There’s no question it’s healthy for children to be involved in team competitions at an early age—teaching them not only teamwork but also the importance of practice, taking risks and learning from mistakes and failures. However, kids’ sporting passions can be hard on the household budget.
Nearly two-thirds of American families spend up to $500 per month, per child on youth sports. More than one in 10 families spend up to $2,000.1
But it doesn’t have to be! It’s possible to fulfill your kids’ competitive dreams while still maintaining a sustainable household budget. Before signing your kids up for a new activity, consider the following ways you can cheer them on, while also keeping some savings in the bank.
Choose the right league
When it comes to youth athletic costs, a shift has taken place recently with more kids opting for private club teams or travel leagues instead of traditional community leagues. For example, participation in local Little League organizations is down 20 percent from in the early 2000s.2 This isn’t because children aren’t playing baseball, it’s because some believe private club teams are a better option for development.
Supporters of club and travel leagues claim they offer better recognition of potential talent, the opportunity to participate in national tournaments and better competition. But these factors come with a much higher price tag and little quantifiable evidence to back up these claims.
The nation’s youth-sports industry has grown by 55% since 2010, making it now a $15.3 billion market.2 A travel team can cost up to $10,000 per sport, per season.3
TIP: Start locally. Whether your child wants to be a cheerleader or a hockey player, look at local community leagues before seeking out club or travel teams that likely have higher fees or associated costs. If your child is excelling at a sport and you feel a club or travel league is worth the money and the exposure, be sure to budget accordingly for the higher cost.
Budget for all the costs
There’s no avoiding it: practices, games, uniforms and tournaments cost money, whether it’s paying for gas to drive to and from practice, or spending a night in a hotel for an out-of-town tournament. Some families are now spending up to 10.5 percent of their gross income on their children’s sports.4
TIP: Add line items to your budget. When your child’s sports are in season, make sure you’re budgeting for gas, travel, lodging, equipment and more. And don’t forget—it’s more than just money, make sure you’re budgeting your own time as well.
Gear up smartly
There is no question that athletic gear is expensive, and even more so depending on the sport (think hockey or lacrosse as opposed to basketball). Regardless of the sport, you want your child to have the best gear. What’s important to remember is that when children are young and still growing, they might need new equipment from year to year, and these costs can add up fast!
High-end hockey skates alone, for example, can cost upwards of $1,0001
TIP: Seek out secondhand equipment. If you have the opportunity, take a look at used gear or last year’s models before purchasing new items. It’s possible to save close to 40 percent without sacrificing much quality by going this route.5 One place you shouldn’t skimp: safety equipment, like helmets, shin guards, etc.
Keep it fun
It’s easy to get mixed up in the hype about youth athletics, especially when other kids are off traveling to a new tournament this weekend, or another has the newest pair of hot basketball shoes. Rather than buying into it all simply because of the pressure, talk to your child (and family), look at your budget and decide what matters. Unnecessary stress isn’t healthy for you or your finances.
70 percent of kids in the United States stop playing organized sports by the age of 13 because it’s “just not fun anymore.”6
And pressure works both ways. There is a good chance your child won’t want to play sports forever or may switch from one sport to another, and there will come a time when they decide this is it. That might be hard to hear if you have invested a bunch of money in gear or travel leagues.
TIP: Talk about it. Having a conversation with your child about sports and the different types of available leagues is a good conversation to have—and to revisit over the years.
Your confidence starting block
Keep reading for more suggestions on financing and saving for your child’s dreams.
1 “Why families stretch their budgets for high-priced youth sports,” September 2017, USA Today
2 “How Kids’ Sports Became a $15 Billion Industry,” August 2017, Time
3 “The Finances of Youth Sports in the United States,” 2015, Ohio University
4 “The Rising Costs of Youth Sports, in Money and Emotion,” Jan. 16, 2015, The New York Times
5 “Sports Equipment Fact and Fiction,” May 2012, Active Advantage
6 “Pressure & Youth Sports Study,” April 2017, Yellowbrick
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