of relative starting costs.

Here's your easy cheat sheet breaking down the cost of their extracurriculars:

Activity Price Gear Parental Commitment
Swimming Lessons $12-66/hour Bathing suit, goggles, towel; $29 total Sometimes free if affiliated with school; parents or caretaker may need to stay for lesson
Gymnastics  $10-44/hour Gym clothes or leotard; $13 total Not often affiliated with schools; will require chauffeuring
Basketball Team  $13-44/hour Gym clothes and athletic shoes; $30 total Common after-school program; chauffeuring and attendance at games
Dance Lessons  $13-48/hour Dance clothes and shoes; $38 total Not often affiliated with school; will require chauffeuring and recital attendance
Soccer Team  $13-44/hour Gym clothes, indoor soccer shoes or cleats, shin guards; $40 total Common after-school program; chauffeuring and attendance at games
Baseball/Softball Team $8-33/hour Glove/mitt, gym clothes, cleats if playing outdoors; $50 total Common after-school program; chauffeuring and attendance at games
Art Classes $13-48/hour None if a school course; outside classes may charge a fee, or request you buy supplies Often an after-school program, unless very specialized art form; usually no time commitment required
Music Lessons $13-50/hour If not provided by the school, cost of the instrument (used violins start at $45, flutes at $90, used upright pianos at a few hundred), or you can rent. Because it's not a team sport, scheduling is flexible, sometimes affiliated with school; recitals every few months
Theater $11-13/hour None Often affiliated with school; may require attendance at performances
Foreign Language Lessons $12-41/hour Notebook and pen, any books not covered by fee; $7-50 total Often taught at school; outside classes offer flexible scheduling
Girl/Boy Scouts $12-60/year in dues Uniform, $10-75; optional patches, accessories and guidebook, $6-25 Not affiliated with school. Chauffeuring required, and you're encouraged but not required to volunteer your time

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