When I was a girl, I wanted to be a dancer. I also wanted to learn how to play the piano.
Being the sixth of seven kids, I think my parents were burned out of the kid’s activities so I got the shaft–no piano lessons, no dance lessons (except for one year of clogging lessons). Which in retrospect, was really, really great for me.
Instead of music & dance lessons, girl scouts & basketball, I spent afternoons, evenings, & weekends being “creative.” I made one creation after the other, no doubt adding to my mother’s irritation that my messes spread all over the house, including the kitchen.
But you know what?
I experimented, I explored the backyard (we had a lovely, large backyard with a pool, trampoline, swings, a garden, lots of shade & grass) & neighborhood. I read a lot, I played a lot.
Sure, I’ve always been a bit sad that I never learned how to play the piano as a kid (beyond just the basics), but my childhood was relatively carefree, with lots of time to explore & create. Which, as an adult, those creative skills have definitely helped me in all areas of my life.
A few weeks ago I asked you on facebook what you thought I should do about our kid’s activities this year.
As many of you know, we’re in the process of paying off a huge amount of debt that was racked up during Joseph’s law school years. We’ve been making progress, & we’re nearly two years into our debt-free mission. We’re not doing a particular program (& yes, I know who Dave Ramsey is, & no we’re not doing his program), but we are paying off our debts using the debt snowball method & extensive budgeting, among other things.
So, this was the question posed on facebook:
I need to decide if I’m going to enroll my 6 year old, Amalia, in ballet/tap again this year. She did it last year & loved it. It’s one day a week for an hour & a half. It’s $70 a month plus maybe $20 in gas & some extra for dance apparel + about $250 for the end of the year recital (which we probably wouldn’t do since we most likely will no longer be in San Antonio at that time).
We are on the last year or so of our get-out-of-debt plan. I have been able to earn some extra money on the side that would pay for these lessons, as well as pay for my boys to do an intramural sport this fall.
My dilemma–use that extra money to pay off debt, or put her in dance?
There’s no question she wants to do it & I want her to do it, but we had previously decided we were going to cut all kids activities for this year while we finish paying off debt. Now that we have this extra money, I’m torn. I would love for Amalia to do dance & my boys to each do a sport.
What do you think we should do? I’d love to hear your thoughts!
The responses were largely in favor of me enrolling Amalia in dance, & with good reason. I feel much the same as many of you–the experience of artistic expression, of learning a skill, the joy of movement through dance–all of these I believe are important & I know that the arts cost money, & that it’s not cheap, either. My dilemma wasn’t about the merits of kids participating in ballet or tap, but rather, should I enroll my child in dance this year, in light of our debts?
I read & appreciated all of your comments, but it was Alysa’s that really hit home for me.
Get out of debt. Just because you made the money unexpectedly or in a different way doesn’t mean you’re not in debt. And I can speak to the fact that I don’t remember my 6 year old dance classes (though I do remember my 8 year old diving team). Dance classes may give her memories (maybe), but putting everything you’ve got into getting out of debt will give her stronger parents and greater financial security. You can do it Janae. Last year! You guys have been working on this for so long! Don’t let the closeness of the finish line fool you. Run all the way. I can tell you it feels awesome to be on the other side.
The more I thought about what she said, especially the bit about “stronger parents & greater financial security,” I knew what I needed to do.
Last year Amalia did dance for 10 months. The cost of tuition & the recital, plus all the gas to get to practices (I tend to gloss over that particular expense–which adds up to a lot!), was about $1200. That’s a lot of money! And though we put it into our budget, & were still able to continue to progress our debt snowball, the fact remains, we spent $1200 that in hind sight, ought to have gone towards our debts.
After I read this post–“Avoiding Ivy-League Preschool Syndrome” by Mr. Money Mustache (I discovered him while listening to this podcast–which I highly recommend!), I couldn’t believe that there had been a dilemma at all.
He wrote another post that has provoked me to further reassess what we’re doing. This, coupled with my discovery of YNAB (which is AWESOME btw–I’ll share more about the program/approach when I do the next debt snowball update because it’s been awhile since the last update).
In MMM’s post, News Flash: Your Debt Is An Emergency, he likens being in debt to being covered in killer bees. You’ve got to do everything in your power to get those killer bees off you. And you will, they’re KILLER BEES!
Likewise, debt is just as deadly (though our culture would tell you otherwise). So anything beyond basic, basic necessities, must go until the debt is gone.
It has taken me two years & a lot of little lessons along the way to realize this.
I’m now at the point, where I’m more than happy to go without & be much, much more frugal than I ever have been.
It’s been a process, one in which I feel each month as I’ve gone over our spending, our budget, I’ve trimmed & optimized even more. I’m okay now, going without my favorite vegan protein powder, almond butter, & so many other delicious, but just not necessary food items. I’ve reigned in my Costco habit (still shop there, but with even greater restraint). I’ve cut all our subscriptions (except for Hulu, which is part of Joseph’s blow money).
I’m at the point that I can say, “YES, let’s DO this. Let’s really do this.” Let’s get rid of these freakin’ killer bees so we can move on with our lives for the love (namely, start saving!).
So will I be putting my kids in any activities this year?
And by not putting Amalia in dance, we’ll save at least $1200. By not having the them do sports, we’ll save about $800 (between fees, gas, uniforms/shoes). That’s a savings of $2000 this next year, & my kids won’t be the lesser for it.
Joseph & I had a lengthy discussion about our values, what we want our kids to value & learn while they’re young. Sports & dance, these things are nice & have some value, but more than anything we decided that these two things will be mandatory for all of our kids:
1) Boy Scouts, Achievement Days, & youth group–it does cost a bit for uniforms, but beyond that, BSA programs are heavily subsidized, if not fully paid for by our church, so there is little to no cost to us for most of the activities.
The girls have a somewhat comparable equivalent–when they turn eight they will begin going to weekly activities through our church, called Achievement Days. It’s not quite the same, but it does facilitate many of the same goals in terms of learning new skills & talents. Once they hit the teenage years, they begin doing weekly activities with the church youth group, which is also no cost.
2) Piano–We have a piano. Though I don’t know how to play very well (in fact, my playing is quite rudimentary), I know enough to teach my kids for this next year.
I tried to do this last year, but I just wasn’t committed, & quite frankly didn’t have enough time left over after their sports practices & dance lessons.
Per Joseph’s suggestion, I’ve decided to treat teaching them piano like a job, as if someone is paying me (because I am getting paid, by not having to pay someone else to do it). We’re two weeks into our practice & lessons, & I so far, have not missed a day & it’s going surprisingly well.
We have an incentive system in place which really helps, but more than anything, my commitment to teaching them myself so that we can save money is the thing that is making all the difference.
Between the piano lessons, homework, & chores after school, then dinner & our bedtime routine, there’s really very little time to much else anyway. They do usually have a few hours to read & play, & I want them to have a few hours each day to do these things, especially at this point in their lives.
In the next year or so, we hope to pay off the remainder of our debts.
We hope to pay off as much this year as we have in the past two years combined.
We are going to do this because our income has increased quite a bit since we started this process (through raises in Joseph’s salary as well as some supplementary income I bring in), & we are further tightening our belts, making a few more sacrifices.
Because, we are being attacked by KILLER BEES after all, & who wouldn’t do everything necessary to get those suckers off your back?
What do you think?
Have you ever heard of Mr. Money Mustache?
What do you think of his post about the Ivy-League Preschool Syndrome?
What kinds of activities do you do with your children that are free or inexpensive?
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