Kids Don’t Have to Be Expensive: How to Save Money on Extracurricular Activities

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You can save money on extracurricular activities for your children without much effort. I share simple ways to entertain your kids that aren't expensive.

We’ve all either heard or read about how expensive children can be. Recent numbers tend to be around the $250,000 mark from birth to turning 18, and that doesn’t include the cost of college. Having three children, numbers like that make Mrs. Frugal Rules and I choke at times thinking about how it could all add up. When you start to throw the cost of extracurricular activities into the mix, it only gets worse.

But, I’ve got a secret for you…kids don’t have to be that expensive! I’m not delusional to think that it doesn’t cost a lot of money to raise a family, but we all have choices in life. We could certainly spend as much as we wanted on different things for the little Frugal Rules’ but we have priorities like saving for retirement, putting away money for college and many other things and thus are left to find creative ways to save money on extracurricular activities.

We also have an agenda behind saving money on activities for our children – we don’t want to overschedule them. I grew up playing four different sports. While I loved it, it left me little time just to be a kid. We don’t want that for the littlest members of the Frugal Rules home.

We also want to give them exposure to different things so as to help them learn what they enjoy so they can have as much of a well-rounded experience as possible. Just because I may love football, that doesn’t mean our sons will and thus we need to give them opportunity to find things they enjoy without pressuring them.

With that in mind, I thought this would be a great topic to look at for our Frugal Hack Fridays. So, if you’re looking for ways to save money on extracurricular activities for your children take a look at some of the things Mrs. Frugal Rules and I have done to keep our budget happy.

Ideas to Help You Save on Extracurricular Activities for Children


Volunteer. Mrs. Frugal Rules and I have done this, as did my parents. Volunteering is a great way to save money, especially when it comes to sports. If your child likes sports like soccer or volleyball you know how those costs can add up, and that’s not to mention the travel costs. You can volunteer to coach, officiate or provide administration for the team. Often times that will either significantly reduce the cost or get you a full scholarship. That’s also not to mention the time you get to spend with your child.

Find out what your community offers. About six months ago we were able to get the middle Frugal Rule involved in a community program here in Omaha called Sprouts. He absolutely loves it and best of all the program is free. The idea behind Sprouts is to offer free music education to children and they can start at either the age of 3 or 4 and can be done all the way through eighth grade.

*Related: Need to buy your child a cell phone? Read our guide on the best kids mobile phone plans that won’t break the budget.*

The program runs weekly throughout the year and he gets his own violin (did I mention it was free) PLUS the free lessons. You can’t beat that! Our youngest just turned 3 so we’ll be signing him up once registration opens. I know there are other community programs here in Omaha and if we have them in our little city then I can guarantee you they likely have them in yours. We have good friends who did the same thing with their children and got them to learn things like fencing for free.

Take them to the museum. Another great opportunity we have here in Omaha is the art museum has a program where you can bring your child in the first Saturday of each month for a number of different activities. Those might include hands on art activities to demonstrations involving learning more about art to music. Again, the best part of this is that it’s all free and if it’s available in my area I’m fairly confident it is in yours.

Teach them how to build something. This is not something we’ve done much of, mainly as I have two left hands when it comes to wood working, but is something we definitely plan on doing with our kids more. If you have a Home Depot or Lowe’s where you live they offer regular Saturday morning activities where they get to build something (think a picture frame around Valentine’s Day) and they get to keep it.

Not only does this allow you as a parent to work on a project with them, but they also get to learn how to work with their hands. If working with your hands isn’t a strong suit of yours, then you’ll likely learn something as well. Again, it’s all free!

You can save money on extracurricular activities for your children without much effort. Here are 4 simple ways to entertain your kids that aren't expensive.

There are only four ideas here, but it scratches the surface of possibilities for extracurricular activities for your kids that are budget friendly. Don’t miss the opportunity to teach your children about money, in this either. Unfortunately, we can’t have everything in life. It’s just not possible. But, that’s not to say at all that we can’t have things we enjoy. In fact we should have them. However, that also brings in the need to prioritize.

