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How to Keep Your Kids Playing Sports Without Going Broke

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Photo: matimix (Shutterstock)

If you’re a parent whose kids play sports, you probably noticed that it costs a pretty penny. While you may be able to get away with a $20 jersey in kiddie soccer, once they get older and start playing on teams or rehearsing for large performances, you’ll be faced with much higher participation and equipment fees. From copious hockey gear and baseball helmets (and mitts and bats and gloves, and a special backpack to carry it all), and new ballet slippers for every growth spurt, parents of sporty kids have to spend something to the tune of $700 per child, per sport annually, according to this 2019 survey conducted by the Aspen Institute. Fortunately, there are ways you can support your child’s athletic interests without breaking the bank.

There are less expensive sports

While your kid’s passion may lie squarely in the land of figure skating, it pays to steer them towards sports with less heavy equipment fees (if those sports happen to fit within their personality and interests). According to Money, while ice hockey can run parents more than $2,500 per child per year on average (with skiing close behind at $2,250 per child), “sports like flag football, cross country, basketball, and soccer are among the least expensive, with annual average costs ranging from $268 to $537 per player.”

Additionally, talk with other parents and league coaches to find out if (and when) there is a significant jump in cost of play. For example, costs may spike at a certain level, or there might be pressure or expectation to join a more costly travel league beyond a certain age.

Enroll multiple kids in the same sport (and stick to one or two)

Encourage children to follow in their older sibling’s footsteps and try out the same sport. (Whether they stick with that sport is another story.) You can hopefully get a few years of shared cleats, balls, and rackets. Also resist the temptation to sign them up for multiple different sports every season, and encourage them to pick their top two for the year.

Skip the travel teams

Not only do travel sports come with tangibly higher price tags (higher registration fees, year-round play, high-end uniforms, and tournament fees), they also include the less quantifiable but not insignificant expense of travel. At age 7, you could be regularly driving your child up to an hour away for games, and by age 9, they may be invited to play in out-of-state tournaments requiring hotel stays. Keep them on local, community-based recreational teams if you need to protect your wallet.

Buy (and sell) used equipment

Instead of heading to your local sporting goods store for shiny new gear, buy (or better yet, borrow) sports equipment secondhand whenever possible. When you don’t know how long your child will maintain interest in a certain sport (and their feet grow two sizes every year), it doesn’t make financial sense to spend $40 on every new pair of cleats, when online resources like Play It Again Sports and SidelineSwap allow you to spend a fraction of that. They also allow you to sell gear you no longer need to subsidize your child’s next season. You can also tap into Facebook Marketplace, Craigslist, and your local consignment shop.

Buy during the offseason (and embrace hand-me-downs)

Another way to avoid paying full price is to shop for you child’s next swim team training suit or waterproof jacket for outdoor soccer practice when those items are on sale. While sports do get played year-round, you can still find deals on seasonal items like shorts, sweatshirts, and bathing suits when the seasons change. And don’t be afraid to ask friends and neighbors if they’d like to trade those size 13 cleats for a beginner tennis racket your child used approximately once.

Carpool like it’s 1999

I could be wrong, but it seems there’s a lot less carpooling going on these days than when I was a kid. I have vivid memories of my mom carting half my brother’s football team in the back of her station wagon. Whenever possible, set up ride-sharing schedules with other parents who live close by to decrease your gas bill, and the massive dent in your time that all that schlepping back and forth to practice takes.

Volunteer your time

Offering to coach a team may decrease the cost of your child’s enrollment fee (and give you more control of the schedule). If your child’s team is involved in expensive dance competitions, for example, organizing fundraisers like bake sales or car washes for the team can help reduce those costs as well.

 

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