Getting kids into sports can help them have fun and stay fit. But all those athletic activities also come with a cost, which can stretch the family budget.
Whether it’s pricey equipment or hefty registration fees, the average family spends nearly $700 per child, per sport annually, according to a national study by The Aspen Institute and Utah State University’s Families in Sports Lab. What’s more, the research showed that average annual spending on the most expensive sports can reach much higher — well into the thousands of dollars.
The good news? The cost of kids sports doesn’t have to bust the budget if you know what to expect upfront, make sensible choices and take advantage of some savvy ways to save money.
What is the Average Cost of Kids Sports in the US?
The average cost of kids sports varies, depending on the sport they play. That choice can make a big difference. The study looked at 21 different sports and tracked what families said they spent annually on each one. The least expensive were track and field ($191) and flag football ($268). The most expensive sports were ice hockey ($2,583) and skiing/snowboarding ($2,249). Here’s the breakdown:
|Average Annual Spending Per Sport, Per Child
|Track & field
How to Save Money on the Cost of Kids Sports in 2022
While the cost of kids sports can add up in a hurry, there are ways to make a budget-friendly game plan. Try these eight tips to save money.
Give it a test run
For beginner athletes, it can make sense to give a sport a try — before you make the money commitment of joining a team, taking lessons or buying all the gear. Recreational or park district leagues or programs offered through your city, county or region, might be a cost-effective introduction to the sport to see if your child enjoys it.
Choose one sport at a time
Your child may want to be involved in all the things that their friends are but setting some ground rules for participation is a reasonable approach to team sports. For instance, consider limiting each child to one sport per season.
Paying attention to registration deadlines can pay off. Many sports leagues offer discounts to families who sign up early. Being an early bird also avoids the chance of late fees if the enrollment deadline is missed.
Make a plan to carpool
With many people going to and from the same practices, see if you can coordinate a carpool with some team parents. Taking turns driving will save on gas and time.
Buy, trade or sell used equipment
For safety reasons, certain gear is better bought new (such as helmets). But for many other types of gear, whether it’s bats, cleats or shin guards, check out resale chain stores like Play It Again Sports, where you can buy, trade or sell used sports and fitness equipment, or SidelineSwap, an online marketplace for sports gear. On top of getting gently used, brand-name gear at discount prices, selling items your child no longer needs means you can pocket that money to cover next year’s expenses.
Swap and exchange
If you have more than one kid, it’s easy to get more mileage out of sports gear and clothing by handing it down to younger siblings. But if they end up doing different sports or the gear can’t be reused, see if the league you’re joining has a way for families to connect for pre-owned gear swaps among teams.
Buy during the off season
You may find that some new things are a must. If so, try to time your purchases in the off season if you’re able to plan ahead. For example, buy swimsuits and goggles during winter and ice skates or ski pants in the summer, when they’re more likely to be on sale.
Ask about league discounts
Some school athletics and community clubs may negotiate discounts on equipment costs and merchandise packages at local sporting goods stores for families who are part of the team. So, always check the availability of those arrangements to target the right shop for savings.
Other Costs to Consider Before Enrolling Your Child in a Sports Program
Before you commit to a sports program, make sure you understand the full cost upfront. That way, you’ll know what’s required and what may be optional, and then be able to decide how much money you’re willing to invest. Beyond registration and gear, there will likely be added costs like uniform monogramming, travel, competition entry charges, sports participation fees, team photos, training clinics or, in some cases, even a share of coaches’ compensation. Here are a few questions to weigh as you determine the budget.
Is the cost of your child's sport required upfront, or is there a monthly payment option?
The answer could be a big factor in how the cost fits into your budget. Some organized sports may only accept the full session’s cost at signup; other pay-to-play leagues may offer monthly payment options throughout the season to spread out the cost in a more affordable way. Another cost estimate to know is how fees change as your young athletes advance to next levels in the sport. How much more will you have to pay in subsequent seasons if they continue to play?
What type of sporting equipment is required?
It’s important to get the details of the scope of gear required for the sport you and your child are considering, because some games naturally require more outfitting (and expense) than others to play. The coaches or sponsoring organization should provide a detailed list of what’s required and what’s optional. Ask if some equipment is available at no cost to everyone — say, at practices — so you won’t budget for things you don’t need.
Will extensive travel be required?
With competitive travel teams comes higher cost and commitment, so you’ll want to evaluate that option carefully. Adding in travel expenses to cover away tournaments, overnight trips, hotel stays, gas and food makes travel the costliest aspect of kids sports — even more than equipment, private lessons or camps, notes The Aspen Institute/Utah State University study. For example, parents of kids in gymnastics said they spent an average of $763 a year on travel for the sport versus $111 on equipment.
The Cost of Your Child's Sports Doesn’t Have to Break the Bank
There are many positives associated with playing kids sports, of course, but they often come with a price. With a little advance work, however, you can make a sensible game plan for spending. Judging your child’s short-term and long-term interests, along with the costs involved, can help you figure out what’s reasonable. Then, with these tips in mind, you can build a budget for the cost of kids sports that works with your unique situation — without it always having to be a financial workout for the family.