Do you (literally) owe a debt to hockey?

More than a third (38 per cent) of Canadian parents say they, or someone they know, went into debt to put a child in extracurricular activities.

Call me crazy, but to me, debt is a four-letter word. It isn’t something to be entered into lightly. Obviously there are some kinds of debt, such as a mortgage or a student loan, that can offer a large return on investment. But for the most part, taking on debt is simply a way to live beyond one’s means and ought to be reserved for true needs.

Right? Are you with me parents?!

Apparently, not so much. According to a recent survey, more than a third (38 per cent) of Canadian parents say they, or someone they know, went into debt to put a child in extracurricular activities, such as hockey or swimming.

Okay. I know hockey is practically a religion here in Canada. And, yes, swimming can be a life-saving skill for kids. But, as far as I’m concerned, paying for extracurricular activities is not a good reason to go into debt.

Before I get labelled as un-Canadian, let me say that I have absolutely no issue with kids playing hockey. But if parents honestly can’t cut back on other expenses or find a way to earn extra money to pay for the activity, what’s wrong with road hockey? As for swimming, there may be alternatives to formal lessons to consider. For example, could you take your kids to the local community centre and teach them yourself? If you don’t have the ability, could you make an arrangement with a friend or neighbour to barter or trade skills or services?

Debt, in my opinion, should always be seen as a last-resort option.

Still not convinced? Let me share a personal anecdote. When I was little, I begged my parents for a piano. I was certain I wanted to play — and they even bought me a small toy plug-in organ to satisfy my desires — but there was no way we could afford a piano. When I was 12, my mother received a small windfall (very small, as in the low four-digits) and she used the money to purchase an inexpensive piano so I could take lessons, which I was still lobbying for. Guess what? I took lessons for two years, decided I hated it, and haven’t played since. (True story!)

The piano still sits, unused, in my mother’s living room. I have tremendous guilt over the whole thing. But imagine how much worse I’d feel if I knew my parents had gone into debt to buy the piano?

Listen, I get that as parents, we want to give our kids every possible advantage. And it hurts us when we feel our child is missing out. The problem is that in giving our kids “everything” — even when we can’t afford it — we are teaching them that they need “everything” to be happy. Is that what we want them to believe?

What are your reasons for taking on debt?

About the Author

Tamar Satov

Managing Editor, CPA magazine
Tamar is a journalist specializing in business, parenting and personal finance. She blogs regularly in this space with advice and anecdotes on her efforts to raise a money-smart kid.