Wes Moss: The cost of overbooking your kid’s life

Certified financial planner Wes Moss provides personal finance advice and accessible investment strategies. His guest post appears here weekly.

Wes Moss hosts 'Money Matters' Sunday mornings on AM750 and 95.5FM News/Talk WSB

Wes Moss hosts 'Money Matters' Sunday mornings on AM750 and 95.5FM News/Talk WSB

Ah, just another relaxing Moss family weekend — racing to get my eldest son from T-ball to swimming while estimating how early we need to leave the pool to get to karate on time, and trying to remember the when-and-where of that upcoming birthday party. Is it today? Or is it next Saturday? Wait. It is next Saturday! Oh, no! That conflicts with the karate class graduation ceremony!

I sure don’t remember my parents running around like this when we were kids. But our friends can relate — they are on the same “enrichment” treadmill with their children. We seem to be constantly bouncing from thing to thing — computer class, ballet, martial arts, swim team, soccer, Cub Scouts, T-ball, gymnastics, art classes, tennis, basketball, youth triathlon training (no, really — it exists), football, piano, even etiquette lessons.

Is all this activity really worth it? Depending on the quality and extent of the programs, a family can easily spend $10,000 per year on activities. A recreational sports league can run $125 to $250 per child — before equipment costs. Summer day camps are anywhere from $100 to $300 per week. Swimming or music lessons will run at least $25 a week. No matter how much you make, 10k is a big chunk of change.

I can’t help doing the math on how awesome it would be to add another $10,000 per year to my retirement accounts. But, the fact is, these expenditures, properly made, are an investment in my kids’ happiness. If you’re enrolling your children in activities to help them discover their talents and passions, they’re worth every penny — and every hour of driving, waiting and fundraising.

But if you are hoping to shape your offspring into something specific — a scholarship athlete, a musical prodigy, a star of stage and screen, even just a well-rounded person with a lot of interests — you might want to re-think your investment strategy. Parents can only so much to influence their children on a long-term basis, according to research compiled by economist Bryan Caplan. Try as we might, those darn kids will grow up to be their own unique selves. Parents have the most influence over how they are remembered by their children. Moms and dads who create happy, harmonious homes are remembered most fondly by their adult kids.

It’s worth thinking about when deciding whether to wedge Chinese lessons into your son’s fall schedule…

How are your family’s activities an investment?

– By Wes Moss, for Atlanta Bargain Hunter

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4 comments Add your comment

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Skat Kat

May 14th, 2012
10:17 am

We would pick up tin cans and bottles together. Used to get 5 cents for a bottle down at the Winn-Dixie.Yep…we were green before the yuppies ever thought of it.
Music lessons were free because everyone would jam on the street corner.


May 14th, 2012
10:19 am

We try to pick a couple of things that our boys enjoy and excel in to do (baseball/science summer camp), beyond that we let them be kids. We have a garden at home, a creek and plenty of dirt to dig in. Gives us time for summer family trips and building memories.


May 14th, 2012
10:38 am

Every year, our church youth participate in an oratorical contest. One of the boys that spoke this year talked about how much stress he is under because of all of his activities, and school and work. I sat there thinking ‘What in the world are we doing to our children?’ There will be plenty of time in their lives to be stressed out, overworked adults. Shouldn’t they be enjoying their youth?!?!? Once you are old, you are old forever – there’s no going back to what should have been your carefree days of childhood. I also wonder if we are raising adults who will not understand their own limitations, who will take on more responsibility than they can handle and will end up popping pills to deal with everyday life. You only get one life, might as well enjoy it!