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My oldest child just graduated from high school, thus concluding an exciting, but often expensive, youth sports career. Over the past decade he has played hockey, baseball, soccer, football, wrestling, and basketball. In two sports — hockey and baseball — he played on “traveling” teams (read “very expensive” teams). But even the non-traveling teams were costly.
As a family we loved attending these events, and I wouldn’t trade the experiences for a fatter 401K. But there are some things I learned during his career — and the sports career of our younger son, now 15 — that I wish I had known when he first laced on the cleats.
Depending on the sport, the required equipment can be remarkably expensive. When my oldest was playing hockey we routinely spent $300 to $400 on skates, pads, and a stick each season. That was on top of the huge fee we paid for him to be on the team! Here’s what I learned later: most players only use their equipment one season; thereafter, it sits in the basement or garage until the family moves out and has a big garage sale.
So, to save dough on expensive sports equipment, ask the parents of kids one year ahead of yours whether they want to part with the stuff. Post a note at the ice rink, football locker room, or wherever the team meets. Ask the coach for emails of the group ahead. Some parent will almost certainly be happy to shed their year-old — and still serviceable — equipment, especially if you offer to pay a few bucks for it.
Another route is to use Craigslist or eBay, or visit Goodwill, the Salvation Army store, or a used sports equipment store.
A major expense, even if your kid only plays in the “house league,” is gas traveling to games. If your child plays on a travel team (sometimes called a “tournament,” “club,” or “select” team), your travel costs will jump exponentially. My number one tip here: Car pool! I know it’s inconvenient, but come on, with gas over $3/gallon, 15 families driving 15 cars to a tournament 100 miles away is simply crazy!
The side benefit of a carpool is that you’ll get to know your kid’s teammates and their parents. My wife and I have made some wonderful, long-lasting friends by getting to know the families of our sons’ teammates.
Another big expense during just about any sport season is food. If your son has a practice or a game every night, the temptation to stop at Subway or Arby’s on the way home is overwhelming. And if your kid is playing in a tournament all weekend, the lure of the fast food joint is inescapable.
I offer you three tips here:
- If your problem is fast food every night because practice and games run late, plan your meals to accommodate that schedule (think crock pot or soup and sandwich combos);
- If it’s weekend tournaments that are killing your budget, pack food! A cooler full of fruit, drinks, and snacks will satisfy your little shortstop just as well as the pricey restaurant next to the field; and
- If the coach wants the whole team to eat together at Buffalo Wild Wings or some such and your kid begs to go, make sure you ask the waitress for a separate check.
In my experience the biggest expense at team meals is not my lunch or my son’s lunch, it’s my subsidization of the guy who orders a $20 lunch and throws $15 into the pot or the kid who forgot to bring his money but still wants to eat with the team.
Extra uniform pieces
Uniforms are a normal expense of sports, but sometimes the coach or the league asks parents if they want to buy an extra pair of pants or socks or something. Before you shell out the $30 to $50 for these extras, ask more experienced parents if they ever used the extras. As I speak we have a $40 pair of baseball pants that my freshman son was encouraged to buy this spring… But which he never wore! Arrrrgggh!
Kids get hurt in sports all the time, and hopefully your child’s injuries will heal with an ice pack and rest. But if your child is seriously injured, be sure to inquire about the league’s insurance before you pay the hospital bill.
My oldest was beaned by a pitch in baseball practice one day, which broke his nose and his eye socket and resulted in surgery. We had excellent health insurance, but we still had to pay the deductible. When I mentioned this to the league administrator, he told me the league had insurance for just such an event — we submitted the claim and they paid our deductible!
At the end of the season you’ll be hit up to pay for a coach’s gift. Having coached more than a dozen of my sons’ teams, I can honestly tell you that I do not remember a single one of those gift cards the parents gave me.
What gift really touched me? A faux homeplate signed by all the members of a t-ball team that I coached! I love that gift, and it hung on my office wall for years. I’m sure it only cost $20 total, but it meant more to me than all the rest of the gifts combined. So if you have the chance to plan the coach’s gift, think sentimental, not monetary.
Kids’ sports are great for many things — exercise, fun, friends, teamwork — but they can be deadly on your wallet. Try some of these tips and you’ll be able to focus more on the fun and less on the budget.
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