The following Practical Money Skill column is provided by Nathaniel Sillin, director of Visa’s financial education programs.
Most parents put countless miles on the car driving kids back and forth from various practices and games throughout elementary and secondary school. As for the actual dollars behind all that driving and purchasing of uniforms, equipment, lessons and various activity fees, the numbers are pretty eye-opening.
A 2014 study by the Utah State University’s Families in Sport Lab shows that the average annual family financial investment in youth sports came out to $2,292.42, or 1.84 percent of that family’s gross annual income.
Other research done within the program indicates that many parents spend much more – some in excess of 10 percent of gross annual income. Whether that figure sounds low or high depends on your child’s chosen sport and the number of years your child participates in it.
Whether your child’s interest in sports is temporary or a long-term commitment, it’s not only important to plan and budget what you’re spending but to find ways to save. Here are some steps to begin:
- Link up with other parents. Whether it’s after-school or weekend soccer, hockey or baseball, your first source of intelligence is with parents who already have kids playing the sport. Discuss everything from the best program for your child overall to individual costs and fees associated with play – and don’t forget to ask them how they’ve kept their budget in line.
- Schedule for the best discounts. Don’t miss any opportunities for sales on merchandise or discounts on training and activity fees. Paying early on merchandise, sports camp or pre-season activity fees can save significant money over time. Above all, avoid late registration fees on all sports and activities.
- Make sure your child’s health insurance is adequate. Depending on what sport your child plays, you may end up buying additional coverage beyond what your family health insurance allows. It takes virtually no time for a night or two in the hospital to run into tens of thousands of dollars, so take every step to make sure your child has the right coverage. Some health insurers may sell special sports coverage for minors, but if your child is playing an organized sport within a school system or league, they may have their own insurance requirements before they allow your child to play.
- Buy used. Whether it’s equipment or uniforms, see if there are safe options to buy used. Auction sites may provide some solutions while many communities known for particular sports may have used equipment stores that can cut your bills extensively.
- Negotiate shared transportation and group fees when possible. Again, in partnership with other parents or your school system, see if there are cheaper ways to travel, buy gear and find play and practice space. Always be on the lookout for cheaper options and set up a network either by email or social media where there’s a free flow of spending tips and discounts that might come in handy.
As for lessons, try the classroom approach. If your child wants to improve in a sport, work with other parents to hire an instructor who will do group lessons that will assure a lower cost per family.
Bottom line: Even if your child doesn’t grow up with the natural skill of a Manning brother or a Williams sister, it’s possible to introducing them to youth athletics without ruining your family finances.