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Save Money on Youth Sports

Yes, there are ways to cut costs even on the priciest youth sports.

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Youth sports expenses can bust a family budget in the blink of an eye. To save money on youth sports, look to these cost-cutting moves. You'll teach your athlete about smart money management in the process.

Save money on youth sports equipment.

Little League baseball catcher with protective gear
Ryan McVay / Getty Images
Uniforms, safety gear, and other equipment can be the biggest share of your youth sports budget. While you certainly can't eliminate this expense entirely, there are ways to cut costs without cutting corners on safety and performance.

Carpool.

This one saves you time as well as gas money. Pairing up with a few other players' families so you can eliminate some drop-offs and pick-ups can add up to big savings over time, especially if you have a long distance to cover.

Register early to save money.

Many youth sports teams and events offer discounts for early registration. If you know your child definitely wants to join the team, grab the early bird discount for a savings of $10, $20, or more. It's not a lot, but if you have multiple kids in multiple sports, or even one child who returns to the same league again and again, why not avoid extra fees?

Forget photos.

Purchasing "official" player and team photos can easily set you back $30 or more--per kid, per sport, per year. Yikes! Take your own pictures instead, or ask a talented friend to do so. If you love the personalized buttons, keychains, and water bottles you can get from professional photographers, check out Zazzle or CafePress and make your own. You'll control how they look and how much you spend.

Put in your volunteer time.

Many sports teams and clubs require parents to contribute volunteer hours to help run the league. Often, you have the option to buy out those hours--but it may cost you $25 or more. You'll have to decide what's more worth it to you: Spending a couple of hours in the concession stand slinging hot dogs, or writing out another check to the league.

Be a joiner.

You know those volunteer hours you owe? Consider serving on the board or leadership team of your child's club or league. At the very least, you'll gain perspective on how much the group's efforts really cost. Better yet, maybe you can spot ways to cut expenses and lower everyone's payments. Could you convert mailings and sign-ups from snail mail to online? What fundraisers are worth your time and what aren't? What local businesses could sponsor your team? What grants or scholarships can you apply for? Do you have any strings you could pull (with family, friends, or colleagues) to bring in discounts or donations?

Put kids to work.

Older kids at advanced levels of play will incur significant costs. But they are also old enough to help pay for some of these costs, via a portion of their allowance or money they receive as gifts. They may also be able to earn money through their sport: coaching or teaching younger kids, serving as a referee, or working at a sports camp.

Opt out of travel teams.

Have an honest talk with your child before he tries out for or joins an elite team. These are by far the most expensive teams in youth sports, as parents must cover travel expenses, tournament fees, coaches' salaries and so on. Does your child truly want to play at this level? Try not to get caught up in pressure from coaches or other parents about your athlete's potential. He might be just as happy on a school or rec team at a fraction of the cost.

Save money on youth sports travel.

If your child does join a travel team, you'll want to look for ways to cut travel expenses. This could mean sticking with a particular hotel, airline, or credit card to earn loyalty points; bringing your own water and food as often as possible; or choosing hotels with kitchenettes or free breakfasts. (See Soccer for Moms for helpful money-saving advice that applies to other team sports too.)

Seek grants and scholarships.

Depending on your child's talent and your family's need, financial aid for youth sports may be available. See what the governing body for your child's sport has to offer. Other groups, from local foundations to the national Women's Sports Foundation, may also provide assistance.
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