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Image: Madison High School football players run sprints
Kevin Wolf  /  AP file
Are you ready for some youth football? Are you ready to pay an arm and a leg? These tips will help control costs.
By Laura T. Coffey
TODAY contributor
updated 8/19/2008 8:42:08 PM ET 2008-08-20T00:42:08

Sports equipment. Uniforms. Team fees. Travel costs. Who would have guessed it could be so expensive to let your kid stay in shape and learn about teamwork by playing a team sport?

According to one estimate, many families spend at least $2,000 a year on sports-related expenses for their children. That, of course, is a lot of cash! The following tips can help you save money in this unexpectedly costly category as the new school year kicks into gear.

1. Buy used equipment. We’re not talking about ancient, beat-up hand-me-downs here. We’re talking about the stunning amount of barely used gear you can find at resale stores such as Play It Again Sports, in online ads on eBay and Craigslist, in newspaper ads and at yard sales. You can save as much as 40 percent by purchasing sports equipment through such avenues.

2. Knowwhen not to buy used. Be careful about buying used safety equipment, such as helmets and masks. Also avoid shoes, baseball gloves and other gear that almost certainly molded to the last user’s body — that is, unless such items were only worn a few times before being discarded.

3. Sell your own used stuff. If your child has outgrown some gear, you can always sell it through the same avenues mentioned in tip 1. You can time this so you end up with money to help offset the price of new or gently used equipment.

4. Get on the right mailing lists. If you expect sports gear to eat a hole in your budget for several years, get on catalog and e-mail lists for your favorite stores. Rather than being seduced into buying new equipment more often than necessary, study the materials and figure out how to time the sales. Be diligent about using any coupons you receive.

5. Keep your options open. Whenever possible, buy equipment that can serve multiple purposes. For instance, a utility baseball glove could let your young athlete make numerous position changes — and that, of course, would be less expensive than buying three or four different gloves.

6. Save on team travel costs. You can find deep discounts on hotel accommodations through sites such as Priceline.com and Hotwire.com. To reduce food costs on the road, opt for a hotel that offers a free continental breakfast, or for accommodations with a refrigerator where you can store easy-to-eat items. To avoid big dinner bills, eat late lunches or early dinners off of lunch or early-bird menus.

7. Have your kid contribute. Your child can help cover the costs of uniforms (which usually must be bought new), as well as entry fees for meets and tournaments. He or she could be given the responsibility of devoting a certain percentage of allowance money to the cause. You also could negotiate a pay rate for special jobs such as mowing the lawn or washing the car.

8. Conduct an honest assessment. How motivated is your child as far as this sport is concerned? If you see genuine motivation, talent and even scholarship potential, then it could be worth it to pay the higher fees for the “club level” of play. Otherwise, the lower-cost “recreational level” might be a better bet, both for your child and your wallet.

9. Know when to say when. Depending on your circumstances, consider limiting the number of sports your child participates in. Seasons can overlap, and if that happens, sports can reign supreme and become overwhelming — financially and in other ways too.

10. Seek out charities. A quick Internet search can help you find charities that exist for specific youth sports. To name just one example, Pitch In For Baseball collects gently used baseball equipment and shares it with teams around the United States and overseas who otherwise might not be able to afford it. You can either donate used gear to such charities, or approach them for some assistance if you really need it.

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