8/15/2012 3:41 PM ET|
Keep a lid on kids' sports costs
Your child may not be headed for the pros, but the expenses that go with playing a sport are still substantial. Here's how to hold them down.
At age 4, Catherine Holecko's daughter visited an ice skating rink for the first time. She asked for lessons. Later that year, the little girl skated in an ice show -- and she was hooked.
Now 10, the figure skater practices three times a week and regularly competes. Ice time and coaching cost $200 to $300 a month. Holecko recently bought her new skates for $250, while a local competition set them back $300-- and that contest didn't require a hotel stay or other travel costs.
Holecko, who lives in Wisconsin and writes about family fitness for About.com, said she could be spending a lot more. Skates can cost hundreds more, and Holecko recently saw a competition costume with a $400 price tag. "The most we've spent for a costume is $70. I've paid $10" to buy used ones, she said.
Other extracurriculars, including karate and cello lessons, have fallen by the wayside -- which helps offset the sport's costs somewhat, although Holecko worries her daughter is too young to specialize. Holecko also knows the costs will only increase if her daughter continues her interest in the sport.
"The plan is, we take it as it comes. . . . I can take on more freelance writing jobs," said Holecko. "She absolutely loves it. She never complains, and she's eager to keep going."
The spiraling cost of kids' sports is a hot topic as parents brace for the start of school amid the lingering buzz about what young athletes accomplished at the Olympics.
Susan Gregory Thomas, a memoirist and journalist, reckons her family spends more than $15,000 a year on her daughter's sport: The 11-year-old is a nationally ranked gymnast. Most of that is spent on twice-a-week classes; the one-on-one coaching top-level contenders need would cost a lot more.
Even if you're clear that your kid is no future Gabby Douglas or Michael Phelps, you can still end up shelling out a small fortune. Equipment, uniforms and league fees are just the start. Traveling teams, which can cost $1,000 to $3,000 a year, have morphed from a privilege for elite players to an option for kids with less spectacular abilities. (USSSA Baseball, which had a roster of 1,000 teams in 1997, now has 60,000.) Many parents pay for specialty camps and extra coaching to get that competitive edge. Even those who don't can be surprised by how seemingly incidental costs -- gas, snacks, trophies and coach gifts -- can add up.
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I asked parents, including a few experts, to offer advice on ways to contain the cost. Here's what they said:
Start cheap. Janet Bodnar, who is editor of Kiplinger's personal finance magazine, author of "Raising Money Smart Kids" and the mother of three competitive swimmers, cautions against devoting too much time or money to a sport until it's clear your child has the aptitude and interest for it. Check out the local Y and the community recreation center rather than signing up with private teams, gyms and pools. Picking the right sport helps, too: Soccer is relatively cheap; ice hockey, golf and horseback riding are not.
"We go through the local community center for gymnastics, (which has) very reasonable rates compared to private gyms," David Anocibar of Yucaipa, Calif., wrote on my Facebook fan page. "We also do karate through a nearby Portuguese-American club. The instructors are able to rent the hall for a couple hours a week and keep their overhead very low. As a result they are able to offer very low prices."
Try used. After first offering a tongue-in-cheek suggestion to reduce sports costs -- "Give birth to nerds" -- Antoinette Patterson Smith of Katy, Texas, recommended asking friends with older children if they have outgrown equipment they're willing to sell or trade.
"Posts on your (Facebook) page are especially helpful -- you never know what your kindergarten classmate from 30 years ago might have for you," she noted.
Some organizations coordinate such swaps, either formally or informally.
"One way we have kept our costs down is by sharing uniforms for the team, and track cleats," said Tony Reynolds of Columbus, Ohio, who started a crowd-funding website for athletics and whose two sons, 10 and 11, compete in the USA Track and Field Junior Olympics.
"When our child outgrows theirs, they donate them to the team, and when other children outgrow theirs, they do the same. We also donate uniforms. . . . Our first year, we benefited from that generosity of other parents, and this year we (reciprocated)," Reynolds said.
Other parents mentioned buying used equipment at places such as Play It Again Sports, using online classifieds such as Craigslist or on eBay.
Don't go overboard. Sometimes you can't buy used, but that doesn't mean you have to pop for top-of-the-line anything. "Look for coupons for sporting goods stores, and buy the cheapest things -- they're probably going to demolish or lose them anyway," advised my friend Marla Jo Fisher, who blogs for The Orange County Register as Deals Diva and who has two teenagers involved in sports. "A 9-year-old doesn't need a $160 bat he's going to leave at practice."
