An estimated 45.7 million American children ages 6-17 take part in one or more sports. For many of their parents, those athletic endeavors can cost thousands of dollars each year. In fact, spiraling costs receive part of the blame for participation numbers declining 9% over five years.
But there’s good news. While you can’t put a price on physical fitness, teamwork, and character-building, it is possible to lower the cost.
Making Youth Sports Affordable: A Playbook for Parents is here to help the families of young athletes cut their expenses, trim their budgets and life-hack their way to a sensible spending plan.
Costs and benefits of youth sports
Between league fees, uniforms and equipment, lessons, and transportation, some parents can wind up paying four figures per year (or more) for every young athlete in the family.
Costs of competing
TD Ameritrade surveyed parents of children currently or previously participating in competitive youth sports to see how much they spent per child per month.
Meanwhile, advocates point to physical, emotional and academic benefits that many children derive from participating in sports. The Aspen Institute cites statistical research comparing children who start playing sports at an early age with children who don’t play sports.
Fortunately, you can help your children enjoy the benefits of youth sports without emptying your wallet every season. Consider the following money-saving strategies when you put together your game plan:
Swapping vs. shopping/used vs. new
Think of buying sports gear the same way you look at buying clothes — in a race between your wallet and your child’s growth spurts, the growth spurts have a head start. That’s why it’s important to save money at every opportunity, which includes buying uniforms a little on the big side in anticipation that your children will grow into them.
The exception is athletic footwear. You want your child’s shoes and cleats to fit as closely as possible to help prevent injuries.
Growing into their gear
Err on the side of “one size up” when it comes to uniforms and equipment because kids can grow fast from age 5 until puberty.
Other ways to cut costs include swapping gear with other families and buying used instead of new. Ask around to see if your fellow sports parents have set up a swap program or if your community has a used sporting goods store. You may be able to find pre-owned gear on craigslist, eBay, freecycle.org, and other all-purpose websites, but the internet also has a number of sports-specific sites.
Parents of multiple sports kids should consider reusing clothes and gear that belonged to older siblings. Unfortunately, children may object to the term “hand-me-down,” just as they would “used” or “secondhand.” If so, why not try some alternative phrasing?
- “Gently used”
Fundraising: In person and online
From car washes to bake sales, we’ve all seen fundraising campaigns for youth sports teams and leagues. If you’re considering this strategy, here are some tips:
- Why not get creative? A talent show might draw more attention than yet another cookie dough sale.
- Seek sponsorship. Financial support from a local business can be a godsend for youth sports.
- Check with your local government to see if you need a permit for a fundraising event. Your city or county may have regulations dealing with anything from water usage (a red flag for car washes) to food safety (a red flag for potluck dinners).
On the other hand, technology offers new methods for fundraising that don’t involve elbow grease or government paperwork. Digital fundraising platforms you can use to help your child’s youth sports team include:
The “shop to support” service FlipGive lets you create an online shopping mall featuring prominent retail brands. The retailers donate a percentage of purchases made through your online store back to your team. Also, you can invite friends and relatives to shop at your store. FlipGive claims to have helped teams earn more than $10 million in cash back.
If you’ve ever held a fundraising event, you’re probably familiar with the refrain “Sorry, I don’t have any cash.” The nonprofit donation platform Qgiv addresses that problem by giving supporters the option of making donations by credit card, whenever and wherever it’s convenient for them. Qgiv has a 97% client retention rate and guarantees increased online fundraising.
If you want some professional help, fiverr provides an online marketplace of freelance services including fundraising. Other services include website customization and social media campaigns so you can enhance your team’s online presence.
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Consider limiting weekend tournaments.
Between registration fees, park fees and travel costs, a single weekend tournament could cost a sports parent hundreds of dollars, if not more.
Play for local teams rather than travel teams.
Travel teams, also known as club teams, can be hugely expensive. You could try to defray costs by carpooling or — in the case of elite-level teams that crisscross the country — redeeming airline and hotel rewards earned with your credit card. Still, staying local will help you avoid those excessive travel costs altogether.
Be wary of big-ticket items.
Every sports parent wants the best for their kids, but the costs of professional instructors and expensive, brand-new equipment just aren’t realistic for many families.
Register early if possible, and don’t be late.
Ask about early registration discounts when you sign your child up for a sports league. By the same token, you may face late fees if you don’t register on time, so be punctual.
Be a role model of responsibility.
Above all else, don’t justify overspending by thinking of youth sports as a financial investment.
While there are many benefits to playing sports, very few kids make the journey from youth sports to high school to college to a lucrative professional career. Consider boys basketball: According to NCAA data, only 3.4% of high school players wind up on NCAA teams, and those college players then have a 1.1% chance of turning pro.
Also, remember the basic concept of youth sports as an exercise in character-building. The life lessons your child learns from you, as a financially responsible adult, are at least as important as the lessons he or she will learn on the field.