As kids head back to school, many of them are gearing up for the fall sports season. Playing on the school soccer team or training with the town’s youth swim team can help kids learn teamwork and self-discipline. But these activities, especially equipment-heavy sports like hockey or football, can come with a hefty price tag. The average American family spends over $600 per child on sports-related costs during the school year, according to a 2012 survey by savings website RetailMeNot.
If that sounds daunting, read on for parent-tested strategies that could save you money.
Sheryl Gray, a communications consultant and mother of three in North Delta, British Columbia, saved money on her 7-year-old son’s soccer team fees by registering early. “The North Delta Youth Soccer Association gave a one-week window for an early-bird fee, which I was going to ignore — it was at the same time I had to pay for summer baseball — until I realized it was $50, which was significant enough to get me to take action,” she explains. “I’m usually a procrastinator, but all the fees for organized sports are rigid.”
Gray’s son’s soccer team charges parents an extra $50 if they don’t put in at least two hours of volunteering over the course of the season, so she plans to put in her time. Volunteering has its perks, too. “My partner coaches baseball and has joined the board of directors,” Gray says. “Getting to know people in the association gave us the opportunity to buy some equipment at cost, stuff that had been purchased for team use by the association and was left over at the end of the season.” Mike Austin, a soccer dad in Tualatin, Oregon, has had a similar experience with coaching his daughter’s team. “All the parents on our team stay and watch practice, so I figured if I already was going to be there, I could step up and coach,” he says. The league gave Austin free soccer balls, cones and practice shirts for coaching, and he borrowed a set of goals from a friend.
Kids on a growth spurt can outgrow clothes faster than they can wear them. Well-fitting shoes are a necessary expense for safety reasons, but you might be able to buy a pair of gently used cleats or running shoes at a thrift shop or from another family on your kids’ teams. For other items, consider buying the next size up if appropriate so your little athletes can grow into their gear. Austin bought his daughter’s soccer shorts and jerseys a size larger so she can wear them again the following year. He suggests avoiding trendy colors or styles kids may tire of. “Sure, your daughter may love the bright pink Hello Kitty ball this year,” Austin says, “but buying a more neutral-color ball may last many seasons, especially if the Hello Kitty phase wears out before the next season.”
If you have multiple sports-loving children, keep their outgrown clothing so the younger siblings can use them — if you have kids of both genders, that’s yet another reason to avoid Hello Kitty. Austin says that as long as nothing changes with his local soccer league and the team still wears jerseys in the town’s colors, he plans to outfit his younger daughter in hand-me-downs once she’s old enough to play.
If you know in advance that your kid plans to continue baseball or hockey or whatever sport the following year, look for discounted gear at the end of the season and stock up for the following year. “Saving money on sports equipment typically requires some preparation and buying in the depths of the off-season,” Austin says. “I didn’t buy anything soccer-related this summer as the World Cup was happening because retailers were charging top dollar.”
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