JLP’s Question of the Day – Kids’ Hobbies

First, I’ll ask the question:

How much is too much to spend on kids’ sports or hobbies? Where do you draw the line?

I ask this becuase of this short article I read in the January issue of Money. This quote really stuck out to me:

“In the early years, lessons cost about $20,000 annually. By 2000 my [now ex-] husband and I were spending $40,000-plus a year on coaching and travel. Expenses climbed as they qualified for more international competitions. We gave up meals out, vacations, redecorating our house. We drove Volvos with six digits of miles. At one point we owed $80,000 on credit cards. But we were happy because our kids got to do what they loved.”

“…And in the end, our quarter of a million dollars in expenses paid off. Our kids hit the jackpot. Marten got a full scholarship to Penn State, and Mariel to Notre Dame. Merrick is still in high school and fences competitively. Now my ex and I, having since paid off our debts, can sit back and enjoy our children’s achievement. Perhaps one of the biggest thrills was watching Mariel win a gold medal in the 2004 Athens Olympics. But honestly, we look at all our kids as champions.”

I was thinking $2,000 per year was excessive! LOL! I can’t imagine spending $20,000 per year on my kids’ hobbies. Of course, the article doesn’t say what kind of income this couple had but considering the fact that they had $80,000 in credit card debt, they were living beyond their means.

One other thing the article doesn’t point out is whether or not the couple funded their 401(k)s over the years. My guess is no but I have no proof either way.

What do you guys think about this?

17 thoughts on “JLP’s Question of the Day – Kids’ Hobbies”

  1. I think spending that much and going in to that much debt is simply excessive. Like she said though, it paid off for them. Unfortunately we don’t know the future. Right now my oldest is only 4.5 and doesn’t have any strong interests so I can’t put myself in that spot. I will certainly try and stretch for something they were sincere about – but I just don’t know how far.

  2. I would agree that the people in this article seemed to be on the excessive side. Our kids have a few expensive hobbies, with the most expensive right now being motocross. Obviously the big expense there is the motorcycle but there are fees for the AMA and track fees as well.

    Our oldest plays baseball and if he continues to enjoy it and play well, it can get into the traveling baseball and that is where I can see the expenses rising. But I cannot imagine that I would ever be willing to spend that kind of money pursuing a hobby.

    I guess it could get to a point where you may be willing to pay more if it is something that they can potentially turn into a career or scholarship. Very interesting post.

  3. Kim,

    Actually we don’t know if it paid off for them or not. Sure, two of their kids have scholarships but do the parents have retirement plans?

  4. I don’t know.. hopefully I’d be in a position to give my kid the chance to do what he/she loves, especially if they want it bad enough to go to the Olympics or something.

    That’s why I think so many things in life depend on the parents, they could’ve said no at many points along the line, and Mariel would’ve never gotten the opportunity to go to the Olympics and win the gold.

    Was it worth it? Who can judge but themselves? I’m sure the kids appreciate the parents’ sacrifice. There’s really no way of doing things by yourself, especially if you’re involved in a competitive and not particularly lucrative sport.

  5. Ok, unless they are out-of-staters, Penn State is not that expensive. Notre Dame? Sure. But how many years were they shelling out tens of thousands of dollars to get their children into a state school? (I went to Penn State and I owe $20,000 after 5 years (switched majors)). My parents didn’t need to run their vehicles into the ground, nor did they need to rack up $80,000 in credit card debt. They do have loans for our housing, but I plan on paying them back as soon as I knock out our own tuition loans.

    I didn’t do anything in grade school and high school and I clear quite a bit of money in my dayjob. These parents are foolish in my opinion.

  6. You could never know this from the article but the question that came to my mind is what are the other indirect costs that they had to pay…did it cost them their marriage, other relationships, etc…clearly they made sacrifices which were more than just financial.

  7. They may have received scholarships, but if the parents had invested the $250,000 they said they spent over the years they would have had enough to pay for both tuitions in cash with an enormous nest egg left over to put toward retirement. On the other hand, seeing your kid win a gold medal in the Olympics is priceless, but obviously there’s no guarantee that will happen.

  8. This is one of those areas where one can’t really make a financial argument. Is any obsession or consuming passion truly “worth it” financially? They rarely are – although sometimes they pay off spectacularly – but lots of wonderful things wouldn’t be done if everyone strictly lived in a manner that would impress the green-eyeshade set.

  9. The article says that the mother currently lives in Portland, OR so maybe it was worth the college tuition for Penn State.
    My kids are young so I don’t spend more than $250 on each of them for their extracurricular activities. Also, we belong to our local YMCA where the activities are, for the most part, low cost (swimming, karate, gym, baby music/gym classes). Since I work, there is no way I could fit more activities into the weekday schedule.

  10. Yeha – I think the pay-off is more in terms of the olympic gold than any uni tuition… How do you put a price on that? (Well – $250,000 obviously)

  11. Personally, I’m a bit biased since my brother was a near-Olympic swimmer when he was a kid. If you see a kid excelling in something, and doing well in world-level competitions, it’s hard to say “we’ll quit spending on the “hobby”. In practice, swimming isn’t quite as monstrously expensive as some other sports, but it is a massive time-sink, especially since you can typically trade swim-club dues for volunteer time at meets and such.

    Oddly, my parents started him on swimming because the club team swam at his elementary school after school and it was cheaper than day care!

    My brother had an untimely bunch of injuries when he was 17 and 18 that prevented him from going on with his swimming career, but he got scholarships and has become a successful swim coach. He still holds a couple of age-group records.

  12. Well, it was obviously excessive since they had $80,000 in credit card debt. Plus, who knows how it contributed to their divorce?

    And what percentage of youth athletes go on to compete on an international level? But I can understand the people that argue, “Well, if my kid’s doing well, I can’t stop now”. I think, bottom line, as long as it’s not driving you to debt, you’re ok. Afterall, there are worse things to spend your money on than your kids’ futures.

  13. On the flip side of the olympic medal, what if the kid changes their mind after the parents sink thousands of dollars? What a shame that little Johnny isn’t interested in baseball anymore or gets injured and nothing comes of all that money, since you just spent 12 years worth of sacrifice on his baseball career.

  14. Just make sure they pick a sport where they don’t have to dose up on steroids, human growth hormones, amphetamines to compete. The health consequences later in life may be more costly.

  15. This is one of the reasons I don’t read Money Mag – the articles raise interesting topics, but never give you the full picture and leave you wondering. It’s one tease after another.

  16. I disagree, in that Money raises great topics, sometimes provides a good picture, and nonetheless leaves you thinking about how your own personal situation might be affected.

    If being left in a wondering situation doesn’t agree with you, maybe you shouldn’t be reading publications meant for adults and instead go watch “Sesame Street”.

    To state that “‘leaves you wondering’ is really a tease” implies that you don’t have the initiative or wherewithall to come up with your own conclusions. Sounds like you’d rather be spoon-fed a completely defined situation so that you’re not expected to derive your own perspective.

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