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.


Financial Planning for a Baby: The Costs of Raising a Child

This infographic breaks down some of the expected—and not-so-expected—costs for your budget.

Babies are one of the miracles of life. Also miraculous is the growing cost of raising a child, which is why financial planning for a baby can be so important. From birth, through childhood, to adolescence (oh, the fun times) and into young adulthood, having children means a range of expenses. New expenses. This is where financial planning for new parents comes in.

If you’re planning for a child or about to welcome a new addition to the family (congrats!) and you want to prepare for a baby financially, here’s a breakdown of the expected—and some of the not-so-expected—costs to consider for your budget:

Financial Planning for a Baby Infographic

Although the numbers associated with raising a child can be eye-opening, and perhaps intimidating, it’s not that difficult to prepare for a baby financially. It just takes some organization, forward thinking and careful financial planning for a baby. That means spending less while raising a family and saving wisely with your online savings account. By planning ahead and being prepared, you’ll make financial planning for new parents look like a breeze and enjoy the ride of parenting.


Cheap Thrills: 5 Ways to Save Money at Amusement Parks

Discounted tickets, packed lunches and three other tips for enjoying your next amusement park trip on a budget.

It’s 90+ degrees outside. Your children are on summer vacation, desperate for distractions. The days are long. It may seem like the perfect time to fill those hours with a visit to an amusement park. Think about it: Catching your heart in your throat on extreme roller coasters, cooling off on splash-fest water rides, chatting up your children’s favorite cartoon characters and even visiting with exotic animals before washing it all down with treats like hot dogs and ice cream. Sounds pretty ideal.

Not so ideal? The stress that can come with the often high price tag associated with amusement park fun. But how do you save money at amusement parks? It just takes proper planning and a strategy for how to manage your time within the park.

Before you pack up for your next amusement park adventure, consider these five tips for saving money at amusement parks:

1. Search for discounts on tickets

According to the Los Angeles Times, the price of theme park tickets has risen faster since the Great Recession than the cost of other entertainment options. Without advanced planning, tickets can be especially pricey.

“Buying tickets to an amusement park at the gate is almost always a guaranteed way to overspend,” says Eric Anthony, managing editor for personal finance blog Houston On The Cheap, focused on entertainment in the area.

With more than 400 amusement parks and attractions in the U.S. vying for your money, you are likely to find enticing ticket deals. If you look beyond the front gate.

“Most local grocery stores offer tickets to theme parks in the area at a discounted rate,” Anthony says. “You can also search online for coupon codes and other deals on tickets.” Checking to see if you have any membership perks that might get you discounted tickets to a specific venue is another tip for saving money at amusement parks.

Searching for online coupons and discount codes for tickets is one of the ways to save money at amusement parks.

If you plan to be a frequent park visitor, season or annual passes can be an economical option, says Jeff Proctor, owner of personal finance blog DollarSprout. Many such passes come with discounts and special promotions.

Another way to save money at amusement parks is to be flexible with your dates and buy tickets for slower days or off-peak periods, like the middle of the week or during the fall season.

“If you’re willing to go on off-peak periods, you can save a bundle,” Proctor says. Bonus: Booking an off-peak trip could also mean fewer crowds and an easier time hitting all of your favorite attractions. Buying your tickets well in advance of your trip is also a common way to save money at amusement parks.

2. Stay at a vacation rental

If you’re planning to turn your amusement park visit into a longer getaway, the biggest advantage of staying at an on-site property is convenience. You can hop on a shuttle bus or even walk to the park. But if how to save money at amusement parks is the focus of your trip, you might want to consider alternate accommodations such as off-site hotels, vacation rentals or the home of a friend or relative.

Finding a vacation rental off-site is a way to save money at amusement parks.

Anthony finds that a vacation rental near an amusement park is like a home away from home for his family and one of the easiest ways to save money at amusement parks. He says there’s more space to relax and unwind, cook in a fully-equipped kitchen and avoid noisy crowds when his family wants some downtime.

If you’re worried that staying farther away from the park’s venue to travel on a budget could hike up your transportation costs, look into ride sharing services or public transit as a tip for saving money at amusement parks.

3. Pack a lunch

If you’re looking for ways to save money at amusement parks, know that food can take a big bite out of your budget if you buy at park restaurants and concession stands.

“I find you end up spending a lot of money on food when you’re not prepared,” Anthony says. “You didn’t pack your lunch, the kids are crying, so you end up going to some restaurant and dropping a hundred bucks.”

