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Creative ways to keep your kids busy without going broke


Like most parents, you’re probably thrilled when your child shows interest in an activity, sport, or hobby. After all, extracurricular activities can help them build new skills, relationships, and confidence. With each activity, however, often comes costs—membership fees, uniforms, appropriate gear or instruments. While most agree that cultivating a lifetime hobby is a worthy investment, even one season of an “I don’t like it anymore” hobby can cost you plenty.

It is possible, though, for your kids to explore and pursue their interests—without breaking the bank—by trying some of these time-tested tips:

You may be surprised at the number of free or discounted activities in your community. While expensive ballet or karate lessons may not be possible this year, free dance or jujitsu classes at your local library or community center may be great alternatives.

Your children shouldn’t miss out on activities they care about, so don’t be shy about sharing a less-than-ideal financial situation with the coach or organizers. Options are often available to families that qualify.

Be sure to ask about any money-saving offers or trial sessions in which your child can try an activity for a session or two without financial obligation. Subscribe to daily emails from online coupon services to find deals on activities for kids. Sports organizations often partner with retailers to help you save on clothing and gear; plus, they might offer early registration and multi-child discounts. They may even waive your child’s fees if you sign on as a coach or volunteer.

The thing about kids is that they grow—often quickly outgrowing helmets, cleats, dance shoes and ice skates. If you have multiple children interested in the same activity, it’s a great opportunity to reuse some of the gear. But even if you don’t, this phenomenon becomes a boon if you’re willing to purchase pre-owned gear at consignment shops, thrift stores, or online. Not only are most items in great condition, they’re also likely to cost a fraction of buying new. And this idea works both ways, as you might be able resell some of the stuff that you’ve purchased for your kids along the way.

If your child is interested in trying a new hobby, like skiing or playing an instrument, consider renting from a sporting goods store, a local music shop, or borrowing from a friend before buying them outright.

“Instead of accumulating more things my children don’t need, I create a gear ‘wish list.’ Grandparents love it, as do I,” says Katie Spaziano, a mother of two young boys.

Want to save money and have fun? Consider getting together with fellow parents for an equipment and uniform swap. Simply bring gently worn items that your child has outgrown or no longer needs and exchange them for new gear that fits the bill.

Think Christmas in July. If you know your growing child is going to stick with a sport or activity for a while, consider taking advantage of a good sale by buying cleats or skates a size or two larger. “Amazon had a huge baseball sale right before Christmas, with items more than 50% off. I totally stocked up,” says Erin Ollila, whose pre-teen son dreams of being the next David Ortiz.

Sure, you may be focused on registration fees and equipment costs, but don’t ignore another major cost: driving. Carpooling to practices and lessons will save on gas money and cut down on time spent playing chauffeur.

While you may feel that it’s your responsibility to keep your kids happy, healthy, and active, the costs associated with these activities present an opportunity to teach your children the importance of setting goals and saving for the things they want. You could even encourage them to contribute toward the cause with money they have earned for doing chores or babysitting, or received on special occasions.

It is also important that you know what you’re getting into—so before signing your kid up for a new activity, talk to other parents or coaches about the cost commitment. And don’t forget, some of the best things in life are free. Hobbies such as reading, writing, and drawing boost brain development and are easy on the wallet, too.

By planning ahead, budgeting and using some of the creative ideas mentioned here, you could save money, which you can funnel into your savings account, retirement account, or college savings plan. Now that’s a great way to invest in your family’s future.

Learn more and take action

  • Time to review or establish a family budget? This video can help.
  • Read this for tips on controlling the cost of your hobbies.
  • Put your newfound savings to work by:

    Funding a 529 College Savings Plan

    Contributing more to your 401(k). If your employer’s plan is with Merrill Lynch, go to Benefits OnLine® > 401(k) > Current Elections > Contribution Rates > Change Contribution Rate.


1 Source:, July 22, 2016.

2 Source:, May 28, 2015.


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