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How I Justify Music Lessons

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As I look at my budget with an eye on cutting back more to get out of debt more quickly, the thing that consistently leaps out at me are the music lessons.  My younger two have taken lessons for almost four years now and the two oldest for a couple of years. Last fall, when I lost a long term client and almost a third of my steady income, I had to cut back…first thing I looked at was music.

Now many would ask, why do you do music? Surely the kids wouldn’t mind not having to practice regularly and taking it out of your budget altogether would certainly speed up the get out of debt process?

My answer: Multitudes of studies have shown that music opens up the brain in ways no traditional learning can, and having two children with some learning issues this is a huge factor. In addition, music speaks to the soul and temperament as nothing else does and I want, and my children need to have that outlet and release with everything else going on in their lives. Lastly, I have two children who have shown a significant aptitude for music, not concert piano type aptitude but enough that I want it to be available to them.

That is my current justification for continuing with music lessons so how have I made it work in my budget? Well, I think I’m found a good middle ground…at least for now.

First, we only do music lessons from mid-September through April.  This is when we do our heaviest schooling (homeschool) and we are pretty consistent with lessons and practice.

Second, and this was a change last fall when my budget was cut significantly, each child only takes one instrument and only goes every other week.  So each child gets two lessons a month. (I worked out with the teachers to only do 4 weeks a month to 1) save money and 2) be more consistent with my budget.)

Third, we find most all lessons, music, etc. supplements online and either use an iPad or print them so we don’t incur music book/printing charges.

Lastly, and logically to me, all the kids share the musical instruments.  We have 1-folk guitar, 1-full size keyboard and 1-full size set of drums, and these are their only musical options. (My daughter is longing to play the violin; however, I have pushed that off a couple of years telling her that I had to see consistency in her practice and dedication to existing instruments before I invested in another one.)

My son's first exposure to drums on a trip in 2010.

My son’s first exposure to drums on a trip in 2010.

So what do you think? Do you agree that continuing music is a good idea? Or should I eliminate it to speed up my debt pay off?

We will do evaluations in a month for end of school year term, so if advised to cease and desist, it would really not affect us til next fall when music started back up.

I had already written this when I stumbled upon this video from TED Talks…again backing up how important music lessons are, but I also consider that putting them off a year or two to get out of debt probably wouldn’t by pass our window. I’m anxious to get your thoughts on this.


30 Comments

  • Reply Ann |

    Music lessons would be the last thing I would give up. I grew up very very poor but my (single) mom knew that music was something that lasts a lifetime. I appreciate it so much. And it passed on to the next generation so that all 4 of my kids took lessons (one ended up graduating from a conservatory and makes her living with music).
    When we had our kids and had little money, we gave up other things – we did our own haircuts, our trips were to historical sites and camping, lots of free adventure and no amusement parks. But we never gave up the music lessons.

    • Reply Hope |

      Hi Ann,

      I can see we agree on the importance of music, that I don’t doubt at all. I guess my question is do you think it would be better to take that approx $300 I’m paying in music and put it toward debt…
      Assuming that could really move my pay off date alot more quickly and then we could do music without the over-shadowing debt burden?
      Would taking a year or two break esp for my younger two (age 9 and 10) really hurt them that much?

      I don’t know.

  • Reply Dawn |

    As I became a single mom, my daughter started swimming and excelling. This was a huge boost to her self esteem and having a learning disability made it that more important she continued. I think if we can give up something for ourselves or trim back on our children’s activities. BUT, if it’s something that helps them develop into responsible adults do what you can. My daughter knew I struggled to keep her in swimming. Practices and meets were on a different level for her because she wanted to make my juggling worth it. Honestly, I wouldn’t have cared if she wasn’t good at it as long as she kept that mind set. Keep them in music! Btw this is rare but her swimming paid off as she got a full ride. You never know when an investment will pay off!

    • Reply Hope |

      Hi Dawn,

      I full agree on the mindset issue. Only one of mine at this moment (and you know how often that can change with kids) is really asking for the lessons, and he just switch from piano to guitar piano as his instrument of choice. I think the others do it more from force of habit after playing for so long rather than passion.

      Three of the four have found things that really speak to them as an activity, I guess that’s why I’m considering cutting them at least on a temporary basis as I think it could speed up this pay off process exponentially and that is my #1 goal right now.

  • Reply Andrea |

    Keep the music lessons as long as the children show any sort of interest! We also homeschool, so I’ve seen the pay off in academics first hand. Another option to look for: my kids are in a local youth orchestra which is just $150 for the entire year. That includes two hours per week of basically group lessons, all the music, and three public performances.

    • Reply Hope |

      Wow, that sounds great. Unfortunately our local orchestra (which is free) does not current take piano, drum or guitar players…but definitely something to keep my eyes open for.

