Kids have much to gain from playing sports. There’s the teamwork, the satisfaction of getting better. Sports also keep our kids active and healthy in a sedentary world. Kind of makes the early morning drives, the rushed meals and the fundraising worthwhile, right? And if you have a student athlete, they’re in good company, because Minnesota kids have a high participation rate in youth sports, at 59.9% of youth ages 6-17.

But youth sports can give your wallet quite a workout, especially if you have two or more kids in play. Annual costs per year can vary wildly, depending on the activity, ranging from the $191 per year for track and field to more than $2,500 for ice hockey. Regardless of the sport, parents say travel is the biggest expense, followed by equipment, lessons, registration fees and camps.

If you’re looking to save a bit of dough without sacrificing the fun and opportunity, we have tips and out-of-the-box strategies.

Time-proven tips to save on kids' sports

First, some time-tested methods to keep these activity fees manageable.

  • Lean in to volunteering: If you have the time and ability, volunteering can earn you a break on your student’s registration fees. Coaching is common but there can be other roles where you can help keep things running.
  • Register early: Many rec sports offer discounts for early signup, so don’t miss out.
  • Stick to local programs: Sports and activities sponsored by the school district, municipal rec leagues or even places of worship tend to keep matches local, while keeping the expenses low.
  • Go the second-hand route: If your child loves a sport that requires no equipment — great. If your child’s sport does have equipment, vowing to never pay full price can save you a lot of dough. Barely and gently used sports equipment in the online marketplace can be just as good as pricey new equipment. Private online sales, stores that specialize in consignment sports equipment and rummage sales are all great resources to outfit your athlete.
  • Get the multi-kid discount: Some leagues offer a discount for two or more players from the same family — and that’s just one reason steering your kids toward the same sport can save costs.

Other strategies to keep kids' sports costs manageable

If your kid is playing the long game with their chosen sport, deploy these strategies to keep you in control of your budget.

Build your community of parents

Make it a habit to chat with the other parents at practices and games. Being on friendly terms creates opportunities to help one another. You can trade gear and athletic wear, carpool, tailgate at away games and get a group discount for private lessons. Not only will you save time and money, you may even pick up a few new friends.

Be open to seeking “sponsors”

Grandparents, aunts and uncles and family friends may be receptive to “sponsoring” your child’s sport, particularly if they’ve reached an advanced level. If they have the means and have shown an active interest in your child, they may be more than happy to contribute. If family members tend to give your child cash for birthdays and holidays, setting aside half to offset the costs of sports and activities would be a great use of the gift.

Don’t feel obligated to join the traveling league

When your child is invited to join an elite traveling league, the prestige can make the offer irresistible. Keep in mind, though, that getting a full accounting of the expenses — such as fuel and hotel costs, along with conditioning lessons and specialized camps to keep them in top form — are more difficult to budget far in advance.

If you’re leaning toward “no,” because it would stretch your resources, here’s your permission to stick to less expensive local options. Just 2% of high school athletes end up with sports scholarships at the Division I and Division II level. Unless your student has Olympic-sized potential, you, your child and their college fund may be better off sticking to local.

Have your teen athlete cover some of the costs

Raising your child to become a money-wise adult? If they have an allowance or part-time job, let them have some skin in the game. Offer a 2-to-1 match for the extras, such as equipment or extra camps they want to attend. Their financial stake could spark creativity and resourcefulness to find a better way to fully fund it. Maybe they’ll be willing to organize a family booth for the community rummage sale to raise extra funds, or invest time searching for the best buys on used equipment.

Read: Time for an Allowance? How to Teach Your Kids Good Financial Habits

Plan for the next season

When the season ends, the trophies are awarded and the equipment put away, start saving up for next year. Setting up an automatic transfer from checking to savings is a convenient way to build the funds to cover registration, fees, lessons and more.

Read: Is a savings account worth it?

Reach your goals with Minnwest Bank

Minnwest Bank has convenient tools to reach your goals with saver-friendly terms you’ll love. When you open a Thrift Savings Account at Minnwest Bank, the minimum balance for people age 22 and older is $50. That’s how we make it easier for you to grow your savings and set you up for success!

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