finance

"I spend $350 a week": 4 parents share what their kids' activities really cost.

MyBudget
Thanks to our brand partner, MyBudget

They say children are like the broke best friends you love, who expect you to pay for everything – with very little idea of what it takes for you to fund their lifestyles.

Of course, we parents could, and do, say no to a lot of things, but when it comes to extra activities beyond their basic education, we want them to lead rich childhoods, packed with experiences, and so they can learn new skills… which, of course, comes at a cost. Especially right now, when we’re in the grips of forking out for school holiday activities.

So, we asked four parents to share exactly what they spend weekly on their children’s activities to get a picture of just how much it costs.

Emily, mum of a 10-year-old – about $350/week.

“With one child, I’m able to stretch the budget a little further. For years, my son did three to four activities a term.

“First, there’s school sport, which is no cost because it is included as part of the school fees. But each term he needs a new uniform, because of the different sports and also, he grows so quickly. So, a cricket outfit he’d wear in first term won’t fit him when cricket starts again in term four. I probably spent $800 a year on sports uniforms alone.

“My son’s also always played two instruments, which cost $1200 a term altogether.

“On top of that, he’ll do different things like art classes, or trampolining. He also did swimming lessons weekly for years.”

Tammy Barton Built A Business On Debt. Post continues after audio.

Chelsea, mum of a two and four-year-old – about $190/week.

“My engineer husband works full time, and apart from one day per week when I’m available to work casually as a school teacher, I’m at home with the kids full time.

“Every week we do the following:

  • Swimming lessons: $20 per child
  • Ready Steady Go: $20
  • Violin lesson: $46
  • Violin group lesson (every second week): $20
  • Violin hire: $10
  • Kindy gym: $15

“So all in all, an average of maybe $190 per week.”

Elsie, mum of four children – about $135/week.

“I have four kids, so we have to limit the activities.

“My eldest does Scouts, swimming lessons and art class – $50.

“My daughter does Cubs, swimming and art – $50.

“My six-year-old does Joeys and swimming – $25.

“My youngest does Little Kickers – $10.

“So that’s a total $135 a week for the family, and I think they do enough for that amount. It adds up quickly.”

Amelia, mum of an eight-year-old, five-year-old and newborn baby – about $50/week.

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“We’re a sole income family, and I’d love to be able to let my kids do more, but I can’t.

“My daughter does ballet, and we borrow all her gear for it, or buy it second-hand. My son does pre-school footy, and because it’s just an ‘introduction’ sort of thing, it luckily doesn’t cost that much.

“My daughter really wants to learn the piano, but I can’t work out how to do it in an affordable way. Maybe when I return to work after my maternity leave.”

So how can families better budget for their children’s activities?

We spoke to Tammy Barton, the founder of financial services company MyBudget, and mother of three, for expert advice.

1. If you’re struggling with a family household budget, what is the best way to tackle kids’ activity expenses?

Barton recommends familiarising yourself with your budget to “show you where you can make changes to free up funds.”

“One of the issues with kids’ sports and other activities is that the fees usually come as one big bill at the start of the season,” Barton continues.

“You can soften the impact of seasonal expenses by setting aside money regularly so that the savings are there when the bill arrives. I recommend opening a separate bank account and paying $20 or so into it from every pay.”

Barton also suggests payment plans when paying large membership fees.

“With membership or club fees, it’s usually possible to ask for a payment plan. For example, club basketball fees in Adelaide can cost $500-$750 a year, per player. Or you could ask the club for a payment plan of, say, $25 per week. Ideally, line it up with your pay cycle.”

2. What is the best way to talk to your children about the cost of their activities if you can’t afford everything they want?

“This is a great question because kids so often want to try or do everything – especially if their friends are doing it,” Barton says.

“They often don’t have a good appreciation for how much things cost. It’s actually a good opportunity to have a conversation with your child about your family budget and what’s affordable.”

Barton advises not to let parental guilt dictate your budget.

“Parents often feel guilty for saying no, especially when it comes to extracurricular activities, but I can tell you that kids benefit from having financial boundaries just like they benefit from having boundaries in general.

“For older kids, it’s about giving them choices: ‘If we spend money on this, we won’t be able to spend money on that. Which would you prefer?’”

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3. Is there a set percentage of income that parents should set aside for their children’s future and activities?

The short answer – no.

“It really comes down to your household budget, your other financial commitments and goals and what you can afford,” Barton says.

“One thing families do need to be mindful of is lifestyle inflation driven by their kids’ activities. I remember helping a MyBudget client whose two sons were into cycling. They bought a new car that could carry the boys’ bikes and equipment. Then they bought a bigger car that could carry more bikes and allow them to drive the boys and their friends.

“They were getting into deeper and deeper debt for their sons’ sport. Something that was supposed to be bringing them happiness was becoming a major source of stress.”

4. Do you recommend separate savings accounts for children’s education?

According to Barton, this is a must.

“The trouble with keeping all of your money in one account is that it’s impossible to see what funds are dedicated to future expenses, and what’s left over to spend.”

5. What is your best budgeting tip for helping to reduce the cost of activities for families?

“For my family, we have a ‘one sport at a time’ policy,” Barton reveals.

“That means that each child gets to select one sport per season. With three kids, covering three sets of practices and games, it’s as much about budgeting our time as it is about budgeting for the cost.”

6. From your experience with MyBudget customers, what’s the most common mistake families make when putting together a household budget?

Barton says she sees two common mistakes:

A short-range budget:

“The trouble with a short-range budget is that it doesn’t anticipate long-range expenses. What about your annual bills, such as car registration? Christmas? Annual dog vaccinations?

“For a budget to work, it needs to include all of your income and expenses over a 12-month period.”

Not factoring flexibility:

“Life isn’t static. To make your finances more flexible, create a savings safety net. It’s a pool of savings that you can fall back on for unexpected expenses.

“You can create a savings safety net by setting aside money from every pay or, with tax time just around the corner, you could use your tax refund.”

MyBudget

No matter what your goal is—to save money, tackle debt, stop living week-to-week, sort out your finances or simply free up time—MyBudget is here to help. Visit mybudget.com.au to find out more

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