Living with credit

Why my kid’s extracurricular activities won’t be like mine

Kelly Dilworth

A few weeks after my 30th birthday, I deposited a $100 bond note I received as an infant into a small “education fund” for my just-born son. After 30 years, the bond’s value just barely tipped over $200, but I was happy to deposit it since it’s the biggest contribution I’ve been able to make since I dreamed up the fund nine months ago.

Ever since we learned we were having a baby last spring, my husband and I have been obsessed with saving money. And we haven’t always agreed on where those savings should actually go.

While my husband cares more about saving for immediate concerns — such as medical expenses and infant day care — I’ve been more preoccupied with idealistic, longer-term expenses, such as saving up for after-school music lessons and academic summer camps.

Why my kid's extracurricular activities won't be like mine

I’d always imagined enrolling my kids in the same kinds of summer and after-school enrichment programs I enjoyed growing up. But now that our son is here, I’m beginning to realize my own kids may not be so lucky.

A good education is expensive
As a kid, I attended a variety of educational summer camps, ranging from a marine science camp at our local aquarium to an art camp at the municipal art museum.

I’d always credited those experiences with broadening my horizons and for giving me a significant leg up. For example, I learned how to do college-level research at debate camp and nurtured an early love for literature at multiple creative writing camps. It didn’t occur to me until I was much older just how privileged those experiences were.

Out of curiosity, I recently began researching the costs for similar academic programs and was by surprised by what I found. Just one week of art camp in my mid-sized Midwestern city can cost up to $300, and that’s a steal compared to the tony residential programs that charge thousands. A week of musical theater camp at nearby Oberlin College, for example, costs $1,300. A week of science camp at a local museum costs up to $400.

Yearlong, after-school programs add up even more. For example, a year of weekly music lessons at a nearby, no-frills studio costs about $1,440. A year of twice-weekly tennis lessons at a local club costs $1,664. If you have a special needs child, you can really wind up paying a huge amount. For example, after-school care at a local enrichment center for kids with autism and other developmental disabilities costs up to $4,800 a year.

We still have a while before our son is old enough to enroll, giving me at least some time to save up. I’m well aware, though, that I’ll likely have a hard time coming up with enough funds to give him as many opportunities as I’d like.

An easy way to fall into debt

According to Al Jazeera columnist Sarah Kendzior, I’m not the only one who feels this way. In a Nov. 12 column published by Quartz, Kendzior notes that many recession-scarred parents can’t afford to enroll their kids in the same kinds of quality educational programs they themselves enjoyed. Many still feel burdened by a cultural expectation that in order to do right by their kids, they need to invest in high-end enrichment programs, exotic vacations and expensive test prep study sessions.

I can relate. I want to do everything I can for my son and feel guilty knowing that I may not be able to do as much as I’d envisioned. The only alternative I can think of is to charge the programs I can’t afford to my credit card and hope that I’ll be able to pay them off — eventually.

This is a strategy I know my husband would never agree to, but a part of me already feels tempted — and our son’s barely a month old.

It’s a lot easier to avoid overcharging when you’re considering purchases that are for your own entertainment or enrichment. But when you’re considering purchases that might significantly benefit the ones you love, the temptation to just cross your fingers and swipe can be disarmingly seductive.

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