  • Reply Marina |

    Keep up the music lessons. You’ve made some workable cuts to make it more viable for you and there is a plethora of reasons to keep them in lessons so do it! 🙂

    • Reply Hope |

      Thanks, Marina…that’s been my gut reaction as well. But now I consider the opportunity to get out of debt that much sooner…and I’m questioning it. I certainly appreciate your feedback.

  • Reply Mintly @ MintlyBlog |

    Absolutely do not give up on the music lessons! It’s a big expense, I know (I’m a music teacher by trade, myself, who is also paying for my own daughter’s lessons), but it’s an investment. It’s very important to be consistent with practicing (as you know) so that they can see the pay-off quickly as they work hard and see results. I find that when my students experience success in music, it does huge things for self esteem (especially if they struggle in other aspects of school). Plus, if your kids join a chorus or band in middle/high school, they will have an automatic circle of friends. But, again, I’m biased. 🙂

    • Reply Hope |

      Hi Mintly,

      Thanks for the encouragement. I guess that’s the nice thing about homeschooling, practice is just part of their routine so for the most part it’s not a fight (as it was when I was younger.) And I know they are not old enough to realize how handy music training can come in as an adult, so I debate giving them a choice quite yet.

      • Reply Mintly @ MintlyBlog |

        I know it’s a tough decision. We’re in a rough financial situation right now, too, with lots of student loan debt hanging over our heads. I’ve considered finding a different piano teacher for my daughter (as we pay $100 now for lessons, and she’s only 4!!!!) – I’ve done some research and there’s someone in the area who might come to our house and she only charges $80.

        I think letting children change instruments (the one who is begging for violin, the one who is wanting to change to guitar) is a good idea – that shows they’re really interested and will be more invested. I don’t agree that taking time off is a good idea; however, having a parent who is less stressed about money may go farther than consistent lessons, if that makes sense.

        At the very least, you can rest assured that you started your kids on lessons at an early enough age that their brains have benefited from music study and the consistency of practicing. That definitely counts for a lot. If you have to take time off, you have to! But you might seriously consider looking around for other teachers who charge less or perhaps even a community music school who might cut you a break if you have multiple children taking lessons there. (We have one or two in our area who do that.) If you’ve already addressed this elsewhere in these comments, I apologize. Good luck! 🙂

  • Reply Lizzyingallselisabeth |

    Keep the music lessons! BTW, if you do decide on violin lessons, it is easy to find a good secondhand instrument.

    • Reply Hope |

      She would be so glad to hear that. We are on year two of her begging for violin. I think if I can hit my debt really hard over the next 12 months I will consider it for next year. (We choose curriculum of study in June for the school year.)

  • Reply debbie |

    As long as the bills are paid, and credit is up t date, nothing late or in collections, then it’s really up to you. I figured that since the cost was high (even if it includes all the kids, and the small assortment of instruments), the cost of the interest I hope would be lower on the debt. It’s really your call on what to do. My kids were in music classes, chorus, and band. I did a lot of fundraising work while they were enrolled. When the kids decided that they did not want to practice, or it wasn’t fun anymore, they were OUT of luck and I pulled them out.

    • Reply Hope |

      Hi Debbie,

      I think there’s where I’m at now too. The fight over practice, the desire to do something else when it’s lesson time. I know it’s end of the year funk, but my mind is completely on the goal of being debt free and making a change here would definitely speed that along.

      • Reply debbie |

        My kids were enrolled for a long time, but at one point, they refused to continue practicing, complained about wanting to do other things, and I just couldn’t afford to keep paying for something they lost interest in. I spent a lot of hours doing fundraising for their musical experience. I took them out, used the money to start getting my other bills paid. It happens, and kids change their mind so much with activities….they are old enough to understand that if they don’t pull their end of the bargain (practicing, not complaining, using their time wisely), then I don’t have to supply the activity funds. I’m not being mean, but in reality, it’s money that can be used to pay off some bills. When the kids are older, they can earn the money and get a part time job to help pay for music lessons. My daughter has a part time job, and she refuses to spend it on music/choir lessons. It’s different when it’s their earned cash.

  • Reply Alexandria |

    If they have had exposure to music, I am not sure how important it is to keep paying for lessons for the long run. In addition, there are many non profit organizations that provide music experience. That said, it sounds like you have been creative in how you approach it.

    I was a student piano teacher and saw how hard it was for adults to learn. (I have also watched my very tenacious Dad struggle to learn; will never be able to read music as easily as I). So, I always wanted my kids to learn to read music while young and while it is easier. Is probably one of our biggest financial priorities. Piano is a good foundation instrument but I learned and perfected others in public school. I am extremely disappointed there are no music programs readily available in our school district (nothing can beat that forced practice every single school day, and learning to play in groups). BUT, I have sought out several other options. Unfortunately, my kids just are not that interested. 🙁 So we will probably let it go. It is a lot to juggle and figure it out. But they will stay in piano lessons until they can read music more proficiently. They may never pick up an instrument again. BUT, they will have the skills for the future. The younger one is VERY creative and musical and so is why we do push it to the extent we have. We kind of make the older one go these days just because the younger one would freak out if he had to go alone. I suppose I also let the “other instrument” thing go with the older child, but not sure I have with younger child. It’s just no need to push it for now…

    Worst case, financially, I would have taught them. I can probably teach them several instruments. It is much better with someone else teaching them though. But it’s nice to have a Plan B, too.

