Skills worth paying for

Lovin the swimminAs a parent of almost 9-year-old twins, I’ve been thinking a bit about what activities we’ve paid for that have been worth their cost.  I’ve been playing a little game where I ask myself if I had to do it over how much would I be willing to pay to have our children obtain a particular skill.

My filter for such a list is as follows:

  • Will this skill be useful throughout their life?
  • Will this skill be more difficult (and potentially more costly) to obtain at a later age?
  • Is this skill best taught by someone else?

Best Buys

Below is a list of my top 3 best buys.  Our involvement in these as parents has been pretty minimal other than opening our wallets and schlepping them to the activity.  I’m also coming at this from a perspective of dual-working parents.  As a soon-to-be stay at home dad, I’d consider taking these on myself in lieu of the expense.**

** Where it makes sense.  Does any one else have kids that listen and trust complete strangers more than you when it comes to learning something new?

#1 – Learn to Swim

Using sign language for "more".
Using sign language for “more”.

At the top of the list is definitely swim lessons.  I estimate we paid about $1,500 total per kid learning to swim over the course of a three-year period starting around age 3.  This meant by the time they were 5, they could accidentally slip into the deep end of a pool and be able to get themselves out.

If we lived in a location that had more than 3 months of summer and every other house on the block had a pool, I can see where this may not be needed and could be obtained without the need for formal lessons.


#2 – Learn to Ski/Skate

First Ski Lesson
First Ski Lesson

In our neck of the woods, it’s imperative to embrace winter and find ways to get out in it.  Otherwise it can hole you up for months at a time and really get depressing.

This is why we haven’t been shy about providing ski and ice skating lessons for our kids.  And we started early.  It’s paid off handsomely since this winter we’ve spent many an afternoon on both indoor and outdoor rinks.

We only made it out to the slopes once this winter (last weekend), but because our boys had a solid foundational knowledge for skiing, they were able to take the chair lifts and ski with their buddies completely on their own while the Mrs. and I were able to sip Bloody Marys in the local lodge bar.  With these skills, our kids have gained a level of independence that they otherwise would not have.

#3 – Become Fluent in a Foreign Language

Let’s suppose you had two kids and you wanted them to speak a second language, specifically one of the romance languages, in one year’s time.  What amount of money would you be willing to spend to make that happen provided they had zero background in the language to begin with?

How about $44,000?


What if I told you it would be certain to happen provided you immerse your kids in the language while in public school in the European country of your choice?

And beyond that, you could join them and the cost includes all room and board for your entire family?

Oh, and you all get to experience the sights, take in the new culture, and partake in a boatload of fun activities together as a family?

This is exactly what the Wagoners did and here they sit with two proficient Spanish speakers.

While I’m not entirely sure our expenses will be as low, I’m chalking up our upcoming adventure as the cost needed to gain this particular skill.


How about you?

Is there any skill that you have essentially ‘bought’ for yourself or a child that you look back at now and say “yeah, that was totally worth it”?  What price would you pay to learn an inherent skill and which skill would it be?

19 thoughts on “Skills worth paying for”

    1. Hi Addison. We’re not an overly ‘musical’ family and I’ve been debating whether or not to introduce our kids to an instrument of some kind. There has been little interest from them to this point, so we haven’t forced it. I also know at a certain level of school they’ll be encouraged to give it a try (middle school, I think). When I was growing up, my parents enrolled me in piano lessons that I stuck with for a couple of years. I wouldn’t say I loved it but do appreciate that at one point in time I was able to read music. Would you have any suggestions as to the ideal age+instrument combo for beginners?

  1. I don’t have kids yet, but living in Australia, any future kids will be learning to swim as soon as humanly possible. Quite a few of Mrs Ikonz’ friends can’t swim (and they’re in their 30s) and we live in a country surrounded by water and famous for its beaches. Go figure!!

    I love the idea about learning another language. I’ve never really had the patience (nor skill) to pick on up, but I’d love my kids to learn.

    I’d also put my kids through a first aid course. You just never know…

  2. I would put swimming on the list of must learns. Kids will probably be near water at some point in their lives. My kids did some swim lessons with some success, and could probably use more lessons. We end up at the beach a time or two per year (living within 2 hours makes that easy), and we hit the public pool fairly often as well. And then there are swim parties, and swimming at summer camp, and… They won’t ever be triathletes, but they can at least avoid drowning and make their way across the pool. And this is a great reminder that we need to get our 2 year old swimming! 🙂

    Skiing and ice skating must be a regional thing. I learned to ice skate a little as a kid and it hasn’t really mattered much in adult life. I skied a few times as a kid, but without driving 4 hours, it isn’t something that many around us do routinely (it rarely snows around us, present year excepted).

    I agree with the foreign language. We have tried to expose the kids to different languages and I’m hoping they will get more interested and start learning one more in depth. They know enough Spanish that the wife and I can’t use it as code words any more (they cracked “helado” last night 🙁 ). Going to a school where 45% speak Spanish, many as a first language, it’s hard not to pick up un poco. And we get the immersion experience while living here in the US in a moderately priced area! Win win win!