There are always ways to spend more on a sport, whether it's joining a traveling team (maybe your kid would be happy staying with the rec league) or paying for professional pictures rather than taking your own, said Holecko, who's also the mother of a 7-year-old baseball player.
"If I bought the professional shots offered at every skating event -- on top of the baseball team pictures and everything else for both kids -- I'd be spending hundreds if not thousands of dollars," Holecko said.
Financial planner Ted Jenkin, who has three kids ages 10, 12 and 14, says he sees parents wasting money "all the time," sometimes with the help of the coach.
"Local sports today seem to be more of a way for the local coaches to sell their side private business versus coaching," said Jenkin, founder of oXYGen Financial in Alpharetta, Ga. "We shouldn't feel pressured our kid won't get attention if we don't pay $75 or $100 an hour to get some extra help."
Speak up. The post-game snack is one example of a tradition that can quickly escalate into an arms race. One parent brings orange slices. The next brings orange juice and cookies. Not to be outdone, Parent No. 3 proffers decorated cupcakes and sodas. Finally, somebody shows up with White Castle burgers, Doritos and beer. (OK, the beer's just for the grown-ups.)
Not only can the snacks be nutritional nightmares, but they get darned expensive. So can team parties, gifts to the coach and even banners. If you want to keep a lid on costs, get involved.
"Be proactive in team planning, and make it clear from the beginning that you vote for frugality," Fisher wrote. "Many team organizers don't even think about these things, but other parents will breathe a sigh of relief when you do."
Don't delude yourself. I've had parents tell me, in all seriousness, that the money they were spending on kiddie sports was an investment that would pay off in college scholarships. Only a tiny fraction of high school athletes get any kind of scholarship. Only 1.6% of male undergraduates and 1.1% of female undergraduates received a sports scholarship during the 2007-08 school year, according to a study (.pdf file) by FinAid.org publisher Mark Kantrowitz. The average amount: $7,855. All told, athletic scholarships are worth about $1 billion a year; Americans pay more than $460 billion for post-secondary education.
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One Texas dad told me he spent about $2,500 a year, plus travel expenses, on his son's various sporting activities. Once the boy entered high school, he narrowed his sports down to two: football and track.
"I again still spent money on training, camps, equipment," the dad said. "The goal with most of the parents is to get college paid for."
That didn't work out. No recruiters dangled scholarships. The young man did get accepted to Oklahoma State and was promised a spot on the team, but decided he didn't want to play.
Counting on scholarships isn't a college-savings strategy, any more than counting on the lottery to fund your retirement is. For more on why it's important to save, and how to get started, read "3 college myths that will cost you," "Should you pay for your kid's college?" and "The best and worst 529 plans."
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Oldest child didn't do sports. Next went the rec level for soccer at the cost of $100 per year and made varsity her freshman year for high school. No plans to play in college.
Youngest, all rec level sports (swimming, track, basketball, soccer, baseball) until middle school. Decided soccer was his thing. We did the club soccer route for two years to the tune of $2,000 or so a year. Played at the premier level and would have been travelling across the entire country this year.
At the end of last year,he looked at me and said, "I'm tired. I just want to play for my high school freshman team next year." And with that, we were done. No more travelling across town for practice four times a week. Dinner at home as a family every night. No more out of town trips, motel stays, etc.
He's out playing hoops in the front yard, joined a science club for high school and the craziness has stopped. He learned a lot playing at the club level and had a lot of fun, but the toll on the family life was pretty steep.
We raised 3 children and all were competitive swimmers and yes the expense was overwhelming. But through it all we feel that what we sacrificed for their sport and for them was well worth it and would do it all over again. All 3 received full ride scholarships' to major Division 1 schools. 2 of the 3 became Olympians, the boy-3 Olympic Teams and the girl-2 Olympic Teams, and now have careers that have set them up for life. It takes parents that are role models and disciplinarians to their children rather than parents that want their children to be their friends by giving them anything or everything they want.
MY Daughter is an Equestrian. She rides and has riden jumping horses since she was 4. Until the age of 10 she was also involved with other sports such as soft ball, and music both piano and choir. At that point she said I only want to ride. Yes, it is one of the most expensive sports she can do. But there are many ways to work those expenses into the budget. I searched the web for equipment and clothing that others had out-grown. I helped when the coach needed things to curtail costs. Even doing "horse laundry" for the show kids at our barn. When my daughter was old enough, she became a working student for her coach. And in trade for helping with the horses and chores her lessons were free. All the hard work paid off she was ranked top 20 in the country her Junior year.
