Balancing budgets and kids' activities


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Extra-curricular activities is a big industry - I have spent a small fortune on music lessons, soccer camps, tennis, netball and drama.

I recently heard of a personal trainer who specialised in the under-five age group.

I know a primary school child with several subject tutors who come to her home for private lessons.

music lessons for kids extracurricular sport tutoring

One primary school boy plays four musical instruments, with four private music lessons each week. Often the parents aren't rich and they struggle to pay for these extras for their children.

The Australian Scholarship Group estimates that parents typically spend around $1560 on extra-curricular activities if their child is at a government school. This covers sport, gym, drama, art, dance and music classes as well as coaching, outings and camps for sports such as tennis and soccer.

The amount is roughly the same for primary and high school. It drops marginally if your child is at a Catholic or other systemic school but jumps for private school students, reaching $1692 in primary school and $2285 in high school.

While we all want the best for our kids, you don't need to jeopardise your financial security. You don't want to neglect your own saving goals or contributions to superannuation.

Do you really think your kids will look after you in your old age? There are ways to cut the cost. I have found that often a group class is the best way to go. Kids can be motivated by each other and it is more fun than an intense one-on-one lesson. It's much cheaper, too. My daughters went to group piano classes and learned ensemble playing, singing and improvisation as well as playing music.

If your child likes to sing, get them to join a choir. If they are athletic, there's Little Athletics or Nippers. Even tutoring can be done in a group and it can be half the cost of a one-on-one session. Speech pathology can be done in groups, too. Ask for a discount if you pay in advance.

There are plenty of courses that don't cost a fortune. For example, councils run an array of events for kids. For a small cost, my local council offers courses for three to 14-year-olds on topics such as circus skills, photography, marine biology, acting, cartooning and fitness. The library also has plenty of free activities.

If you are spending up on extra-curricular activities, make sure your child is pulling their weight. If they're not, you are wasting your money. Diane Stanic, from ADS Tuition, says that tutoring is a three-way partnership involving the child, the parents and the tutor to achieve success. If your child is going to music lessons, are they practising?

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Susan has been a finance journalist for more than 30 years, beginning at the Australian Financial Review before moving to the Sydney Morning Herald. She edited a superannuation magazine, Superfunds, for the Association of Superannuation Funds of Australia, and writes regularly on superannuation and managed funds. She's also author of the best-selling book Women and Money.