How to Afford Youth Sports on a Budget

Keeping your kids active in sports doesn’t have to derail your household budget.

Your child says she wants to learn to play soccer. You see it as a great opportunity for her to be physically active and build confidence. (And okay, maybe a small part of you is harboring dreams that she’ll become the sport’s next superstar.) You decide to sign her up for a local soccer league but there’s just one hitch: the cost.

According to the 2017 State of Play report published by the Aspen Institute, a nonprofit think tank, nearly 72 percent of children aged 6 to 12 played at least one team or individual sport in 2016. A survey conducted by the brokerage firm TD Ameritrade found that in 2016, the typical sports parent spent between $100 and $499 per month, per child, on elite youth athletics. Dishing out more than $1,000 per month, per child, is not unheard of, according to the study.

With costs that high, you may be wondering how to afford youth sports on a budget, or if it’s even possible. It is, if you are prepared. Having a game plan for spending can keep kids’ sports from draining your budget.

Consider these five tips if you’re wondering how to afford youth sports without going broke:

1. Take new sports for a test run

Playing a sport involves a commitment of both time and money, which can end up being wasted if it turns out to be the wrong fit for your child. Amy Boyington, a mother of two and founder of The Work at Home Mom, a blog focused on helping moms balance career and family, imposes a simple rule when her children express interest in something new.

“I let each of my children try whatever sport they want, but with one condition: They’ll try a budget-friendly version first,” Boyington says.

How to afford youth sports without going broke? Test out a sport before committing to a full season

For example, her son recently wanted to give basketball a go. After researching local options, including the YMCA league, Boyington signed him up for a low-cost program sponsored and run by a local family. For a $25 fee, her son received a t-shirt, basketball, jump rope for training and eight weeks of instruction in basketball basics.

Compared to the $50 YMCA fee Boyington would be charged as a non-member, she felt the family-run league offered more for the cost and was better suited to testing out the court. And it’s well below the $1,143 per year a 2017 TIME magazine story reported parents spend on average to keep their kids active in basketball. The article bases that figure on survey data collected by researchers at Utah State University, including a 2016 study, which found that families spend an average of $2,292 per year on their children’s sports participation.

If you have beginning athletes, finding cost-effective leagues and practices is a great solution for how to afford kids sports without going broke, while still giving them the freedom to explore new things.

2. Do one thing at a time

Ground rules about how many sports children can play are necessary to keep kids’ sports from draining your budget. That’s especially true if their interests or abilities tend to veer toward pricier activities. The TIME report’s analysis of the Utah State data points to lacrosse, hockey and baseball as being among the most expensive youth sports. Mark Aselstine, an El Cerrito, California-based father of two, limits his children to one sport per season, which has been crucial for saving money.

Wondering how to afford youth sports on a budget? Focus on one sport at a time to keep costs down.

In the Bay Area, where his family lives, baseball registration fees for their local Little League can range from $125 to $225, based on the child’s age. That doesn’t include a $100 required deposit, or an additional $25 fee for late registration. You can see how the costs for just one sport can add up, especially considering that uniforms, practice equipment and travel expenses are extras that Aselstine has to account for. Since he’s focused on how to afford youth sports on a budget, he says he’d only consider making an exception for a second sport if it’s something his kids can do without paying a fee, such as tennis lessons included in their after-school program.

Boyington has adopted a similar policy for how to afford youth sports on a budget. As a result, she reaps more than just a money-saving benefit. Limiting her children to one sport at a time eliminates the stress of trying to make it to every practice and game. More importantly, “it gives my kids a chance to really involve themselves in that sport, giving it their full dedication for the season,” she says.

If you’re trying to keep kids’ sports from draining your budget and your child excels at more than one activity, you’ll have to decide how to accommodate that in your budget. If they’re enjoying sports played during different seasons, you can still keep the focus (and budget) on just one at a time. When sports run concurrently, you may choose to prioritize the one they’re most interested in or that’s least expensive. If they’re going to be involved in more than one sport at a time, choosing the lowest-cost leagues or programs could be a good option.

3. Know the numbers upfront

If how to afford youth sports on a budget is top-of-mind, get a complete breakdown of the costs before signing up so you can plan your budget in advance. That includes what you’ll pay for registration fees, uniforms and equipment, as well as extras like team photos. Boyington suggests looking for cost-cutting opportunities once you get a complete list of expenses.

“I’m not afraid to ask about things I can go the cheap route on,” she says, “like parts of the uniform that I might be able to purchase a budget brand for instead of the name brand.”

Taking advantage of early registration discounts is another way to keep kids’ sports from draining your budget. It may seem like small savings, but it’s money that can be set aside to use for other sports-related costs.

