Don’t Let Kids’ Activities Break the Bank

Today’s selections from my virtual mailbag come from mothers who on the one hand are facing completely different dilemmas, but on the other are exactly alike in that they want the very best for their children.

Dear Mary: My biggest budget busters are enrichment activities for our four children. I want to spark their joy for living by providing opportunities to sample different sports and hobbies.

Currently, they attend a private school that is academically aggressive. Each takes piano lessons. The boys take karate, and the girls ballet. They are also involved in sports, as well as theatre productions at school, none of which is free. We are a one-income family, and I stay home with the children. Our finances are very tight, and we end up using credit to make it through the month. It sounds simple enough to just put my children in public school and drop all the extras, but my mommy guilt says NO. I want the best for my kids. Any advice? — Tricia, New York

Dear Tricia: The definition of guilt is “remorse caused by feeling responsible for some offense.” You have not committed any offense, so I don’t think this is about guilt. You are most likely fearing that by not providing experiences and opportunities to your kids, you are failing as a parent.

Experts tell us it is not good for kids to be overstimulated by things or activities. You can push kids to the brink of despair by overinvolving them in sports, music, karate, dance and academia all at the same time. That you are going into debt to enable all of this is even more troubling. The best gift parents can give their children is to prepare well for their retirement and end-of-life years, so they never become a burden to them.

Twenty years from now, your worth as a parent will not be measured by the number of their activities, their SAT scores or their trophies. It will be measured by the depth of their character, the values they hold dear and the ways they live their lives. As for school, don’t ever assume a teacher — public or private, secular or Christian — can take your place when it comes to passing values to your children.

I suggest you allow each child to pick one activity and then make sure they have plenty of free time to just be kids. As for school, have you explored charter schools available through your public school system? There are many excellent options out there. No matter where you kids are enrolled, Let me encourage you to stay involved so you are on top of everything going on and being taught.

Thanks for writing. It was great to hear from you.

Dear Mary: My daughter is engaged to a man who refuses to find a job. He is 23 and lives with his parents. My daughter pays all of their dating expenses, her car payment and insurance. He sleeps until noon, plays computer games all day and then waits for her to pick him up. She is expecting me to pay for their wedding. I say I’m not putting one solitary dime into a wedding to a man who won’t work. What do you think? — Kendra, Illinois

Dear Kendra: Hold your ground and tell your daughter all the reasons you cannot support this marriage. Is there a therapist or family counselor she would speak with? There’s some reason she is willing to settle for so little in a husband and father for her children. I hope she figures it out before she makes the biggest mistake of her life.

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Mary Hunt

Mary invites you to visit her at, where this column is archived complete with links and resources for all recommended products and services. Mary invites questions and comments at, "Ask Mary." Tips can be submitted at . This column will answer questions of general interest, but letters cannot be answered individually. Mary Hunt is the founder of, a frugal living blog, and the author of the book "Debt-Proof Living."

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