Piano lessons, swimming, martial arts classes, sports teams… When your child reaches a certain age, you may become aware of all the activities their peers are involved in that aren't within your budget. Feelings of guilt are normal when you want to give your child every advantage in life but can't always afford to do so. You may begin to worry whether your child will be well-rounded, if they'll have enough opportunities to discover their talents, and if whether their college applications will lack the experience which make a student desirable to the best universities.
Slow down and take a deep breath! It's true, extracurricular activities cost money, and many of us aren't able to give our child every opportunity that we wish we could. But being on a budget doesn't mean your child has to totally miss out. Here are a few ways to ensure your child has plenty of opportunities to learn new skills, test their talents, and explore what just might become a lifelong passion.
Talk to the school's guidance counselor
Make an appointment with your child's school guidance counselor to discuss your options before you rule out an after-school activity. If you think you can't afford the cost of the activity, whether it be a musical instrument or sports team, the guidance counselor may be able to point you toward financial assistance programs or recommend other resources. If you think driving to and from the activity will put a strain on your gas budget, find out which of your child's friends will be enrolling and see if carpooling can be an option.
Pass on your own skills and talents
Do you realize how much money people pay for their children to learn a second language or enrolling them in dual immersion schools? If you or your spouse are already bilingual then pass it on! Your child will grow up having received one of the greatest gifts you can give, even if they don't necessarily appreciate it right now.
This goes for any talent or skill you already have—calligraphy, fine art, poetry-writing, woodworking, sewing, cooking, carpentry, ice skating, gardening, salsa dancing, you name it. When you start to really think about it, there are a lot of valuable things you're able to teach your child all on your own.
Recruit friends, neighbors or family members
Your son wants to learn guitar but you can't afford the lessons. Your daughter wants to learn piano but you don't even own one. Don't despair. Instead, think of all your friends, neighbors and family members who know how to play and might be willing to provide lessons. Maybe there's an elderly woman down the street with a dusty piano who would enjoy the company, or an uncle with an extra guitar laying around. It doesn't hurt to let people know your child is interested in learning and see what happens. You could even pool talents with acquaintances with children—the neighbor down the road who lives on a farm could give your child horseback riding lessons and you could give her child Spanish tutoring.
Make use of free programs
If you can't handle the financial commitment of your child joining a school sports team, look into cross-county teams that don't require as much of a financial or time investment. Some counties even offer free programs, such as martial arts or archery classes, over the summer. Check with your local YMCA and Boys and Girls Club; both organizations provide a wide range of classes and their fees are on a sliding scale according to your income level. The public library is another excellent source for activities. Talk to a librarian and keep an eye on their events calendar for everything from writing workshops to book clubs.
Check out online tutorials
Say your child wants to learn how to tap dance, or speak Japanese, or properly paint with watercolors. You can't afford lessons, you can't teach them, and don't know anyone else who can. Time to do a little online research and see what free tutorials you can find. You may be surprised by the knowledge people are willing to pass on for free and the quality of helpful videos you'll be able to find.
Every parent wants to give their child the very best. When you're on a budget, sometimes this means getting creative or jumping through hoops to make it happen. On occasion, we find that we aren't able to come through in the way we had hoped, but try not to view this as a personal failure. The love and care you provide will always be more valuable than anything else you are able to give your children.