If you’re a parent, you’ve probably discovered the high price tag of kids’ sports. Hockey sticks. Baseball bats. Skates. Basketball shoes. Golf clubs. High-end uniforms. The cost of equipment alone can stretch your budget, wreak havoc on your bank account, and drive you a little batty. The average family spends nearly $1,400 on sports activities every year per child.1 And equipment is just the tip of the iceberg. Travel teams, personal trainers, summer camps—all of these costs can add up in a big way.
But guess what? If your child is passionate about playing a kids’ sport, they can kick, catch, throw and score with the best of them—without breaking the bank.
Things to Think About Before Picking a Kids’ Sport
One day, you’re sipping your coffee at the kitchen table when your 6-year-old declares she wants to be a ballerina when she grows up. Which means she wants you to put her in dance classes next weekend—exciting! But after a quick Google search, you discover not every class is created equal. One wants you to purchase a new dance outfit for each song they perform at the spring recital. The other says all you need is a leotard and some ballet slippers. Whatever sport your kid is into, here are some things to think about before you sign them up.
1. Is it an up-front cost or monthly cost?
This can be a huge deal breaker when it comes to your budget. Baseball wants you to shell out $600 in one lump sum, but the soccer team only wants $85 a month for four months. Can your budget swing $600 all at one time, or is a monthly commitment more your speed? Let the budget be your guide here—not your kiddo.
2. What kind of gear will you need?
You’ve put all the enrollment costs in the budget and things look all right so far. You’re feeling good. But then you remember things like uniforms, helmets, padding, pucks and all the other gear your kid needs. Sheesh. Things just added up fast there, and you’re kind of in shock.
It’s true, most of the time it’s the gear that makes some kids’ sports crazy expensive. So take a breath, step back, and look at equipment costs. Add those costs into the budget and see how everything shakes out. This will help put everything in perspective. Once you look at the numbers, it might be crystal clear which sport your kid will be playing and which one they won’t be.
Still overwhelmed? Don’t worry, there are plenty of extra ways to save . . .
How to Save Money on Kids’ Sports
1. Buy used equipment.
New high-end equipment like shoes, bats, skates and helmets can cost a couple hundred dollars—at least. Instead of buying new stuff every season, why not find a discount on some lightly used equipment? We’re not talking about a pair of nasty, stinky old shoes. A lot of “used” equipment hardly looks used at all. Some sports stores specialize in used stuff, or you can always find some online on Facebook Marketplace. Give it a shot and save some serious cash!
2. Pass down the gear.
Your firstborn played soccer last year but is more into baseball this year. And now your youngest is ready to lace up her soccer cleats—so see if you can still get some milage out of your older kid’s shoes, shin guards and soccer ball. Sure, it won’t be brand spanking new, but your youngest should be used to hand-me-downs by now.
3. Sell used equipment.
Have an only child? Unless Junior has a little cousin, you won’t need those size-five cleats again. Sell them online or to other parents looking to buy secondhand. Use that money to purchase this year’s equipment. Next year, rinse and repeat. It’s a beautiful thing.
4. Ask for discounts.
Okay, so you aren’t going to be able to clip a coupon to save money on your kid’s basketball team signup costs, but sometimes you can save money if you pay for the full season at once. Some will even give you perks like a 5% discount for paying in cash too. And if you have multiple kids in the same sport, be sure to ask if there’s a discount for siblings (there usually is!).
5. Pick a sport (or two).
If your child is playing in four different sports, the expenses will add up fast. Narrow it down to one or two sports per year. And as your kids get older, encourage them to really find the sport that has their heart. They can focus on what they love while saving you a bundle. You’ll save on all the equipment costs, plus you’ll have a few months off from driving them all over town!
6. Volunteer to coach.
What? Who? Me? Yes, you! If you have any kind of a background in the sport or you just excel at teaching kids, you might just make the perfect coach. Not only will you be able to catch all your kid’s games, but you’ll likely score a discounted enrollment fee too.
7. Carpool with other parents.
Let’s be honest, carting your kid around to every practice and sports game can really eat away at your gas tank (which eats away at your money). No one likes spending money they don’t need to, so reach out to other parents and start a carpool. You can take turns busing the kids around and split the costs up evenly. That’s way less expensive than your footing the entire bill. Plus, you’ll free up your time too. Win-win!
8. Go with recreational leagues instead of travel teams.
The popularity of travel teams—local all-star teams that travel regionally and nationally—continues to grow. Most of these teams are filled with future high school players. But they aren’t cheap. Some youth travel teams can cost in the $1,000 to $3,000 range per season.
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If you’re in Baby Step 4 or above and can swing that cost in your budget, then it might not be a big deal for you. But if you’re in Baby Steps 1–3, steer clear of this expensive option and stick to the school or community teams. They offer the benefits of competition and exercise without the inflated costs.
Don’t Treat Kids’ Sports Like an Investment for College Tuition
Did someone tell you your kiddo was “gifted” in a sport and could land a scholarship, then asked you to sign up for a special $2,500 camp in the next breath? Look out!
Only 2% of high school athletes are awarded sports scholarships at NCAA schools.2 And the percentage of high school players who go pro is way less than that. Sports are great and can teach your kids tons of life skills. They learn about teamwork, discipline, work ethic, being a good sport and so many other important life lessons. Those are all great reasons for kids to be involved in sports, not the highly unlikely chance that they’ll get a free ride to college.
The truth is, as much as your kid can sink a killer 3-pointer, they probably won’t make a living playing professional sports. Is it possible? Of course. But just keep things in perspective here. Crossing your fingers that your kids will land a college sports scholarship and not setting aside any money for their college tuition is not a good money plan. Guaranteed full-ride scholarships are the exception, not the rule.
You may be saying, “That’s great, but my child is the exception.”
Well, maybe. Still, don’t bank on all of that to justify spending a fortune on the costs of your kid’s sports. If you’re spending more money on their sports than you’re putting in their college fund, then your priorities are out of whack. Think about this: What if half of the money you put toward kids’ sports was going to a college fund instead? That’s your “scholarship” right there!
Kids’ Sports Don’t Have to Break Your Budget
It’s totally doable to play sports, have a great time, and avoid all these extra expenses. If your child loves playing ball, there’s nothing wrong with supporting them 100%, but be reasonable with your expectations (and your budget) and keep them grounded about the possibilities for the future—whether it involves sports or not. But be realistic, keep the bigger picture in mind, and make sure you’ve also planned for college and your kid’s non-sports future.
Some parents lose their minds (and their money) when it comes to youth sports. Don’t fall into that trap. You can provide an active, healthy lifestyle for your child—one that includes team sports—without busting your budget. Just make sure that the sports your kid wants to play fit in your budget.
Don’t have a budget? What are you waiting for! You can make one in as little as 10 minutes with our free budgeting app, EveryDollar. Once you see how much money is coming in and going out, you’ll be able to know exactly how much you can spend on Junior’s baseball season this year.