According to USA Today, the cost of various dining plans at major theme parks can be as high as $40 for children and $117 for adults per day. Before you embark on your trip, find out how to save money at amusement parks by going online and checking out the policy for bringing outside food, beverages and coolers into a particular venue. Many allow small snacks and meals that do not require heating, and if picnic areas are available, you can comfortably enjoy your own grub on park grounds.

“Just packing simple lunches for your family could easily save you $50 to $100 during one visit,” Anthony says.

Proctor also recommends packing an insulated cooler full of goodies and leaving it in your car as a money-saving tip for families. “When you get hungry, simply go out to your car for a short break,” he says. “Most amusement parks allow same-day re-entry, so this isn’t a problem at all.”

Having your own reusable water bottle is another way to save money at amusement parks. Not only will this help you conserve money as you refill at water fountains throughout the park, but it will also keep you hydrated while you’re on the go.

If packing your own meals doesn’t sound appealing or you’re a frugal foodie wanting to check out amusement park cuisine, order food a la carte as a tip for saving money at amusement parks. Skip fancy beverages and stick with water to avoid extra costs.

4. Save on souvenirs

Some people have a sentimental attachment to a particular theme park and insist on buying souvenirs, children may spot something during a visit they simply cannot live without and others may want a keepsake to remember a fun family vacation. But if you want to learn how to save money at amusement parks, you may need to stay clear of on-site gift shops.

Anthony says you can find less expensive souvenirs at local retail locations outside of the park or shop online from the comfort of your own home. T-shirts inspired by amusement parks can even be found at drugstore chains and discount retailers. Souvenir cups, a way to save money at amusement parks and still bring home a theme park memory, can typically be purchased at dining locations throughout a venue and can often save you money with free refills.

Anthony suggests you take a pass on souvenir photos shot while you’re enjoying the rides and have a friend or family member capture the moment instead. You also have the option of photographing your child posing with a favorite theme park character as a way to have fun without spending money instead of using a park’s official photographer for a fee.

If you're looking for tips for saving money at amusement parks, don't spring for pricey souvenirs.

5. Bring the essentials

Whether you’re staying for a few hours or a few days, one of the most important tips for saving money at amusement parks is planning ahead and bringing what you might need to make your experience more comfortable.

“One of the easiest ways to blow money at an amusement park is on essentials like a camera, sunscreen or a cap,” Anthony says.

If you’re focused on how to save money at amusement parks, pack your own sunscreen and consider bringing a portable umbrella and ponchos if the forecast calls for rain. Carry a water-resistant case or plastic bag with a zip-top closure to protect your phone or camera from rain and splashes on a water ride.

Since a blister or headache can ruin the day, make sure you carry a few basic first aid supplies such as bandages, blister patches and pain relievers.

Enjoy amusement parks on a budget

Before you head off for a whirlwind trip of roller coaster rides and carnival-style games, be sure to review these tips for saving money at amusement parks to ensure that your visit is as cost-effective as it is fun. Then you’ll be able to walk through the front gate with confidence that you can enjoy all that the park has to offer and keep your budget on track.


Budgeting Tips for the Sandwich Generation: How to Care for Kids and Parents

If you’re part of the sandwich generation, having a money management plan is crucial.

Everyone knows that raising kids can put a serious squeeze on your budget. Beyond covering day-to-day living expenses, there are all of those extras to consider—sports, after-school activities, braces, a first car. Oh, and don’t forget about college.

Add caring for elderly parents to the mix, and balancing your financial and family obligations could become even more difficult.

“It can be an emotional and financial roller coaster, being pushed and pulled in multiple directions at the same time,” says financial life planner and author Michael F. Kay.

The “sandwich generation”—which describes people that are raising children and taking care of aging parents—is growing as Baby Boomers continue to age.

According to the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, 17 percent of adult children serve as caregivers for their parents at some point in their lives. Aside from a time commitment, you may also be committing part of your budget to caregiving expenses like food, medications and doctor’s appointments.

Budgeting tips for the sandwich generation include communicating with parents.

When you’re caught in the caregiving crunch, you might be wondering: How do I take care of my parents and kids without going broke?

The answer lies in how you approach budgeting and saving. These money strategies for the sandwich generation and budgeting tips for the sandwich generation can help you balance your financial and family priorities:

Communicate with parents

Quentara Costa, a certified financial planner and founder of investment advisory service POWWOW, LLC, served as caregiver for her father, who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, while also managing a career and starting a family. That experience taught her two very important budgeting tips for the sandwich generation.

