The store shelves are brimming with folders, scissors and glue. Long pants, boots, and back packs are in the mall store windows. Our summer "daze" is turning the corner to back-to-school. But, while all parents need to find room in the family budget for school clothes and supplies, those of us with kids in sports need to not only plan for the cost of equipment but budget our time.
Pre-school/early elementary (ages 3-7)
As fun and exciting as it is for kids starting school - whether pre-school, kindergarten or elementary - and signing up for after-school activities and organized team sports, its also a wonderful time for parents: learning on which team your child will be playing, who their classmates will be in dance, karate, or gymnastics, and which parent you can car pool with!
The keys for parents:
- Curb your enthusiasm: Kids at this age want to try everything, so, while their enthusiasm may be contagious, it is important for you to avoid over-scheduling and packing too many activities into your child's day.
- Keep it simple: Equipment needs at this age are pretty basic: for most sports and activities, just a uniform and the right shoes.
- If the shoe fits: Your child will likely outgrow their shoes before they wear them out, so you may need to buy as many as 4 pairs to get through a full year (fall and spring) of sports.
Tweens (ages 8-12)
At this age, kids are beginning to settle into their chosen team or activity. They tend to do only one or two after school teams/classes. Life is getting jam-packed with school and friends. The kids who continue to play soccer baseball or softball, or volleyball are becoming more serious about their game.
Tips for parents of tweens:
- Quality over quantity: because the equipment is getting more expensive (have you checked out the price of a baseball bat or glove lately? Wow!), buy gear that lasts.
- Organization is key: Keeping all of your child's gear organized is key as their days become more and more activity-filled. Kids at this age can be given the responsibility of keeping track of their gear and getting dirty uniforms into the laundry room;
- Shoes, glorious shoes: Shoes for sports and other activities become more expensive and specialized (a dancer, for instance, may need. 4 different pairs). Your kids' feet are still growing, so getting through the entire year with the same pair of shoes is probably not going to happen!
Teens (ages 13-18)
By the time your child reaches adolescence they have settled into "their thing." You probably have, too. While the experts warn against the risk of overuse injury from year-round play, most kids in this age group, if they are still in sports, play their chosen sport 12 months a year, in some cases both for their high school team and a private club. Needless to say you are still purchasing uniforms, shoes and gear for all those teams (not to mention paying for tournaments, private instruction etc.), but by this point your kids should not only be keeping track and taking care and track of all their gear (including washing their uniforms!), but need to be aware of just how much of a strain the cost of sports may be placing on the family budget.
Balancing the budget
Given the cost of sports, here are some final suggestions on ways to save money on gear or help out someone less fortunate:
- Organize a neighborhood swap. Older boys and girls can offer their outgrown uniforms and shoes or equipment that they do need anymore. This works great as it is easy, cleans out a closet, and is a great way to get to know your neighbors.
- Buy used equipment. Take sports gear to and purchase gear from a re-sale shop. like Second Time Around or Play It Again Sports. It's a great way to make money and save money on equipment and shoes.
- Ask and ye shall receive: Ask your child's coach/teacher if they know of someone who might like to re-sell some equipment.
- Charity begins at home: If you have some uniforms, shoes or accessories that you feel might not be worthy of a second tour of duty, instead of throwing things away, donate to:
- Goodwill, Salvation Army and other non-profit organizations to give to children in need. In the Dallas, Texas area, where I live, for instance, the Dallas Cowboys are behind an effort to collect 25,001 pairs of shoes to give to the charity, Shoes for Orphan Souls.
- Military groups need and want shoes and equipment to pass out to children overseas to build a good relationship.
- Adopt a charity: You can easily find an organization to donate to that easily fits your equipment and your heart.
In the end, it's not what game you play, but how you pay off the field that counts!