4. Choose used if possible

How to afford youth sports without going broke could come down to the items that are needed to participate. In the TD Ameritrade survey, 44 percent of parents said equipment was the major expense associated with their child’s sports. Twenty-six percent cited the cost of uniforms.

Consider baseball, which ranks as one of the most popular youth sports, according to the Aspen Institute. A complete youth catcher’s kit—including helmet, chest protector and shin guards—can run as much as $350, according to the retailer Bats can easily land in a similar price range, and cleats can add another $10 to $60 to the total. It may seem difficult to keep kids’ sports from draining your budget when you still have to consider the cost of the standard game uniform, gloves, hats, practice gear and a bag to hold everything.

When the question is how to afford youth sports without going broke, the answer may be buying used as often as possible. But, Boyington cautions, some leagues won’t allow you to substitute used uniforms or equipment for new ones. In that scenario, she recommends seeking out leagues such as those run by the parks and rec department, a local church or families—like the one her son participated in—that have more flexible rules about used equipment.

“These leagues understand people like me who want to get their kids involved in activities in the community,” she says, “but can’t afford to spend thousands of dollars every year to do so.”

These types of programs can also yield additional savings if you’re able to get a fee waiver or a discount on equipment and uniforms by volunteering as a coach or team parent. Other alternatives to buying new if you’re trying to figure out how to afford youth sports on a budget include renting equipment or participating in fundraisers to help pay for uniform costs.

Aselstine offers another tip: Look for leagues that offer equipment swaps.

“Our soccer league has an awesome barter system the first day of sign-ups,” he says. “Bring a set of cleats, take a set of cleats. The same goes for uniforms.”

Aselstine estimates that the swap saves his family $100 per season on equipment and uniforms.

5. Consider the long-term benefits of elite sports

Investing big bucks in an elite or travel team requires some serious thought, especially if how to afford youth sports without going broke is a concern. Boyington says she would only allow her children to play if they’ve been involved steadily in the sport for several years, and they’re old enough to contribute in some way to the cost with a part-time job.

Before allocating a large part of your sports budget to an elite sport, consider what the benefit is to your child and whether the costs are justified. In the TD Ameritrade survey, for instance, 54 percent of parents said they were hopeful that elite play could lead to an athletic scholarship, and 42 percent hoped their child would eventually go on to play at the Olympic or professional level. The percentage of parents of former players whose children actually got a scholarship, turned pro or became an Olympian was much lower, however.

Weighing the probability of future play, alongside the cost and your child’s long-term interests, can help you decide what’s reasonable to invest to keep kids’ sports from draining your budget.


To Spend, or to Cut? 4 Questions to Help You Avoid Unnecessary Expenses

Consider your material and emotional values to decide which expenses belong in your budget.

It’s a universal truth: For most people, budgets only have room for so much. Juggling the cost of that summer vacation you’ve been taking for 10 years with the pressing need to help pay your child’s college tuition, actually use your pricey gym membership or fix your faulty water heater is no easy feat. Sometimes, something’s got to give. But how do you decide which expenditures are worth making and which ones you should cut?

Eliminating unnecessary expenses may depend on your personal priorities.

Figuring out when to spend and when to cut—and how to avoid unnecessary expenses—depends on your personal priorities. But the following four questions will help you weigh each spending decision and choose the best option for you:

1. Is it more than you need?

During a recent family budget meeting at Rosemarie Groner’s house, the hot topic was … wait for it … paper towels. Every week the personal finance blogger’s family sits down to review how they can reduce unnecessary expenses. When their giant pile of paper towels came under scrutiny, Groner, whose blog is called The Busy Budgeter, admits they were skeptical of the wisdom and sanitation of reducing their use of paper towels. They worried about the risk of spreading salmonella and other germs, for one thing.

cut back in other areas to reduce unnecessary expenses. Travel provides the opportunity to explore different places and cultures, experience personal growth and reflection and create long-lasting memories with loved ones—all worthy outcomes.

Let’s say it’s not travel you’re pondering in your quest to avoid unnecessary expenses, but the generous line item in your budget for events like concerts, plays or museum visits. Can these things get expensive? Sure. But you may decide that the enrichment of the arts is valuable enough to continue this spending.

Investing in your education can pay off in the long run, so don't assume it's a cost you can cut to avoid unnecessary expenses.

Likewise, an investment in your education—earning a degree or taking a few classes to boost your credentials and increase your earning potential—might also be a worthwhile expenditure. In 2016, for example, the median weekly earnings for workers with a master’s degree were $1,380, compared to $1,156 for those whose education topped out with a bachelor’s degree, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics—a difference of more than 19 percent. Professional degree earners had a nearly 51 percent pay advantage over those at the bachelor’s level.