    • Reply Hope |

      Yes, I debate the issue with the children who are more interested and motivated versus those that are not as well. As they get older and more interested and committed to things, I guess I am more open to allowing them to choose. But not there entirely yet.

      • Reply Walnut |

        If you have kids that have been in music lessons for several years and their hearts aren’t really in it, I would drop those lessons. If they have the fundamentals down, they can continue to spend their practice time self teaching.

  • Reply Mary from SC |

    Hi Hope – it sounds like you have found some creative ways to keep your children involved in activities they enjoy. The first thing I really noticed on your budget was the amount spent on these activities. I would suggest brainstorming even more to see how you could further reduce those expenses. Getting out of debt does require sacrifice and one thing I have personally found on my ongoing journey is when I loosen up a little, I lose my momentum. At the very beginning of the race, everything should be questioned, weighed and evaluated. Then see just how creative you can get. Wishing you the best on your journey.

    • Reply Hope |

      I think you are right and I am EXTREMELY motivated right now. I guess that’s why this post went up earlier rather than later as just the music lessons alone would free up $300+ towards debt each month which could make a big difference in moving up my payoff date.

      And then afterwards, well, the sky would open up again 🙂

      • Reply debbie |

        Imagine the drop in interest you would not have to pay with that cash going toward a debt. Dave Ramsey!!! It would save you thousands of dollars in a lifetime.

  • Reply Diana |

    Great book – Raising Musical Kids by Kavanaugh. My girls are in their 6th year of piano lessons and second daughter also takes harp lessons – in her 4th year. It is a big financial commitment but worth it. Good luck.

  • Reply Melissa |

    What about sacrificing the music lessons for say 6 months which would allow you to throw the $300+ month at your debt and really get your debt snowball going and then as your debt comes down you could think about picking them back up again. This would also give you the opportunity to see which of your kids really missed the lessons and those that didn’t so much! Loving you story Hope, all the best on your journey from oz!

  • Reply first step |

    Check to see if any subsidies or scholarships are available for the “motivated” kids. My daughter’s chorus teacher recently sent me information on a local piano scholarship. We didn’t qualify because our income is over the limit, but it made me realize that there may be help available for kids who need help affording lessons.

  • Reply hannah |

    As a kid I really wanted to learn to play the piano, and when I was about 12 my mom found a good teacher.I loved it, and took lessons for several years until she moved away.
    I’ve used those skills in many ways over the years, and still get joy out of playing just for fun.
    However, I had friends at the time who’s mom signed them up because it was good for them. They didn’t like it, wouldn’t practice, their hearts weren’t in it, etc. That didn’t last very long.

    Would you like my opinion?

    Music is an important skill to learn, and has many benefits – but it isn’t necessary for life like math or english is. If you are trying to pay off debt, I think it’s more important to use your money toward that, then paying for lessons for children who’s hearts aren’t in it.
    If you have a kid or two who, upon discussing it, really loves their instrument, then let them keep taking lessons.
    But the kids who do it because it’s required? By now they’ve already learned the fundamentals, and if they have no passion for it I see no value in spending the money. If you are concerned about them retaining the theory knowledge, you can add review of online lessons to your list of tasks, but this doesn’t require paying teachers.
    In this way you can let the passionate ones develop their skill, the non-passionate ones retain the knowledge, and have extra money to put toward that all-important debt.

    Just .02 from a music lover. 🙂

  • Reply mary m |

    We’ve talked about having music lessons for the kids, but it’s never worked out schedule-wise or money-wise. But, our kids are in public school so they get lessons for free. Starting in 4th grade, they can join the orchestra which meets 2-3 hours a week, or 5th grade they can join the band and it’s 4-5 hours a week. Once they hit middle school, it’s daily for an hour.

    Can you see if your kids can do activities like this through the school (even if they’re homeschooled)? I know in our district homeschool kids can participate in sports and PE, and I *think* the music program.

    If I were you, I’d see about cutting back/finding more bartering, but I would stick with it. I wouldn’t get rid of it completely, other than like you do after April/for the summer…which is next month!

  • Reply Xavier Kane |

    Music is essential for kids specially if given in young age. You can look for alternative like, you can teach them sheet music or can look for tutor who will teach them for lesser money like college students.

  • Reply Xavier Kane |

    You can look for alternatives like sheet music or any tutor who is willing to teach them for free.

So, what do you think ?