12 Ways to Keep Your Kids Busy Without Breaking the Bank

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 We have 3 children and all of them have played sports and participated in extra curricular activities. My husband has coached, I have been “team mom” and we have spent many hours and some money along the way for our childrens activities and we wouldn’t trade a minute of any of it!

My daughter now coaches, umpires and is going to college for Sports Management. My husband also umpires and still coaches when he can. We only have one son that is still in high school and he is in the band, so fall is spent at football games with him  and at band concerts with him in the spring. Softball, baseball and field hockey are now are spectator sports that we still enjoy watching other children compete and grow. Sports is a big part of our family and it has helped shape our children into the fine young adults they have become.

I am excited to bring you this guest post, by Janis at Sports Parenting. Be sure to read her bio at the end and visit her blog.

12 Ways to Keep Your Kids Busy Without Blowing Your Budget

When we contemplated how many kids we would have, people warned us they were expensive.

We envisioned diapers, baby equipment, clothes, food, doctor visits, even college; but we did not realize until they were in school that there was yet another cost we had not anticipated.

The cost of keeping them busy.

Not to say that we must entertain our kids every minute. Heck no. But as they get older, their attention span gets more and more sophisticated.

At that point, you can either focus on generating your own activities to keep them busy, or you can get outside help: sports, music, clubs, drama, dance, karate, art—the list is endless.

The trouble is, outside help gets pricey, especially when you have more than one child. From soccer and gymnastics to piano and dance lessons, extracurricular activities can cost a bundle, putting them out of reach for many families.

“Activities for us are the big expense,” says the mom of  2, ages 10 & 13. “We spend $650/month for music, sports and dance, plus additional money for recitals and instruments. We just spent $3,000 on a violin.”

Ouch. Isn’t there a way to grow and challenge our kids without going broke?

Obviously, if your child is an outstanding athlete with D-1 potential or a musical child prodigy, the following ideas won’t work. But if your kids are just starting an activity or are only in it for the fun and exercise, there are ways to keep them involved without blowing your budget.

1. Find experts. Keep on the lookout for talented piano players, swimmers, dancers, athletes—even high school or college kids—who would be willing to give free or cheap lessons.

2. Trade Services. Does your friend give ballet lessons? Is there something you could give her in return for free lessons? Babysitting or housecleaning or tutoring?

3. Choose cheaper options. Club sports teams and elite musical or dancing program are costly and should be avoided until you feel your child is getting serious about his interest. When I say serious, I mean I-plan-to-participate-in-high-school-and-I-want-to-continue-in-college serious. Until they are that serious, there are other options: city leagues; school sports teams, musical lessons, theatre classes, and language classes; YMCA; and church choirs.

4. Enroll in local camps. The cost of summer camps can be ridiculous, but if you look hard enough, you can find less expensive options. Call area schools, junior colleges, city parks, and see if they are putting on summer camps.

5. Ask for scholarships/financial aid. Some dance schools, art schools, sports teams, and music schools offer scholarships and financial aid for students. Some of it is need based and some is based on talent, but if you’re strapped for cash it can’t hurt to apply for anything your child qualifies for.

6. Opt for group lessons. Kids like to do things with their friends anyway.

7. Cut back on lessons. From 2-3 times a week to one. Encourage your child to do more individual practice.

8. Find computer lessons. If your child is into language, music or even art, there are tons of software and online options available.

9. Try CDs, books and DVDs. This is no substitute for long-term instruction from a pro, but your child can learn basic chords, musical techniques, art techniques, languages, and even sports drills or workouts.

10. Volunteer. Many times, parents can volunteer to cut down on costs. Ask your child’s coach if you can trade time for costs. Some teams will give a break to parents who sell products or work at games. Ask local camps if you can work at the camp for a week so you child can go free.

11. Save on equipment. Whether it’s buying second hand, online, at garage sales, or trading, you can find inexpensive sports or musical equipment. Also, check out freecycle.org for free stuff in your area.

12. Say no. I hate this option. But sometimes it’s the only one.

My older brother gave me some very wise counsel when my kids were little and my husband and I were trying to decide when and where to spend money on their activities.

“Invest in what you want them to become,” he said. “Spend your money on things that will put them on the path to becoming the type of person you want them to be.”

Following that advice won’t make the choices cheaper, but it will give direction to the money you spend on keeping them busy. Look for ways to invest in their character as well as in their skills!
Janis Meredith writes a youth sports blog for sports parents. As a coach’s wife for 28 years and mother of three athletes, she sees youth sports from both sides of the bench and stresses character building in sports. Check out her sports parenting blog at Jbmthinks.

About the Author

Michele is a Preschool teacher by day and blogger by night. She is passionate about saving money and sharing with others who like to save, too. Her motto is "Saving today so you can spend on what you need tomorrow."


  1. Just stopping by to follow you from the blog hop. Hope you'll come visit me, too! http://hisperfectpromises.blogspot.com/

  2. Hi there! 🙂 I really like your blog and am awarding you The Versatile Blogger Award. You can read more about it here: http://thekidisrich.blogspot.com/2011/04/versatile-blogger-award.html



  3. Great post. I hate the just say no thing too, but as amother of 9, it has to happen sometimes! Loved jbmthinks too! Please visit us at http://9kidfitness.com!

  4. I agree with what your brother says with investing with what you want them to be good at. Mostly will be correlated with what you are good at or interested in. I will be investing into baseball and football for my kids. I will even be able to hand down a few pieces of equipment to them as well to save on money.

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