Youth Sports Cost the Typical Family Almost $900 a Year. Here's How to Lower Your Costs

Ask me what my plans are for pretty much any weekend between now and late November, and I’ll give you the same answer: soccer. I have three kids in three different soccer programs, including one on a travel team. And while I’m hardly shocked that I’m spending most of my free time on a soccer field, I was a bit shocked when I started getting the bills for my kids’ programs.

Data from the Aspen Institute’s State of Play 2022 report finds that the average family spends $883 a year to cover the cost of one child’s primary sport. So when we read between the lines, we can infer that many families are incurring much higher costs than that since many people have multiple kids who also play multiple sports.

My husband and I make it a priority to enroll our kids in sports and other activities. To make that work, we spend less on things like travel and household purchases. But still, there have been times when we’ve come close to dipping into our savings just to cover those expenses (namely since all of those program fees tend to come due at once).

If you have kids who want to play sports, you may be eager to say yes. And there’s a lot to be gained from having your child join a team and engage in physical activity. But there are also steps you can take to keep your costs down.

1. Choose rec sports if your child is first starting out

As mentioned, one of my children plays soccer on a travel team. And between initial fees, equipment, uniforms, and tournaments, I’m probably looking at spending anywhere between $1,000 and $2,000 this year.

But before my daughter went all-in on travel soccer, she played the rec version for a few years. A season of rec soccer in my town only costs around $150, which is far more reasonable. This helped her determine that soccer was the one sport she wanted to focus on.

My son started out playing rec soccer, too. Only he’s decided that he wants to focus on running (which, thankfully, he can do for free through his school).

I still pay around $150 for him to play rec soccer through our town program. But I’m not willing to pay what I’m spending for travel soccer when it’s not his primary sport.

2. Don’t be ashamed to ask for hand-me-downs

Because kids tend to grow quickly, sports equipment and gear don’t always last that long. So it’s a good idea to ask neighbors and friends for hand-me-downs to shrink your costs.

A few years ago, a friend gave my son soccer cleats her son had outgrown. That saved us about $30 to $40. This year, I passed a pair of cleats on to a friend whose child needs them this fall.

If your child is part of a team, definitely ask around to see if anyone has outgrown gear or equipment. Some teams actually keep an inventory to help parents out.

3. Buy your stuff during the off season

When your child is about to start soccer in the fall and you’re buying their gear in August or early September, you’re probably not going to snag any discounts, because that’s when everyone is buying those things. If you’re looking to save some money, plan ahead.

If you know your child will be playing soccer next fall, buy cleats in the next size up during the winter, when most parents are more focused on sweaters and gloves. And if you can’t find off-season gear at your local sporting goods store, check Amazon. It tends to have a little of everything all year round.

Youth sports have the potential to wreak havoc on parents’ finances. It’s definitely not worth landing in credit card debt to put your kids in a sports program, so if you can’t afford it right now, be honest and encourage them to seek out free options through their schools. But otherwise, you can at least take these steps to lower your costs.

Freeing up your weekends, however, is a whole different story — and I honestly have no advice there seeing as how I plan to be perpetually parked on a soccer field until Thanksgiving.

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