Involving your children, as appropriate, in the decision making of which interests to pursue should very much include considering the financial impact and the time impact so that you can take advantage of opportunities without overscheduling or overspending. If done wisely this can be a great way to provide a hands on approach to teaching children about money and something they’ll want to be a part of as it’ll mean they get to do something fun.


If you’re a parent, how do you save money on extracurricular activities? What do you do to protect against overscheduling? How did your parents help you discover new things without burning you out?




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John is the founder of Frugal Rules, a dad, husband and veteran of the financial services industry whose writing has been featured in Forbes, CNBC, Yahoo Finance and more.

Passionate about helping people learn from his mistakes, John shares financial tools and tips to help you enjoy the freedom that comes from living frugally. One of his favorite tools is Personal Capital , which he used to plan for retirement and keep track of his finances in less than 15 minutes each month.

Another one of John's passions is helping people save $80 per month by axing their expensive cable subscriptions and replacing them with more affordable ones, like Hulu with Live TV.


  • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

    I love all of these ideas! We plan to raise our future kids as frugally as possible and it’s heartening to hear that it doesn’t have to cost a ton of money. Taking advantage of free community programs sounds like a wonderful option! And, I really like the idea of volunteering for both the money-saving and the bonding experience.

    • John Schmoll says:

      That’s the thing, there are so many options out there for free community programs. They may not always be things you’d want to try, but at the very least it provides for being well-rounded.

  • Kayla @ Femme Frugality says:

    One of my friends takes her daughter to the building workshop @ Home Depot and she just loves it! It’s a great way for kids to have fun and learn too.

  • Shannon @ Financially Blonde says:

    We love taking my son to museums especially during Museums on Us weekend through Bank of America where we can go to a number of museums for free once a month. Many locations in NYC also take suggested donations so even though they may attempt to charge $25 per person they will actually take $10 for three people. I don’t feel bad doing this at large museums with huge endowments like the Met.

    • John Schmoll says:

      I saw the same thing growing up in Chicago. There were a handful of museums that would charge, but many of them were donation, which made it that much more affordable.

  • DC @ Young Adult Money says:

    I don’t have kids but I work with many who do. It seems like the organized sports culture has gotten even worse than it was a decade or so ago (and it was bad then). Most parents with active kids seem to spend most of their free times at tournaments, practices, games, etc. Since we live in Minnesota many times this involves hockey or other sports that require expensive equipment. I think you gave some good advice especially considering the macro issue (overscheduling, expensive extra-curriculurs) does not seem to be going away anytime soon.

    • John Schmoll says:

      You’re dead on there DC, it is an issue and I don’t see it going away anytime soon. We have friends who constantly schedule their kids for things and it just seems to be a bit over the top. There can be balance, you just have to want it as well as allowing your kids time to just be kids.

  • Shannon @ The Heavy Purse says:

    That’s a great music program for your son, especially since it includes free lessons and instrument. Kids aren’t cheap but a lot of the “cost” can also be attributed to parents going overboard, which I understand. I have to fight those urges too. I do think saving on extracurricular activities is smart. The girls are getting older and more active and some days Chris and I feel more like chauffeurs than parents, but we try to make sure they are not overbooked. Have a great weekend!

    • John Schmoll says:

      That’s a great point about fighting those urges Shannon. As a parent you want, as much as you can, to provide your child(ren) with access to as many things as possible. The argument would go that would provide them with a well-rounded upbringing. But, there has to be a balance with that as well. It’s a challenge, but can be done in my opinion. Have a great weekend as well!

  • Jayson @ Monster Piggy Bank says:

    I used to work at a school as a teacher and make lots of friends. When I left, I did not know that I would still enjoy some benefits. My friends there offer my kids scholarship and this summer they enjoy their free karate sessions.

  • No Nonsense Landlord says:

    No kids here, but I know they can be expensive. You have a lot of great ideas, but the number one thing you can give kids is time.

    Time is the one thing they will remember too.

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