The Costs of Competitive Kids

By Daniel Bukszpan,

Most parents, it's safe to say, want their children to grow up with an edge. They enlist them in team sports, or even chess tournaments, hoping to encourage a killer instinct. They put them on stage to square off against other kids in beauty pageants and dance troupes. And for these activities they pay a small fortune. presents a list of competitive activities for kids, and what parents can expect to pay for their child's involvement. Some are academic, some are in the arts and some are meant to develop strategic thinking. But all of them carry a price tag much higher than you'd expect. Read ahead to see what they are.


Learning how to be in the 95th percentile of a given subject isn't something most kids can do on their own. Often they'll require one-on-one tutoring to take them beyond what they learn in the classroom. But parents should be aware that there are significant costs associated with teaching a child to excel. The $100-an-hour tutor is now hard to come by, and some tutors charge five times that amount.

Sandy Bass, editor of the "Private School Insider" newsletter, says that the $500-an-hour tutor is a phenomenon made possible by parents employed with Wall Street securities firms. According to Bass, these parents are not just willing to pay these sky-high tutoring fees, but compete fiercely with one another for the privilege, in the hopes that it will get their children into the best schools. From there, the parents expect their children to find employment that will help them maintain their parents' lifestyles.

Friedman studied mostly lower-middle class and middle class families for her book, and found that the parents of dancers paid thousands of dollars per year. This included entry fees per routine, variable costs for shoes and approximately $200 per costume. "On top of fees and appearance-related costs, there is the cost of traveling to competitions and staying in hotels, which can cost several hundreds of dollars each weekend."

Altogether, Friedman found that the parents she studied spent between $5,000 and $10,000 per year for a child in competitive dance. "This is obviously a lot of money, and it may be surprising to many unfamiliar with dance, but it is commensurate, and even cheaper, than similar activities like figure skating and gymnastics," she says in her book.


Friedman researched chess clubs for her book. While it may seem that there would be little expense involved in playing chess beyond the purchase of a board, a lot gets overlooked. "Most of the families I met do one tournament per month during the school year," she said. "The average tournament fee is $40. Most have private lessons, average cost $100, once a week, so $400 per month, let's say for eight months."

Outside of the school year, costs add up further. "Summer chess camp is about $500 per week, let's say two weeks per summer," she said. "One major tournament like state or national; travel fees and hotel come to around $1,500. Materials like a set, a clock and notebooks come to about $250 per year. So the total, on average, is around $5,000 per year."

Beauty Pageants

Hilary Levey Friedman is a Harvard sociologist and the author of the forthcoming book "Playing to Win: Raising Children in a Competitive Culture." For her book, she researched a variety of extracurricular activities, including children's beauty pageants.

According to Friedman, turning your daughter into the next Honey Boo Boo isn't cheap. The average participation fee for a single pageant is $500. Add travel and hotel of $600, hair and makeup for $250, coaching fees of $400, and wardrobe costs of $500, plus $100 for "beauty rituals like nails, tanning and flippers," she said in an e-mail. "So total per pageant, on average, is $2350. For an average family that does this five per year, the annual cost is around $11,750."


Eric Chen is an associate professor at the University of Saint Joseph whose child plays violin in local competitions. Chen said in an e-mail that the instrument itself cost $5,000, along with $750 for the bow, $250 for a spare bow and another $250 for the case. Throw in another $100 or so for a sheet music stand, shoulder rest, metronome and more, and it's easy to see how it can cost over $6,000 just to get started.

There are also annual costs, such as $300 worth of bow rehairs, three sets of strings at $55 each, and weekly lessons at $200 per hour, which add up to $10,400 per year. According to Chen, this brings his annual cost to over $11,000. "These costs represent the annual maintenance costs and do not include competition or competition-related expenses such as travel, clothing, or fees," he said.

See the full list: The Costs of Competitive Kids

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