Pursuing Interests: Free to $1K+

Photo: Julie Rains

Pursuing interests and learning new things, such as taking a class in environmental science, can be costly or not, depending on what your interest is, what happens to be available in your community or online, and how flexible your schedule is. If you or your family members happen to choose pricier interests, you can try to mix it up with some freebies of your choice.

Ideally, I'd like everyone in my family to have the same interests so that we can spend more time together and focus time and money on a few things (my choices would be swimming, hiking, canoeing, and cycling). My kids haven't conformed to my image and have pursued activities that I would never consider (community theater comes to mind).

So, I’ve been torn between spending Saturday mornings on my road bike and some other free time I might have in the gym. I don’t want to mislead anyone who might think I’m a fitness freak (not that there’s anything wrong with that) but carving out workout moments in addition to taking care of children, working, cooking meals, washing clothes, keeping up a social life of sorts, and more is daunting.

When Wall Street Journal’s Love & Money columnist Jeff Opdyke wrote about trying to find time (and money) to pursue new interests last Sunday, July 15, 2007, his article “So Many Interests, So Little Time” resonated with me.

Mr. Opdyke tells of the time and money his family spends on fun and enriching activities for the kids: soccer, baseball, dance, gymnastics, and piano are mentioned. His concern, like mine, is that the adults in the household may not pursue interests for themselves, such as language, art, or golf lessons. Some of you may consider this selfish; others, foolish. Whether you think that parents’ wants should be set aside or adults’ wishes honored, the dilemma of spending (how much?) and allocation (on whom?) exists.

What surprised me about this discussion the most, though, was that Mr. Opdyke budgets close to $300 per month for his kids’ activities (none for the parents, by the way). It made me consider how much I spend to let my kids pursue their interests.

My youngest has asked, on more than one occasion, if he could take Tae Kwon Do lessons. A school near us promotes itself heavily including offering special sessions at his public school and hosting kids’ birthday parties, one of which my son attended. I’ve resisted his pleas, and while I wouldn’t mind him benefiting from the exercise and discipline, I just can’t justify $50 per month for, well, indefinitely. Kids take lessons 3-4 times per week for a few to several years.

This summer, however, has been the most expensive ever (just under $1,500), mainly because my oldest child (a middle school student) is taking an online class in environmental science offered by a private university. The class and the cost was one that I considered very carefully but I decided that it was worthwhile for him to participate (it was really my idea and I had to convince him to sign up) because I wanted him 1) to get used to online class format with its discussion board and electronically submitted assignments, 2) to learn something about environmental science, and 3) to realize that there are some super-bright kids out there, who may one day (hopefully) be his university classmates or workplace colleagues.

The oldest also spent a week at a church camp/youth retreat in the mountains. My youngest child is participating in a public school-sponsored enrichment program and taking classes in science, scenery design, and sports.

Our spending during the school year looks quite different. Activities in the past year or so are listed here and free unless listed otherwise:

  • Community Theater
  • Cotillions (etiquette and dance, $75)
  • Open Arms Community (outreach to children from troubled families)
  • Vacation Bible School (one son was a participant; the other, a youth worker)
  • Y League Basketball ($45)
  • Art Lessons ($90)
  • Swim Lessons ($45)
  • Church Youth Group (talk sessions, games, suppers)

At least one child has learned how to:

  • sing and dance in a group;
  • endure long theater practices;
  • interpret instructions as a guideline not a limiting force;
  • ask a girl for a dance;
  • be yourself and enjoy people actually liking you just for that;
  • give money to a cause that helps to alleviate hunger through sustaining agriculture;
  • swim backstroke;
  • relate to other people even when they're being annoying.

So, there’s our list of activities, not totally frugal but under $3,600 per year. As for me, I pursuing my interests, hoping to learn and grow by being involved in a book club, helping kids to lead brainstorming sessions as an Odyssey of the Mind coach, figuring out cycling and endurance fitness, and maybe picking up a new language soon (Spanish, sign language?), with costs ranging from free to much more for equipment and training facilities. If you (as an adult or a child) have participated in a particularly life-enriching activity, especially one that costs little, please share your experience.

Photo of Environmental Science textbooks by me

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Myscha Theriault's picture

Good one, Julie.

I agree, it is hard to carve out time for your own interests when so much of family life demands what feels like every freaking second of our time. I used to sew . . . haven't had as much time for that the last few years. Before we left Arizona, there was a free water aerobics class on base that was a blast, had fun people in it, and got off at least 40 pounds I'd been carrying around for a while. Alas, they don't have that here in the sticks. For the non frozen solid months, I'm considering carving out funds for a kayak, since the water is like 12 feet from my door. We have been taking walks by the lake with the dogs which costs nothing and hope to actually take out the pedal boat this afternoon.

Fortunately, I like to cook, so that has helped me enjoy myself while carving out extra funds for family financial goals. But somedays, it doesn't feel like I'm doing it for me, so I lay off and go with grilled cheese or something that day. Not sure if this is the kind of input you were looking for . . .

Julie Rains's picture

I guess I ended up covering more than one topic (pursuing interests, finding time to pursue interests, finding frugal but fun and enriching options, sometimes spending more on one interest because you have been frugal on another) and the water aerobics is a great example. Such a class is offered at the Y I belong to (at some expense to participants I would imagine) but my mom is able to take water aerobics at a community center with a pool. Geography may influence our options but it is interesting what we can find if we start looking for free offerings.



Guest's picture

I have been involved in Tae Kwon Do on and off since the age of 11, and achieved my black belt at the age of 25. I highly recommend you to rethink your decision to turn your son down, depending on his motives. It's true it can be expensive, especially with uniform and equipment fees on top of the monthly fee, but the benefits I, and others, have gotten from it are priceless. Increased confidence, respect for others, ability to follow through on instruction and teach others, physical fitness, exposure to parts of a different culture and language, and ability to defend onesself and others in a dangerous situation are the tip of the iceberg. Maybe you could have a 3-6 month "trial" period? Also many schools give discounts for family members - it would be a great way to have a new activity for the whole family to share in, and self-defense is an extremely important skill for men and women of all ages to have.
But you know your son best, and if you think he has different ideas about martial arts (like it can be a cool way to impress his friends or beat people up), it may be best to put it on the back burner. But please don't disregard it on price alone.

Julie Rains's picture

If an activity involves socializing with other kids, he's in -- it hadn't occurred to me that he might be truly interested in the activity. I think it's the combo of time and money that I find difficult, with the time slot making dinner more expensive b/c we may need to eat out some to fit nourishment in with homework and an evening activity. I took a semester's worth of karate in college and enjoyed it, and am interested in a shorter dose of something that I/he could be successful in whether it involved a blackbelt or not. The pressure to continue for years (that I perceive) may be from the school itself or peers. Still, if he's willing to pay half (next time he asks), I'll strongly consider it. And I forgot to mention this (it's summer and they're not meeting now) but he's also a scout.

Thanks for a perspective from someone who has truly benefited from Tae Kwon Do.  


Guest's picture

Another thing that is similar, cheaper, and more practical from a fighting perspective is wrestling. It provides a better physical benefit, its cheaper (free) in terms of cost, and if he sticks with it, can get him into college for free.