Don’t let kids’ activities break the bank

Today’s selection from my virtual mail bag comes from mothers who on the one hand face completely different dilemmas, but on the other hand are exactly the same in that they want the very best for their children.

Dear Mary: My biggest budget breakers are enrichment activities for our four children. I want to stimulate their zest for life by offering opportunities to try different sports and hobbies.

They currently attend a private school that is academically aggressive. Everyone takes piano lessons. The boys do karate, the girls do ballet. They are also involved in sports as well as in theatrical performances at school, none of which are free. We are a one income family and I am staying at home with the kids. Our finances are very tight and we end up using credit to get through the month. It sounds easy enough to just send my kids to public school and drop all the extras, but my mommy guilt says NO. I want the best for my children. any advice?

– Tricia, New York

Dear Tricia: The definition of guilt is “the remorse that comes from feeling responsible for a crime”. They didn’t commit a crime, so I don’t think it’s about guilt. You most likely fear that you will fail as a parent if you don’t provide experiences and opportunities for your children.

Experts tell us that overstimulating things or activities isn’t good for kids. You can drive children to the brink of despair by involving them too much in sports, music, karate, dance and science at the same time. That you’re going into debt to make all of this possible is even more troubling. The best gift parents can give their children is to prepare well for retirement and the end of life so that they are never a burden.

Twenty years from now, your worth as a parent won’t be measured by your activity count, your SAT scores, or your trophies. It is measured by the depth of their character, the values ​​they hold dear and the way they live their lives. As for school, never assume that a teacher—public or private, secular or Christian—can take your place when it comes to instilling values ​​in your children.

I suggest that you allow each child to choose an activity and then make sure they have enough free time to just be a kid. As for school, have you explored charter schools that are available through your public school system? There are many excellent options out there. No matter where your children are enrolled, let me encourage you to get involved so you can stay on top of everything that’s going on and being taught.

Thanks for writing. It was great hearing 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 for all of her dating expenses, car payments, and insurance. He sleeps until noon, plays computer games all day, and then waits for her to pick him up. She expects me to pay for her wedding. I’m saying I’m not investing a penny in a marriage to a man who doesn’t want to work. What do you think?

– Kendra, Illinois

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

About the everyday curmudgeon

Mary invites you to visit her at where this column is archived complete with links and resources for all recommended products and services. Mary welcomes 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 budget-friendly living blog, and author of the book Debt-Proof Living.