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Cut Costs—But Not Fun—From Your Kids’ Activities

Seven tips to help you save big on team sports, dance, art classes, etc.

Mother driving young son to soccer practice.
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You can’t keep the baseball out of your child’s hands. Another is dancing around the kitchen. Your third sees a marching band and announces he wants to play an instrument.

Is it time to sign them up for T-ball, tap class and trumpet lessons?

Juggling the schedule and figuring out how to get one to the ballfield and another to the dance studio is just part of your dilemma. The other? Trying to figure out how to pay for it all.

It can be daunting: Take sports: A 2022 survey revealed that the average family pays $883 annually in one child’s primary spot. Travel teams and private lessons have made youth sports a $37.5 billion a year industry.

Don’t tear up that registration form just yet, however. There are ways to involve your children in a variety of activities—team sports, dance, the arts—without harming the family budget or making big sacrifices. Having realistic expectations, sticking to a budget and following some helpful tips can all add up into big ways to save.

1. Ask about early registration and autopay.

The early bird often catches the discount. Sports leagues typically offer a discount if you register way before the deadline, and they’ll charge a late fee if you miss the deadline. Providers of music or dance lessons might give discounts that can range from as little as 10 percent to as much as 40 percent to families that register early. Ask about discounts for using autopay (a service that automatically schedules and deducts your monthly payment from your bank account on your due date) for a recurring activity.

2. Investigate your school’s offerings.

Your child’s school might have activities that could fulfill your child’s desire to play sports or do something artistic—for free, or for a considerable discount. Reach out to your child’s teacher and ask what’s available. Does the school run an intramurals sports program either before or after the school day? Is there a school choir? Is there an afterschool art program? This is an appealing option, especially if you think your child might not be ready for a long-term commitment to a team or other activity.

3. Check out your library and town.

The public library often has free or low-cost programs for children and teenagers, from illustration lessons, to family yoga, to guitar club, to drama productions and hip-hop dancing.

Your town parks and recreation department may also have a variety of programs. For example, T-ball through the town could cost a fraction of what it does through other organized sports leagues—and even include a hat and T-shirt. Dance class for kids will be cheaper than a dance class at a studio. This is a terrific way to expose children to a variety of activities at an affordable cost.

4. One activity at a time.

Kids might have multiple interests, but your budget may only be able to handle one activity at a time. Many families make that a house rule. The youth baseball season lasts two or three months in the spring, and when that season is over, then you can consider moving on to something else.

5. Buy used or rent.

The activity your child chooses probably requires some equipment – and it might not come cheap. If your child plays hockey, expect to spend anywhere from $300 to $700 for skates, a helmet and the large amount of protective gear needed. By checking out a used sporting goods store or online sites, such as Facebook Marketplace, you could outfit your hockey player for a fraction of that. Since kids grow quickly, used gear could be very lightly worn.

How about renting a musical instrument instead of buying one? Again, the cost savings could be substantial, and it’s probably the best course if your child is new to the instrument and might not stick with it. A new cello can cost anywhere from about $800 into the thousands, whereas a three-month rental of a cello, including insurance, would be closer to $150.

Look to your friends who have children to swap gear no longer needed. Do your neighbors have a softball glove their daughter no longer needs? You probably have something in your garage to trade. Ask if your sports league has a swap day. Once a year, some leagues invite families to bring their used gear to swap. Bring five usable items, you’ll get tickets to take five items.

6. Volunteer or barter.

If you’re willing to volunteer to sell concessions for your child’s sports league or team, or to participate in a fundraiser, you’ll likely be able to save a few dollars on registration fees. For parents willing to volunteer to coach, some leagues will reduce the costs for their child to play.

What about lessons in the arts? Trade your special skill with the teacher for free or reduced-price lessons. Has the teacher been talking about painting the dance studio? If that’s your forte, offer your labor in exchange for lessons. Are you a web designer and notice your teacher doesn’t have a website? It won’t hurt to make a pitch to build one.

7. Stay local.

Travel teams are to blame for the biggest costs of your sports. As your child gets older, travel teams will become an option for youth of all skill levels. And the teams don’t travel just one town over. You could drive three hours one weekend, 90 minutes the next and six hours the weekend after that. Unless your child is the next LeBron James, think hard about making such a commitment. It’s like a mini-family vacation every weekend for as long as the season lasts. Factor in costs of gas, lodging and food, and the costs add up quickly.

There’s no denying the benefits kids receive from participating in sports and the arts. Physical fitness, social skills, team building and a greater sense of self-esteem can all result from taking part. Just be sure to keep in mind that those benefits don’t have to blow your budget.

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Financial Education

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