3. When’s the last time you used it?

While some experiences are special enough that you wouldn’t want to miss out on them, there might be others you rarely use even though you’re continuing to pay for them. When eliminating unnecessary expenses, watch out for automatically renewable charges on gym memberships, magazine subscriptions and retail subscription services (including for fashion, cosmetics and food preparation kits) that continue even when you no longer want them.

Ditching a gym membership you don't use is one way to reduce unnecessary expenses.

That’s a favorite hack for eliminating unnecessary expenses from Sami Cone, a Nashville-based speaker, author and finance blogger. Cone, who discusses money-saving tips on her website and hosts a radio show called Family Money Minute, recommends putting a reminder on your calendar at either the beginning or end of each month to check your statements for expendable services and subscriptions.

Similar to those subscriptions you haven’t used in ages, are there items you purchase by habit that you or your family no longer want or need? A useful way to avoid unnecessary expenses is to take your spending off autopilot. Possible signs you need to do this stat include: You’re paying for music and dance lessons your children skip more often than they attend; you buy extra phone and data services you never use or premium cable channels you never watch; you’re frequently replacing dietary supplements and cooking spices that have lingered on the shelves past their expiration dates.

4. Will you save later by spending now?

Sometimes the best way to reduce unnecessary expenses in the long run is to invest in what seems like a big expenditure now. Upgrading your home’s heating, ventilation and air conditioning system to a more energy-efficient model, for example, might be a smart way to splurge because it can save you money on your utility bills. According to the U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Star program, replacing a central AC unit that is more than 12 years old with an Energy Star-certified AC unit could trim your cooling bill by 30 percent.

Another example of a major expenditure that can pay off later is investing in quality home furnishings instead of choosing bargain goods. The higher-end products may save you more in the long run because they are often more durable so you won’t have to replace them as soon. Making healthier, if more expensive, food choices now can also potentially help you avoid medical costs related to illnesses like diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease.

Stay motivated to reduce unnecessary expenses

Having a specific financial goal in mind when you set your spending priorities is an important source of motivation when you’re trying to avoid unnecessary expenses. Groner says her family is now out of debt after paying off more than $30,000 from credit cards and car loans with the help of their frugal spending habits.

Stay motivated by keeping track of how far you've come since you first started eliminating unnecessary expenses.

“In the beginning, when we were first trying to reduce our expenses, the reward was the relief to sleep at night without worrying about living paycheck to paycheck,” Groner says. “We kept going even after we left the paycheck-to-paycheck cycle because then budgeting became fun. It wasn’t about deprivation anymore. It was about laying out a path to get whatever we want in life.”

Cone, whose family used plans for a Disney vacation as an incentive to reduce unnecessary expenses, says it’s important to choose an objective that everyone in the family can get excited about. That way, when eliminating unnecessary expenses starts to pinch, you can remind them: “We’re saying ‘no’ now, so we can say ‘yes’ later,” she says.


Personal Finance Interview with Tawra Kellam on Saving at the Grocery Store

Personal Finance Interview with Tawra Kellam on Saving at the Grocery Store

If you’re looking for easy ways to save money at the grocery store it seems personal finance bloggers and frugal living experts have a mantra about what not to buy:

“Soda, junk food, snacks and eating out,” says blogger Tawra Kellam of Living on a Dime. “I know I keep saying this and all the money-saving gurus say this but that’s because people just blow it off and don’t really realize how much they spend buying snacks and going out to eat.”

Tawra knows a thing or two about leaving a grocery store with only the necessities. She feeds her family of four on just $450 a month without using coupons.

We recently checked in her to get practical advice on everything from grocery shopping to talking to kids about money. Here’s what she had to say:

Hi, Tawra! Can you tell us about Living on a Dime? When and why did you start your site?

I started our site in 1999 after I wrote our cookbook “Not Just Beans” (now “Dining On A Dime”). I was on a couple of frugal living boards when I was on bed rest with my first pregnancy. I kept answering questions on how to save money on your grocery bill and giving out recipes on how to make pretty much anything homemade.

I decided to go ahead and write and self-publish a cookbook on how to save money on your grocery bill without using coupons or living on beans. That’s what the first name of the book was supposed to mean, but of course it was a bad name and no one got it so we later changed it.

We started the website to promote the book and then it later turned into helping people save money and get organized in all areas of their life.

Who should be reading it?

It’s mostly geared toward families. We have mostly moms in the 30- to 45-age range, but of course we have women of all ages but that’s our target group.

We’re in awe of the fact that you can feed your family of six spending just $450 a month on groceries without using coupons … have you always been such a savvy shopper?

