Eight tips to cut the cost of your child's after-school activities

Plan ahead, budget wisely and explore lower-priced options to support your children's interests in a financially responsible way, experts say

Enrolling children in extracurricular activities to expand their horizons can be expensive. Unsplash
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Karolina Slowikowska-Jaworowska, a Dubai-based communications professional, has enrolled her 12-year-old daughter in tennis and French classes after school.

The grade eight student plays tennis three times a week and learns French once a week, and her mother spends 15 per cent of her monthly salary on her daughter’s after-school activities.

“Kids are expensive. A lot of families aren’t eligible for a school allowance, so this adds to the costs,” the Polish national says.

“Also, schools here have more holidays and as working parents, we have to keep our kids occupied and therefore put them in camps.

“You must also account for the transport costs to these centres. My daughter always goes to a camp where she can take her bike or walk. A sports camp costs between Dh800 and Dh900 per week.”

However, it’s worth paying more than average to get quality service, she adds.

While parents are enrolling their children in extracurricular activities such as sports and arts to expand their horizons, it can be expensive and financial experts warn they must be realistic about their budgets.

The vast landscape of opportunities doesn’t obligate parents to stretch their resources thin, according to Ben Bolger, a financial planner in Abu Dhabi and co-founder of Squirrel Education, a digital learning platform that pioneers financial literacy solutions for children aged between five and 18.

It’s crucial to recognise that if your child is not participating in every available activity, you are not a failure as a parent and it isn't detrimental to their development, he says.

Parents whose children do extracurricular activities spend an annual average of $731 (Dh2,285) per child, according to a 2023 survey of 2,000 US consumers by online lending marketplace LendingTree.

Six in 10 parents said they’ve been stressed about paying for these activities. To help cover the costs, 42 per cent of parents polled said they had taken on debt, while 47 per cent agreed that their children’s after-school activities are somewhat of a financial strain, the survey found.

Sumit Augustine, a marketing and PR professional in Dubai, usually sets aside Dh1,000 to Dh2,000 a year for her seven-year-old son’s extracurricular activities.

Joshua, who is in grade one, currently attends an online piano class once a week, for which his mum pays Dh250 for eight classes.

“I've been looking to enrol him for football classes as well. These classes are not provided by the school. You have to shell out extra for them,” she says.

“I look out for coaching centres in Bur Dubai or Karama because their services are cheaper compared with places on Palm Jumeirah, where I stay.”

Coaching centres in Karama or Bur Dubai offer football lessons for about Dh800 for 10 to 12 sessions, she says.

“Since he is so young, I send him to these classes just to burn off his energy. I won't invest a lot in extracurricular activities now until he realises what he is passionate about at a later age,” Ms Augustine adds.

Similarly, Rishabh Khanna, the Dubai-based founder of teacher education platform Suraasa, spends almost Dh5,000 a month on after-school clubs for his two daughters, aged six and eight.

The girls attend three after-school activities – gym, maths classes and art/music classes – on a weekly basis and it costs between Dh800 and Dh1,000 per child per activity.

“This accounts for 15 per cent of my monthly household budget,” Mr Khanna says.

We asked finance experts to compile practical tips to help parents manage after-school expenses efficiently, without straining the family budget.

1. Prioritise activities

Identify your child's interests and prioritise activities that reflect their passions, advises Carol Glynn, founder of Conscious Finance Coaching.

This ensures that you're investing in something they truly enjoy and are more likely to continue with, she says.

Periodically review your child's interests and the associated costs. Adjust your budget and activities to ensure you're investing in what matters most to your child at any given time, Ms Glynn adds.

“It's a common misconception that more activities equate to better development. In reality, focusing on one or two activities allows children to deeply engage and develop skills in those areas,” Mr Bolger says.

“Have a discussion with your child about what they are most passionate about and make a joint decision on what activities to pursue, ensuring a balance between their interests and what is financially feasible.”

2. Proactive planning

Children often take a break from these activities during the summer months, which can help to ease the financial pressure.

Parents could use this time to save for the upcoming year as August and September can be a financially heavy time due to school fees, the cost of uniforms and other supplies, as well as after-school activity expenses, Ms Glynn says.

Mr Bolger suggests parents take time to research the costs involved before the start of each school year or activity season.

“This might include enrolment fees, equipment, kit and any associated travel expenses. By having a clear picture of these costs upfront, you can avoid unexpected financial strains later on,” he says.

“This approach allows you to assess which activities are within your budget and gives you time to save or look for financial assistance if needed.”

The vast landscape of opportunities doesn’t obligate parents to stretch their resources thin
Ben Bolger, financial planner and co-founder of Squirrel Education

3. Invest time to research cost-effective options

Look for flyers from community centres, local non-profit clubs and government-sponsored programmes that offer affordable or subsidised activities, Ms Glynn says.

Ask friends for recommendations of clubs or activities they are using. These options often provide quality experiences without breaking the bank, she adds.

“Look out for free or low-cost activities like extracurricular activities hosted by your school. Encourage your child to participate in school-based clubs or free community events. This not only saves money but also creates a sense of community involvement,” she suggests.

“Also, sometimes there are ways to find activities online with providers from other countries that offer them at a lower cost.”

4. Integrate extracurricular costs into your family budget

Treat these costs as you would any other recurring expense, like utility bills or your weekly food shop, Mr Bolger says.

By allocating a specific portion of your budget to extracurricular activities, you ensure that these expenses are accounted for and don't come at the expense of other financial obligations, he suggests.

“Allocate a specific budget for each extracurricular activity. This helps in avoiding overspending and allows you to plan for multiple activities throughout the year,” according to Ms Glynn.

“Also create a sinking fund for periodic payments such as fees paid by term. This way you won’t feel such a big hit to your cash flow when term fees are due, especially when you are paying for multiple activities.”

Involve your child in discussions about the budget for their activities. This helps them understand the value of money and encourages responsible decision-making, she suggests.

5. Seek trial sessions before committing

Before enrolling in a full term or season of an activity, ask for trial sessions.

Many programmes offer introductory classes at reduced rates or even free, Mr Bolger says.

These trials are invaluable as they allow your child to gauge their interest in the activity without the commitment of a full-term fee, he adds.

6. Ask for sibling discounts and packages

Many activity providers offer discounts for early registration or package deals for multiple sessions or if you are signing up more than one child, Ms Glynn says.

“If your child is partaking in the activity more than once a week, many providers will offer a discount on the second session,” she says.

“I have found too often they don’t volunteer this information on discounts, so don’t be afraid to ask!”

7. Opt for second-hand equipment

Consider buying second-hand equipment and kits. Children outgrow or lose interest in activities quickly, and many parents sell barely-used gear at a fraction of the original cost, Mr Bolger says.

Online marketplaces, local community boards and second-hand stores can be great resources for finding quality equipment at a more affordable price.

“Sometimes it’s possible to share costs with other parents. This can include transportation, equipment or even hiring a group tutor, making it more cost-effective for everyone,” Ms Glynn says.

“If the activity requires equipment, the UAE has a thriving second-hand market and so look out for second-hand equipment.”

8. Utilise special occasion funds for activities

Mr Bolger suggests utilising money received by your children for birthdays, religious celebrations, or national holidays to fund extracurricular activities.

Often, the cost of unused toys or quickly forgotten gifts could cover a significant portion of activity fees, he says.

“Encouraging relatives to contribute to your child's activity fund instead of traditional gifts can be a practical approach to managing these expenses, while also teaching your child about the value of experiences over material possessions,” he adds.

Updated: January 25, 2024, 5:00 AM