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(Hadi Mizban)
(Hadi Mizban)

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Kids' activities on a budget Add to ...

We have a full calendar ahead of us this fall. Not only are the kids back in school, they're signed up for a host of extra-curricular activities. There's swimming, piano, ballet and gymnastics. My girls enjoy the classes and I like the social, physical, and intellectual skills they're developing through the activities. There is a cost though. The enrollment fees add up and there are dance outfits and shoes to buy. I have found a few easy ways to cut down on recreational expenses.

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Check out city-run programs When looking for a ballet class for my three-year-old who loves dancing to music, I had the choice of a ballet academy near our home or the city community centre down the street. The ballet academy offered eight classes for $150 while the community centre's pre-school program cost $83.25 for nine classes. Unless you want your child to become a professional dancer or athlete, city-run recreation programs are a great alternative to specialized schools. The community centres in my neighbourhood have a new schedule of activities each season, offering everything from swimming to hockey to gymnastics.

Buy used equipment With many sports and recreational classes, the equipment and clothing are the most significant cost items. Outfitting your child in new hockey gear each season - or with each growth spurt - can be painful on the pocketbook. This is when it pays to buy used goods. Stores such as Play It Again Sports specialize in used sports gear and have a huge selection of kids' sizes. Last year I went to Play It Again and paid $40 for two pairs of used skates in good condition for my daughters and the blade sharpening was included. The skates got worn only twice that winter. We discovered my girls didn't like skating because they found the ice was too cold. To be fair, they did spend a lot of time sitting on it. Play It Again also buys and trades sports equipment so I can bring the skates back and recoup some of my costs.

Hand-me-downs My three-year-old is unlikely to notice she's wearing her sister's old leotard and tutu to ballet this fall. If she does figure it out, she'll probably be more pleased than peeved that she is wearing her older sister's clothes. This tactic may not work as well with older children, but they still work with mine and I pass down everything I can, especially recreational clothes that have little wear and tear. If your children aren't of the same gender or don't fit the same sizes, don't be shy about asking friends if they have sports equipment sitting idle in the cupboard. You'll find they're glad to free up that closet space and put old goods to good use.

Don't over-schedule I know parents who have their kids booked for an extra-curricular activity every day of the week. This can be too much of a good thing. Not only do the extra classes add up in costs, they leave precious little free time for anything else. I like the idea of giving kids some time off from structured learning and play to relax. Playing a board game as a family in the evening or reading books count as activities too. And they're free.

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