She got a Division 1 scholarship to ride at Oklahoma State University. She worked hard and it payed off. Yes it was expensive, but so is your child shopping and hanging out at the mall. At least I always knew where she was, she didn't want a boyfriend... to much trouble and the boys distracted her from her passion... the horses. She knew her grades had to hold or the horse went. It was worth it, a struggle yes... but I have a great daughter who is respectful, articulate and a joy, thanks to her hard work.
The biggest problem I have with spending all the money on sports at a young age is this. There are several people making money on false promises. Many places will for a fee of $25-$100 an hour will tell you "I can get your child a full ride to college". So parents will send their child a couple of times a week for private instructions. The fact is this, not all players have the god given abilities to play at the college or professional level.
Travel teams are great for the top tier players and do help develop players for the next level and do put their talents on display. Once again a lot are coached by parents. I have seen in the last few years there are more non-parent coaches. And that is great for the players and normally easier on the coach. To hear that a lot are ex college or professional players sound good but there is a negative side too. Some that start with a younger age group don't know how to handle the younger players (10 and 12 and under) and turn them off from a sport before the player has decided if they love it or not. A bad experience at a young age is all it takes sometimes to make a kid quit. If a young player doesn't like it they won't do it or giee it their all.
Another thing to think about is if you are paying someone to coach your kid and it's their only job how much did their college education actually sunk in? I can see paying for their expenses and a little for their time but, when a team of 12 is paying a few hundred a month that tells me the coach cares less about the kids and more about the money.
Oh by the way I have coached select level (travel team) softball for the last 25 years. I have a good job and have yet to have a team of mine pay for anything more than my travel.
Someone once told us if we just would save the money we had spent on swimming, we would have had enough for a college scholarship and I believe it.
First of all..leave USSSA out of the equation. They are hardly the body to be looking at for figures. Amateur Softball Association (ASA) is the governing body for ALL softball and Little League is the governing body for ALL baseball. All other entities MUST belong to one of those two in order to hold tournaments that are intra-state or international.
Speaking as a 25+ year coach at the competitive level for girls fastpitch and a past college coach as well as a Women's Major Division coach, I can tell you that for a girl who is 13-14 years old today to make it into college as a player on a scholarship of any sort, they need to be playing for an aggressive tournament team, and they need to specialize in 2 positions. They also need stellar grades (even most summer squads nowadays require 3.0 or better to play) or they won't even get a look from a college. The colleges traditionally look for 3.0 - 3.5 GPA's from athletes in softball.
Parents can expect to spend about $2-3 grand a year for tournament travel, which includes rooms, food and travel. This may not be the case if the organization the daughter plays for is well organized, has profitable fund-raisers and sponsors...but today for a team that places their girls in the eyes of college coaches all summer, the team expenditure is around $30k. Before the Nationals.
There are tournaments all summer that cater to the college coaches, and while the coaches cannot speak to the girls or their parents until they are in their Junior year of high school they do keep an eye on the 14+ year olds as they grow and play.
The upside...if you spend 6 years at the high levels of competition...and spend that $3k a year ( or more) the kid will probably land a scholarship at a school that increases with each year and save you twice that much on education expenses. Plus...there is a lot of fun involved. Work too...but nothing comes for free.
Now I'm a coach and also a Masters swimmer. As a Masters swimmer, the team fees are quite a bit lower (around $500 a year), but I'm paying another $1000 or so a year for travel and suits. I've got no shot at the Olympics, and that's really the only goal for adult swimmers at this point in their swimming careers. I still say that the ~$1500 I'm paying now is totally worth it, even though I don't have the swimming career upside that youth swimmers potentially do.
I agree with headline. Keeping your kids in sports cost an arm and a leg! I have two boys and they have played baseball since machine pitch. In Texas it's pretty much year round! We have literally spent thousands of dollars between tourney fees, equipment , lessons and more. Sports has become so competitive that you just about have to spend vast amounts of money to give your kids every opportunity to make the high school baseball team. Footballs a different story all together because basically everyone makes the team though equipment is still expensive...Been there and done that too!
I would also like to comment on the excerpt about keeping sports cheap, in my experience the Y isn't cheap so I'm not sure where they came up with that one. That's also a monthly membership and a contract that keeps on taking from your wallet while some private teams also charge montly fees they can be cheaper than joinign the Y...Trust me on that one!
Ug, my daughter has played soccer for most her life and the last 4 years she played premier, but not this year. Due to lack of work I had to cut back a lot of things, soccer and it's HUGE expenses just had to be cut. Constant week after week after week traveling across the entire northwest 9 monhts out of the year just won't cut it.
It was a sad day that I had to tell her that. She has a good ehad on her shoulders and understood. She is pretty disappointed in HS sports so far. The competition is high but the skill... not so much...
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