saving money kids sportsAny parent knows that kids are expensive, but sometimes they can be even more of a strain on your budget than usual. Once your athletic kid gets close to middle school, you’ll likely face the “club sports” question: Should you encourage your child to join a more competitive—and more expensive—traveling team?

Club teams are usually quite selective and often require kids to try out in order to participate. The teams may be privately run, rather than affiliated with a school or community recreation league. And, depending on the sport, club fees, equipment, and travel expenses (including out-of-town or out-of-state tournaments) can run families several thousand dollars per year per child.

Many families argue that as sports get more competitive, kids who want to join their high school teams need experience playing in a more intense atmosphere by sixth or seventh grade. These days, that can be true. And if your child is truly a superstar in his or her sport, he or she may be ready for the greater challenge of an elite team.

However, coaches caution that getting a slot on a high school team doesn’t in any way ensure that your child will end up playing college sports or go from there to the professional leagues. So let’s be honest: For most families, club sports are a choice, not an investment in the future.

Your best bet is to treat club sports like any other extracurricular activity you choose for your child. Does he or she love it? Can your family budget afford it? Are you willing to trade other financial goals (like regular vacations or having the latest model of car) to pay for your child’s sports involvement? When it comes down to it, deciding to put money into kids’ sports is a decision that only you can make.

Ways to save money on your child’s sporting hobby

  • Stick with your school’s team or recreational league as long as possible. Just because your child qualifies for the club team in fourth grade doesn’t automatically mean it’s time to join. Hold off until your child is closer to middle school age if you can. Remember that this can mean saving several thousand dollars a year.
  • Steer your child toward team sports. Individual sports, like gymnastics and ice skating, can be more expensive than team sports like soccer because they require individualized training, coaching, and travel. Team sports that don’t require specialized equipment—like track and swimming—are even more economical. Unless your child has a strong preference, stick with the team activities for as long as possible.
  • Compare clubs. Most larger towns have more than one club team for each sport. Research the costs involved with several of them before your child tries out for a team. Some clubs are significantly more expensive than others, depending on what they pay their coaches and whether they rent or own their facilities.
  • Buy used equipment. Your child can be just as successful using a pre-owned lacrosse stick as a brand-new one. Find sporting-good stores that sell used equipment or buy gear from families whose kids are older than yours.
  • Ask for scholarships. Many teams have financial aid available—especially if you have more than one child heavily involved in sports. But these teams usually won’t advertise their scholarships. You’ll need to ask.
  • Volunteer. Can you help out at games or while traveling in exchange for a reduction in your child’s athletic fees? Is it an option for you to barter your web-development or marketing skills? Coaches understand that sports are expensive and are often willing to work with dedicated but financially stretched parents.
  • Involve your kid. Teenagers, especially, can help share the cost of their sports activities. Decide together what you’ll pay and what they can cover—such as uniforms, gas for travel, and so on. As you know, kids tend to take their activities more seriously when they’re helping foot the bill!

Teri Cettina is a mom of two daughters and freelance writer who specializes in personal finance and parenting topics. She blogs at Your Family Money. Follow her on Twitter: @TeriCettina.