Keeping Kids' Sports Costs Under Control

From the time they can run to the moment you pack them up for college, kids who love sports can give your pocketbook a real beating. But with the right game plan, you can keep that spending under control.

Many parents find the cost of youth sports a real challenge. A 2014 study by the Utah State University's Families in Sport Lab found 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. Many families spend significantly more, according to the study.

Does that figure seem high or low to you? Depending on whether you were aware of the costs associated with your local youth baseball league when you were a kid, it might seem comparatively high. In today's world, spending several thousand dollars a year on your kids' sporting activities is sometimes unavoidable. It depends on your kids, their desired sports and the number of years he or she chooses to play. In some cases, that can get be pretty expensive.

But whether your child's interest in sports is temporary or a long-term commitment, it's not only important to plan and budget, but to find smart ways to save. Here are a few ways to begin:

Build a network of parents with sports-minded kids. 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 time commitment of a particular sport to individual costs and fees associated with play.

Check your child's health insurance options. Injuries happen and it's always a good idea to review your personal or employer-provided health coverage before your kids sign up for any sport. It's especially important if your family is already shouldering a large insurance deductible. Also, keep in mind that if your child competes out of town or out of state, injuries on the road can potentially become an enormous financial burden if your coverage doesn't extend to that location. 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 coverage requirements before they allow your child to play. There may be other coverage options as well, so make sure you check out every single one and run those options by your qualified financial expert or fellow parents who are insuring their children against sports injuries. Finally, consider getting your kids to take breaks from various seasons of play to reduce the risk of injury overall.

Watch the calendar. Don't miss any opportunities for sales on merchandise or discounts on training and activity fees. Paying early for merchandise, sports camp or pre-season activity fees can save significant money over time. At the very least, avoid late registration fees on all sports and activities.

Watch the sales and buy used when you can. Whether it's equipment or uniforms, see if there are 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. If your child isn't destined for the pros, buying used makes a lot of sense--why buy full price if at some point their interest wanes? Also, if you've got a growing child who is likely to maintain interest in a particular sport over several seasons, stock up on discounted clothing. Keep colors and styles gender-neutral so you can have a stockpile of useful hand-me-downs for girls and boys.

Share transportation and other fees. 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.

Consider group lessons. If your child wants to improve in a sport, consider working with other parents who want the same for their children and negotiate with the instructor to offer group lessons at a lower cost per family. Explain your situation to the instructor and jointly work to develop a training plan that makes good sense economically and for your child's development in that sport.

Check for donations and grants. Various sports have education scholarship and equipment grant programs. If your child is shaping up to be a particularly talented player, start researching local, state and sports scholarship and grant programs that might pay for play now or college later.

Have your child pay to play. If your child is dedicated to a particular seasonal sport-- even if it's not a team sport--why not let him or her work during the off season to put some money away for the fees and equipment they'll need during the year? It will not only give you a break on what you're spending but lets them see what their activities really cost.

Bottom line: Watching your kids participate in a sport they love can be gratifying. But it's possible to introduce them to youth athletics without ruining your family finances.

Nathaniel Sillin directs Visa's financial education programs. To follow Practical Money Skills on Twitter: www.twitter.com/PracticalMoney

This article is intended to provide general information and should not be considered legal, tax or financial advice. It's always a good idea to consult a legal, tax or financial advisor for specific information on how certain laws apply to you and about your individual financial situation.