Keeping control of kids’ sports costs

Practical money matters by Nathaniel Sillin

Most parents put countless miles on the car driving their children to and from various practices and games throughout elementary and secondary school.
As for the actual dollars behind all that driving and purchasing of uniforms, equipment, lessons and various activity fees, the numbers are pretty eye-opening. A 2014 study by Utah State University’s Families In Sport lab shows that the average annual family financial investment in youth sports came out to $2,292.42, or 1.84 per cent of the family’s gross annual income.
Other research done within the program indicates that many parents spend much more – some in excess of 10 per cent of gross annual income.
Whether that figure sounds low or high depends on your child’s chosen sport and the number of years your child participates in it.
Whether your child’s interest in sports is temporary or a long-term commitment, it’s not only important to plan and budget what you’re spending but to find ways to save. Here are some steps to begin:
Link up with other parents. Whether it’s after-school or weekend soccer, hockey or baseball, your first source of intelligence is parents who already have kids playing the sport. Discuss everything from the best program for your child overall to individual costs and fees associated with play – and don’t forget to ask them how they’ve kept their budget in line.
Schedule for the best discounts. Don’t miss any opportunities for sales on merchandise or discounts on training and activity fees. Paying early on merchandise, sports camp or pre-season activity fees can save significant money over time. Above all, avoid late registration fees on all sports and activities.
Check your child’s health insurance. Depending on what sport your child plays, you might end up buying additional coverage beyond what your family health insurance allows. It takes virtually no time for a night or two in the hospital to run into tens of thousands of dollars, so take every step to make sure your child has the right coverage.
Some health insurers sell special sports coverage for minors but, if your child is playing an organized sport within a school system or league, the organizer might have its own insurance requirements before allowing your child to play. There could be other coverage options as well –run those options by your qualified financial experts or fellow parents who are insuring their children against sports injuries.
Buy used. Whether it’s equipment or uniforms, see if there are safe options to buy secondhand gear. Auction sites could provide some solutions while many communities known for particular sports might have used-equipment stores that can cut your bills extensively. If your child isn’t destined for the pros, buying used makes a lot of sense – why buy full price if at some point their interest will wane?
Buy several sizes and neutral colors and styles. If you have a growing child who is likely to maintain interest in a particular sport for several seasons, stock up on clothing in different sizes and go for neutral colors and styles that allow for gender-neutral hand-me-downs.
Negotiate shared travel and group fees. Again, in partnership with other parents or your school system, see if there are cheaper ways to travel, buy gear and find play and practice space. Always be on the lookout for cheaper options and set up a network either by e-mail or social media where there’s a free flow of spending tips and discounts that might come in handy.
As for lessons, try the classroom approach. If your child wants to improve in a sport, work with other parents to hire an instructor who will do group lessons that will ensure a lower cost per family.
Bottom line: Even if your child doesn’t grow up with the natural skill of a Manning brother or a Williams sister, it’s possible to introduce them to youth athletics without ruining your family finances.
Nathaniel Sillin directs Visa’s Practical Money Skills For Life financial education programs. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/PracticalMoney. His articles are intended to provide general information and should not be considered legal, tax or financial advice. Always consult a tax or financial adviser for information on how the law applies to your individual financial circumstances.

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