First, communication is key, and a money strategy for the sandwich generation is to talk with your parents about what they need in terms of care. “It should all start with a frank discussion and plan, preferably prior to any significant health crisis,” Costa says.

Second, run the numbers so you have a realistic understanding of caregiving costs, including how much parents will cover financially and what you can afford to contribute.

17 percent of adult children serve as caregivers for their parents at some point in their lives.

– The Center for Retirement Research at Boston College

Involve kids in financial discussions

While you’re talking over expectations with your parents, take time to do the same with your kids. Caregiving for your parents may be part of the discussion, but these talks can also be an opportunity for you and your children to talk about your family’s bigger financial picture.

With younger kids, for example, that might involve talking about how an allowance can be earned and used. You could teach kids about money using a savings account and discuss the difference between needs and wants. These lessons can help lay a solid money foundation as they as move into their tween and teen years when discussions might become more complex.

When figuring out how to budget for the sandwich generation, try including your kids in financial decisions.

If your teen is on the verge of getting their driver’s license, for example, their expectation might be that you’ll help them buy a car or help with insurance and registration costs. Communicating about who will be contributing to these types of large expenses is a good money strategy for the sandwich generation.

The same goes for college, which can easily be one of the biggest expenses for parents and important when learning how to budget for the sandwich generation. If your budget as a caregiver can’t also accommodate full college tuition, your kids need to know that early on to help with their educational choices.

Talking over expectations—yours and theirs—can help you determine which schools are within reach financially, what scholarship or grant options may be available and whether your student is able to contribute to their education costs through work-study or a part-time job.

Consider the impact of caregiving on your income

When thinking about how to budget for the sandwich generation, consider that caring for aging parents can directly affect your earning potential if you have to cut back on the number of hours you work. The impact to your income will be more significant if you are the primary caregiver and not leveraging other care options, such as an in-home nurse, senior care facility or help from another adult child.

Costa says taking time away from work can be difficult if you’re the primary breadwinner or if your family is dual-income dependent. Losing some or all of your income, even temporarily, could make it challenging to meet your everyday expenses.

“Very rarely do I recommend putting caregiving ahead of the client’s own cash reserve and retirement.”

– Quentara Costa, certified financial planner

When you’re facing a reduced income, how to budget for the sandwich generation is really about getting clear on needs versus wants. Start with a thorough spending review.

Are there expenses you might be able to reduce or eliminate while you’re providing care? How much do you need to earn each month to maintain your family’s standard of living? Keeping your family’s needs in focus and shaping your budget around them is a money strategy for the sandwich generation that can keep you from overextending yourself financially.

“Protect your capital from poor decisions made from emotions,” financial life planner Kay says. “It’s too easy when you’re stretched beyond reason to make in-the-heat-of-the-moment decisions that ultimately are not in anyone’s best interest.”

Keep saving in sight

One of the most important money strategies for the sandwich generation is continuing to save for short- and long-term financial goals.

“Very rarely do I recommend putting caregiving ahead of the client’s own cash reserve and retirement,” financial planner Costa says. “While the intention to put others before ourselves is noble, you may actually be pulling the next generation backwards due to your lack of self-planning.”

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Making regular contributions to your 401(k), an individual retirement account or an IRA CD should still be a priority. Adding to your emergency savings each month—even if you have to reduce the amount you normally save to fit new caregiving expenses into your budget—can help prepare you for unexpected expenses or the occasional cash flow shortfall. Contributing to a 529 college savings plan or a Coverdell ESA is a budgeting tip for the sandwich generation that can help you build a cushion for your children once they’re ready for college life.

When you are learning how to budget for the sandwich generation, don’t forget about your children’s savings goals. If there’s something specific they want to save for, help them figure out how much they need to save and a timeline for reaching their goal.

Ask for help if you need it

A big part of learning how to budget for the sandwich generation is finding resources you can leverage to help balance your family commitments. In the case of aging parents, there may be state or federal programs that can help with the cost of care.

Remember to also loop in your siblings or other family members when researching budgeting tips for the sandwich generation. If you have siblings or relatives, engage them in an open discussion about what they can contribute, financially or in terms of caregiving assistance, to your parents. Getting them involved and asking them to share some of the load can help you balance caregiving for parents while still making sure that you and your family’s financial outlook remains bright.

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