I recently asked my parents how much my baseball playing cost them when I was a kid. The answer was around $75 per year, which is truly a bargain compared to what kids' activities cost today. Parents spend about $670 per child each year on sports-related activities, and 20 percent spend more than $1,000 per year, according to a TurboTax analysis last year.
With the popularity of video games and other sedentary activities, the simple fact that your kids want to participate in organized sports and get some physical activity can make it all too easy to let costs go out the window. In order to avoid spending more than you'd like on your children's sporting activities, read on.
1. Volunteer your time. By volunteering to coach, manage the dugout or even wash players' uniforms, you may get a big break on fees. Check with the head coach or the parks department to see what positions might be available. It's a great way to spend up-close and personal time with your kids, who are sure to be more engaged in the sport if you're overseeing their development.
2. Buy secondhand. When it comes to baseball gloves, basketballs, ice skates, cleats or just about anything related to the sport your kids play, buying used is the way to go. Your children could change their minds about particular sports after a short time, rendering that pair of $100 Adidas soccer cleats virtually useless. Check out eBay and Amazon or a local Play It Again Sports store that sells gently-used sporting goods. When your kids outgrow their equipment, relist it online or sell it back to the used retailer. Garage sales and pawnshops often have used sporting equipment at affordable prices as well.
3. Skip the expensive accessories. If kids take up soccer, they're eventually going to want to be the next Pelé. That doesn't mean they have to look like him at age 5, though. Plenty of sporting accessories are simply unnecessary, and this is where costs can add up the most. Young kids don't need batting gloves, bench towels, headbands or expensive water bottles. Keep your money in your pocket, and outfit your children with the basics necessary to play the sport and protect themselves -- and leave it at that.
4. Negotiate. If you go to a garage sale, pawnshop or even a Play It Again Sports, know that prices are negotiable. If all you're buying is a $5 pair of cleats you might not have much wiggle room, but if you're purchasing everything your kids need from head to toe, try asking for a price reduction. The worst that can happen is that you're told no, but if you manage to get even $10 taken off, it's worth it.
5. Carpool. Transportation can be a significant expense if the venue for your children's activities is far from home -- a 30-minute round-trip drive twice a week can quickly put a dent in your gas tank. Instead of driving solo, organize a carpooling system with other parents and save a bundle.
6. Don't overcommit. Most kids tend to want to play multiple sports, which can get expensive -- especially if they change their minds frequently. Try to limit their participation to one or two activities at a time, which reduces your costs and allows them to better enjoy and focus on each sport. You can also find out if other parents in your neighborhood have experience with particular leagues and organizations and ask for recommendations.
7. Pack healthy, low-cost snacks. If your children have lengthy practices or games, you're going to want to bring a quick snack or drink along for nourishment. Pack some fresh fruits and home-filtered water instead of expensive energy drinks and candy or chips. If it's your turn to provide for the entire team, use that same strategy. If you prefer a drink with electrolytes, buy powdered Gatorade and mix it at home as opposed to buying a case of bottled drinks.
There's no doubt kids sporting activities are more expensive than ever, but it is possible to cut your costs with some shrewd moves.
David Bakke is a financial contributor for the personal finance site Money Crashers, where he writes about money management, budgeting, taxes and lifestyle topics.
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