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How to make your kids' extracurricular activities more affordable

Thursday, March 14, 2013

If you have kids, you don't need us to tell you they're expensive. Then factor in all the money you spend for extracurricular activities.

Parents are paying more than ever for their kids to be part of the club, so to speak. So why is that? And what can you do to make all the extras more affordable?

A spot in the high school marching band: $1,000 a year. Specialized clinics to earn a pitching title: $90 a class. Aspiring to land a spot on Dancing With the Stars: $94 just for the costume worn once.

While the memories may be priceless, the amount you pay to play isn't. Just ask Karen LaFlamme.

"For Chantal's swimming, it cost approximately $4,000 a year," said LaFlamme.

For her son Andre: $3,700 to hit the baseball diamond using a new $300 bat. There's also traveling expenses, gate fees and hotel bills. Experts say some parents are now shelling out up to $1,000 a month, and that's just for one child and one sport. Why such a high price to play?

"There is constantly more demand than facilities available and therefore drives the price of facility use up and secondarily insurance provided by the youth sports program," said Jon Butler with Pop Warner.

Butler says 40 percent of families participating in extracurriculars don't have medical insurance, forcing the organizations to provide coverage. Another factor driving up costs is the elite level of coaching and play demanded by parents who are more competitive than ever.

"I think there is a whole societal issue now of parents who have grown up and are successful and want nothing but the best for their child," Butler said. "I know kids and have friends that have kids who travel all over the U.S. to play."

It's no longer just volunteers doing the coaching, either. Highly paid assistants are brought in to help out.

"There's an increased professionalism," said Butler.

There's also an increase in pricey high-tech gear. Trainers prefer $300 bats to the $20 models. And coaches say $40 swimsuits don't compare to the $250 version.

But experts say don't invest until you know your child hits that elite level and loves the sport. Buy used equipment at thrift stores and franchise outlets. Ask about scholarships. And try community-based programs for new sports for your child.

LaFlamme's kids love their sport, and although she doesn't like the hit her bank account is taking, she sees the benefits of her kids participating.

"I want both my kids to be well-rounded and you know I think sports play an important part of that," she said.

Here's another money saving tip: ask about sibling discounts. Most programs offer them. And if your child is involved in a community-based program, the uniform is more than likely included in the registration cost. Parents usually have to pay extra for a pair of athletic shoes.
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