    1. Yeah, snow sports are a must for us otherwise we’d never leave the house from Dec to Feb. I can see where those skills may not be as needed in NC 🙂

      It’s great that your kids are starting to crack the code. I suppose ‘postre’ is next on the list. With such a high percentage of Spanish speakers in your local (presumably public) school, is there any opportunity for dual language immersion in your area? This is the type of program our kids are enrolled in now. Half of every class come from Spanish speaking homes and the classes are taught in both English and Spanish. The thought is that the kids can help each other in their native tongues. I gotta say, it’s worked out pretty well.

      1. Postres, dulces, y caramelos, claro! I’ll try those out just to see how much Spanish they have absorbed from their amigos.

        There is a dual-language Spanish/English public school another mile or two more distant than our current neighborhood school, but we like the walkable neighborhood school. And there’s a few more schools 4-5 miles away that are international focused with strong emphasis on foreign language. We just decided to go with the simple choice of the base school here in the neighborhood. It’s nice to be able to walk up to school in 10 minutes, or drive there in 1 minute. And it helps meeting people here in the neighborhood, too. Some classmates of theirs just moved in a few doors down so we finally have the “kids down the street” for them to play with (otherwise we are surrounded by a lot of retired people and young kidless professionals).

  3. I couldn’t swim to save my life!!! We had a pool in the last 2 houses and you could count how many times l went in over the 9 years! To me, it was all about resale, even though my husband enjoyed it.. Since we’ve been here, l can finally float in the sea, makes going to the beach a bit more enjoyable . I really wish l had learned as a kid. Fear really is a mind killer!

    1. Yeah, my wife is in a similar situation. She didn’t grow up with many opportunities to swim – it just was never a priority and not really part of her culture. I’m proud of her, though, because she’s made an honest attempt to become a better swimmer as an adult and has become much more confident. She was the one who was so adamant about the lessons for our boys. I was hesitant to spend the money because I took the skill for granted!

  4. Back in 1997, I decided that I would hate working as a pharmacist. After year 1, I didn’t return to pharmacy school. Instead, I enrolled in a 6 month computer programming certificate course at DePaul that set me back $3,800. I’ve been working in the field now for 15 years, make good money and best of all, enjoy my job.

    Best. $3,800. Spent. Ever.

    1. Wow. Not too shabby. That was obviously worth it.

      How soon before our little ones can learn to code? The math suggests FI in 17 years at a 50% savings rate. Start at age 12 and retire before 30. I’m only half joking.

  5. Music, music, music – and then: music. I may be biased as a music fanatic and a guitarist, bassist, and slightly aspiring pianist. The ability to play an instrument and appreciate music is a lifelong gift. I can’t think of anything more valuable to me. Please expose your kids to a lot of different music and see if you can’t push them a little bit to try an instrument. The fact is that ANY/EVERY instrument is difficult at first. A handful of kids might be willing to hang on, work hard, and get through that learning curve on their own. Most others will need a bit of a push. And most will likely appreciate in the long run having learned to play an instrument. How many adults do you know who say “I used to play ; I wish I kept it up”?


    1. Another vote for music. Duly noted. We do expose our boys to a range of music. My wife will periodically burn a “mixed CD” with all different genres and times of popular music from Bob Marley to Bruce Springsteen to Beethoven. I think it is catching on pretty strong with one of my boys. He had his school spring choir concert yesterday and he was really belting out the tunes. Nothing like hearing those little voices sing Frozen’s “Let it go” or the “Fifty Nifty United States” song.

      With that said, would you recommend a specific age / instrument combination? Or would you default to whatever they show an interest in? I believe most middle schools require every student try an instrument for a bit but wasn’t sure if you thought starting earlier may be beneficial.

      Thanks for taking the time to comment, progmtl.

      1. I started guitar at age 9. My daughter is 7 and has just recently started on piano. Starting early is beneficial but not required. Some of my favorite guitarists started in their teens.

        As for instrument choice, I would say it helps to let the child choose something he/she is interested in, but it also needs to be practical. For example, a small-framed kid would probably not do well with a tuba or a string bass (upright bass). For some instruments, it may make sense to start the child on a decent quality rented instrument rather than a junky cheap one. I’m thinking maybe horns, woodwinds, etc.

        Also, I have a preference for instruments that are capable of playing harmony – think more than one note at a time. A six-string guitar can play up to six simultaneous notes. A piano can play more. Harmony provides a richer sound when practicing alone and allow for self-accompaniment. Most school band/orchestra instruments play only single notes, and sound less interesting during practice than with an ensemble. However, if the child is really into the sound of a saxophone, or trumpet, or flute, then I would go with it. One other thing about both guitar and piano is that they span many styles of music: you can play rock, jazz, blues, country, classical music on either instrument and find plenty of examples of such. But I am a bit biased here :).

        A lot depends on the desired style of music. If someone is really into rock music and wants to play guitar, you would likely focus more on learning songs, chords, scales, and improvising than you would on music reading. Anything in a classical context or school band/orchestra, on the other hand, will absolutely require strong music reading skills. Start from the types of music the child likes and look for versatile instruments that are involved. Hope this helps a bit.

Your Thoughts?