All over the country during this back-to-school season, American parents are stocking up on school supplies – and on expensive sports equipment and team registration fees. Some are parents of gifted athletes who dream of athletic scholarships. Others just want to give their children the many benefits of regular physical activities or team camaraderie.
As more and more school districts charge families for participation in after school athletic activities, parents find themselves on the hook for an average of $671 annually. In fact, a recent TD Ameritrade survey found that one in five parents spends more than $1000 per child a month on sports activities. What are the consequences? According to the survey, many sports parents are showing greater commitment to their kids’ sports than to their own financial wellbeing:
One third do not contribute regularly to a retirement account;
19 percent have incurred credit card debt from sports costs; and
17 percent plan to work longer or delay retirement.
If you don’t have sports-age kids, it could seem a little nuts! I can tell you from personal experience it adds up. I’ve got one child who plays ice hockey and the other who is on an acrobatic dance team. Both take ice skating lessons.
The participation and lesson fees alone are more than $300 per month. That doesn’t include uniforms, costumes or equipment. However, we manage to keep the costs manageable by doing a few things:
You Can’t Be on Every Team
My kids are 8 and 12. They enjoy their sports, but it’s not reasonable that they play on multiple teams during any given season. Each child gets to pick one team and one additional type of lesson/activity per school term. If they choose a different activity, an existing one has to go.
For example, my son toyed with the idea of playing football this fall. We gave him the choice of sticking with hockey, which he plays now, or trying football for the season. He thought about it and decided to stick with hockey, but it was his choice.
Sports Consignment Shopping
Bats, sticks, pads, helmets, skates, cleats, etc. – all these things can be found used for less than half the cost. There is absolutely no reason to buy most kids’ sports equipment new anyway. Kids outgrow their sports equipment quickly.
Seek out sports consignment shops for big discounts on equipment and clothing. This can save you $500-1000 per season if your child plays an equipment-intensive sport such as football or hockey. When your child grows out of them halfway through the year, trade them in for store credit on a bigger size.
Swap with Friends
No sports consignment shop in your area? Set up your own sports gear swap event with friends or with your schools’ parents association. Each participant who brings an item gets to swap for another item to bring home. See instructions here. Alternatively, you could set up a “replay” event at school, where you solicit donations of sports gear and then sell them inexpensively, with proceeds going to the team or the school association.
Seek School and Community-Based Options
While the travel baseball team may be right for your baseball-obsessed child who throws a mean curve ball, they can be very expensive. Fortunately, there are other options. For most kids, a local school team or recreational sports sponsored by community organizations like the YMCA offer a balance of learning, competition and reasonable cost.
Giving your time can help defray some costs and is a great way to share your child’s sports experience. You could coach, administer or help raise money for your child’s team. For example, my daughter’s YMCA dance team holds fundraising events throughout the year, which defray most of the costs of their competition entry fees (which would otherwise be close to $1000 per dancer). By volunteering at various events, the dance parents work together to make the program affordable for all the dancers.
Pick a Cheaper Sport?
It’s understandable that the parents of the more than 45 million American children who play sports want their children to succeed at their chosen game. We want our children to pick the activities they love to do and to have fun and grow as people doing them. However, if your child is aiming for a sport which requires a lot of equipment or expensive lessons, make sure it’s something they really, really want to do. If it’s just physical activity they require, consider an organized sport that requires less equipment.