I grew up with a single mom who had paid off all our debt ($35K including the house) on just $1,000 a month in five years. Then we became ill will Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and she raised two teens on $500 a month income. To me living frugally was just a way of life.

What’s the one thing everyone can do to trim his or her bill?

The one thing most people can do to trim their grocery bill is to cut the junk. I know you hear it all the time but the juice boxes, fruit snacks, chips, sodas really do add up to the tune of thousands of dollars a year. The problem is people say “this box of fruit snacks is “only” $2″ but that $2 plus all the other $2’s add up over a year. You can see here how just cutting out a few things (not all) could add up to saving almost $10,000 in one year! Yes, $10,000!

So many personal finance sites tout the use of coupons … so why don’t you use them?

Frankly, I find them annoying and to me it’s not worth the stress of trying make sure I remember them, have the right item with the coupon and figuring out a shopping trip based on the coupons that are going to be expiring or going when the things are on sale. Also, most of the times I would try to use them, the store would be out of the items from other couponers cleaning them out.

What’s your typical pre-grocery store trip routine? How do you prepare for your shopping trip?

We cook from the pantry. Meaning I keep certain items on hand all the time and just cook from what I have on hand. For us the pre-grocery shopping includes just writing down on the list what we need when we run out. I do keep track of meat on sale and stock up when it’s at its lowest. If I see roast for $3 a pound then I will buy five to six and put them in the freezer. Chicken at $1.99 a pound, I will buy 20 packages and freeze them. The just can just pull it out of the freezer when I need it. I don’t spend a lot of time planning meals. We have 10 meals for summer and 10 meals for winter that we eat most of the time and just add something new and now and then. Most people do eat the same things over and over so why make it more complicated then you need to.

What do you think are the most common misconceptions people have about saving money at the grocery store?

That it’s a lot of work to save money and you have to make everything from scratch to save. For me the biggest way we save is by not buying things on a regular basis that most families buy like soda, juice and snacks for the kids. I also keep it very simple. We eat mostly chicken, roast and hamburger. I make my 10 meals out of those on a regular basis and then add other things in now and then to mix it up a bit.

What do people do in the name of saving money that might not actually be saving them money?

Clipping coupons and buying things just because it’s on sale. Just because it’s a good deal, if you aren’t going to use it or eat it then you are just throwing money away. They also justify buying things like fruit snacks and juice boxes so they can “save money” by not eating out. Really it takes me about five minutes to make a sandwich, put some water and ice in a reusable bottle, throw some applesauce in a reusable container and a cookie and put it in a lunch box. You don’t need prepackaged (and expensive) fruit and snacks to make an inexpensive lunch. By the way, usually my lunches cost less than $1 for the entire thing.

You were able to pay off $20,000 in debt on a tight budget … why did you prioritize paying off your debt? What did you do to reach your goal?

For me we would never be financially stable until we were debt free. We still owe half on our house, but my other than that we are debt free. It is so freeing not arguing with your husband all the time about money and not worrying how you are going to pay your bills because you are paying for things that you used up or did a long a time ago. I’m not saying that we are perfect and don’t ever worry about bills but when we do have issues it’s with unexpected things like medical bills and not an everyday stress.

How do you enlist your whole family in managing your family finances?

For us it’s a lifestyle. The kids know that we try to save every way we can. All of them now are really good about saving and even help us save. A good example is our son had to pay for his own cell phone. He researched to find the best deal. When our cell phone died then he told us where to go to get the best deal on a no-contract phone and we saved at least half of what most people spend on their cell phones.

What advice do you have on talking to your kids about money?

I have three pieces of advice actually.

First, you have to set an example. If your kids see you out spending but you’re in debt and always talking about how you never have money they are not going to be any different.

Second, talk to you kids about money. Don’t hide your finances from them. Sit them down and show them when you pay the bills how much it costs for everything. If you are having money issues, tell them why and what you are doing to fix it.

And lastly, tell your kids “no.” My kids pay for their own cell phones, gas for the car for work and fun (we pay for it for school since they go to school 30 miles from home) and we don’t buy them a toy every time we go to the store. We also don’t pay for college or buy the newest name-brand clothes, shoes or gadgets for them. If they want things like their own computer, tablet, cell phone, expensive clothes or college then they pay for it themselves.

This teaches them that you can’t always have everything you want and how to manage money before they get out on their own. As for college they will work a lot harder for scholarships and getting better grades if they know it’s their dime on the line.

Jill Cooper and Tawra Kellam are frugal living experts and the authors of the “Dining On A Dime Cookbook”. “Dining On A Dime” will help you save money on groceries and get out of debt by cooking quick and simple homemade meals. For free tips & recipes visit

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