Life is busy. Add kids and your To-Do list immediately multiplies. You can also count on your expenses multiplying. It seems like every week there is another note coming home from our son's school asking for us to donate to this or that. Our son is very active and plays both football and baseball - and let me tell you, these extras can really get expensive. We have learned over the years what works and what doesn't - and how we can save the most.
FIRST THING'S FIRST
-Talk to your kids about which sports they really want to play, and make decisions early on. If you know that your three kids will want to play two sports each throughout the year, and each sport will cost around $50 - you can count on spending $300. Three hundred dollars can sound like a huge amount of money, but when you divide it up among twelve months, it's only $25 a month! Know that every month twenty-five dollars is going towards those extras.
-The old saying "The early bird gets the worm." holds true here. Don't wait until last minute to register your child to sign up (for league play or for camp). You'll often get a discounted price for registering early, or pay extra for registering late!
-Some recreation departments will provide some equipment for you child, but most times you will be responsible for buying most - if not all - of the things they will need. If your child is just starting out with a sport, remember that kids are fickle. What may be his favorite thing this week, may only be a distant memory next week. Get only what is required until you are sure this is something your little one is going to stick with. I want to fall over when I see a first year player with $50 cleats, a $50 bat bag, a $100 bat....when it's obvious this kid isn't going to want to play again next year!
-Kids grow. Fast. One week our son will be eating us out of house and home, and the next week he can't find a single pair of shoes in his closet that still fit. Keep this in mind when buying shoes/cleats for your child. You can pay upwards of $52 for a pair of baseball cleats that your child may outgrow before the season is over. What a waste! Even without a sale, you can pick up a pair of quality cleats for around $20.
-Quality does matter. When buying our son's football helmet, we did research and talked with associates in three different stores. And we paid a pretty penny - but it sure makes me feel better knowing that my son's head is protected when he steps on that field. When it comes to safety equipment, know your stuff. Shin guards for soccer need to fit appropriately, mouth guards are a must. My son doesn't have to have the "best" batting gloves, but I can assure you that the things that will protect him are fitted and will do the job!
That's another thing. Talk to store employees, and don't stop at just one store. Our son was fitted for his football pads at three different stores. It's a good thing too, the first store didn't measure him properly. Trust me, I'm that Momma who cringes every time my baby takes a hit - but I'm grateful he has the appropriate safety equipment to protect him.
-Shop around! While I recommend getting your child fitted for specific equipment, that doesn't mean you actually have to buy the equipment at that store. Some other options are Play It Again Sports, EBay, Craigslist, garage sales, Freecycle, and or course friends or family. One idea is to talk to your coach or commissioner preseason and ask about an equipment swap. Getting together with families who have older kids or kids in other sports is a great idea - and everyone can save! Keep your eyes open when you're out shopping, you can often find steals in the most unexpected places. We found Nike football cleats last year at ROSS for only $8!
-Here's another tip. For Easter, my husband and I don't fill our son's Easter basket with toys or candy. He gets any new baseball equipment he needs for the season from the Easter Bunny! He's always excited about new equipment (glove, bat, cleats, etc...) and we're buying him something he needs anyway.
-Some equipment will come in a starter kit, especially for soccer. While these may be convenient, they don't always offer the best price. It's worth it to double check prices and shop around. Also remember to shop in the off-season. You'll find deep discounts on all equipment. Keep in mind that again, kids grow. They'll obviously be bigger next year at the beginning of a new season. We buy all of our son's baseball and football practice pants at the end of season, and we just go up one size every year. We also buy extra socks - it seems like we never have enough "long" socks!
**Safety of your children always comes first, and unfortunately accidents will happen. If you do not have insurance, I strongly recommend asking the recreation department if they offer seasonal insurance for their players. It is fairly inexpensive, and will help cover the cost of medical treatment should an injury occur. Be sure to check out what is covered and what is not before signing on the dotted line.**
There are several different ways to approach this - and it's usually different depending on sport, league, and recreation department. Do the kids get snacks after every practice and game? Just games? Does the concession stand provide snacks and drinks, or is it the responsibility of the parents - or just the Team Mom? You've got a few options...
-If you're responsible for snacks after one or two games per season, go ahead and get shopping! Y'all know I'm a big fan of buying when it's on sale. I used coupons and bought Gatorade and snacks long before baseball season even started this year. I paid half what I would normally have paid, and I eliminated the last minute "I have snack TODAY?! Hurry up, I have to run to the store before the game!" (Seriously, hasn't every parent had that moment of panic at least once, or am I the only one?!)
-My friend DJ told me about something her team did last year, and it's such a great idea - I'll be suggesting it to our teams next year. At the beginning of the season, all parents will chip in around $6-$7 to the Team Mom. Then, the Team Mom heads over to Costco or Sam's Club and purchases drinks and snacks for every game. For 15 kids with 10 games, you'd need 150 snacks and drinks per game. Total cost (per Sam's Club) would be $94.30 for 150 bags of assorted Wise Chips and 168 bottles of Gatorade - or around $6.50 per child. I'm not a huge fan of buying in bulk, but in this case it works on many levels. One, it's cost efficient for everyone on the team. $6.50 is definitely on the low end of what you would pay for snacks and drinks for the team at the grocery store (without coupons). And by having the Team Mom be responsible for this, you eliminate that awkward moment after the game when someone's parent forgot snacks (Usually, this happens at least once every season!).
- Don't eat at the ball field! There, I said it. Yes, the money supports the athletic programs. Yes, there is nothing quite as delicious at ball field french fries (just ask my son). But if you count on eating dinner at the games, you'll quickly realize that it's a huge money drain. To feed our family of four with drinks, we can count on definitely spending $20 (or more). Not to mention, it's not that great for our waistlines either. We are guilty of this one for sure. There have been days when we've needed to get a snack at the game since we didn't get a chance to eat dinner beforehand. Every family has days like that.
Planning ahead is the easiest way to avoid spending that extra money. We use our slow cooker like crazy during baseball and football season. I can start dinner first thing in the morning and don't have to worry about getting dinner on the table at the last minute. You can find some excellent slow cooker recipes here - just about any recipe can be adapted to cook in a slow cooker. Also keeping a small stock of snacks and drinks in a cooler in your car will help with the "after practice munchies"!
-So your kid wants to be a super-star goalie? Have you seen the prices of camps lately? Some of them can be outrageous! If you are seeking additional training/instruction for your child, be flexible. Check with your local YMCA to see what they offer, as well as an area high school since these may be much less expensive. Even if an organized camp is not available for a reasonable price, maybe you could talk the high school student who lives next door into doing some drills with your child (or ask the coaches at the high school). Many juniors and seniors know that this will look great on their college applications, so they are more than willing to put in an hour or two with an eager learner - and they'll be teaching your child the same drills they do at practice. Sounds like a win, win situation to me!
-Don't over schedule your children. Remember that running them from this practice, to that game not only becomes too expensive, it also exhausts children. Let them pick one or two favorites and focus on those. Or maybe they could join the swim team next year, since they've decided basketball isn't really for them.
Kids athletics can be an awesome experience. They can learn about teamwork, self-discipline, hard work and more - all while having a great time. Don't think that just because you're pinching pennies, you can't stretch that dollar a little further and give them the opportunity to participate!
I'd love to hear what you do to help stretch your budget, and how you survive the busy sports seasons! Do you have a tip about saving a buck or two? Please leave me a comment to share!