Managing the cost of kids' sports
Written by Robin Taub

Monday, February 29th, 2016

Long gone are the days when kids would come home from school and play on the street until dinner time. If they're not busy with homework or on their computers, chances are your kids are participating in an organized extra-curricular sports (or arts) program. 

According to the Canadian Youth Sports Report, 84% of Canadian youth aged 3–17 participate in sports of some kind and 60% do it on an organized basis. Canadian families spend nearly $1,000 annually per child on sports, so being a “soccer mom" or “hockey dad" does not come cheap! But with a little planning, you can ensure that your child doesn't miss out on this Canadian experience due to cost issues.

  • Review your household budget. How much money is coming in and how much is going out? What can you reasonably afford to spend on your kids' extracurricular activities? If their chosen sport is expensive — but is a priority for the child and the rest of the family — sacrifices may need to be made in other areas. Re-examine the discretionary items in your budget, such as entertainment or restaurant meals, for places to cut back.
  • Do your research. Know the costs involved before offering a sport as an option to your child. Hockey, for example, is the second most expensive sport in Canada (after water skiing), costing on average $1,666 per year, whereas track and field costs only about $225 a year.[i] Sports like basketball, volleyball and soccer cost 25-50% less than the average sport, mostly because there isn't a lot of equipment involved.[ii] And then there are private lessons: When my son wanted to learn to play guitar, the cost of at-home lessons was $55/hour. And when my daughter was struggling with grade 12 chemistry, a private tutor charged $70 per hour.
  • Beware of hidden costs. Hockey arenas may charge entrance fees, even for parents of players. At the more competitive, organized levels of many youth sports, travel costs for “away" tournaments, including transportation, meals and hotels, can be quite significant. “Multiple costumes for dance competitions can really add up. And recital costumes are also expensive since they are only worn once," says Jennifer Greenberg, 43, mother of a 10-year old son and an 8-year old daughter.
  • Take advantage of tax credits. The Children's Fitness Amount allows you to claim up to $1,000 per child each year, for a maximum tax refund of $150, if your kids are registered in ongoing physical activities or classes. The Children's Arts Tax Credit lets you claim up to $500 per child per year, for maximum tax savings of $75 per child, if your kids are registered in art, music or cultural activities or classes.
  • Get your kids to “kick" in. Consider having your preteen and teenage kids help with some of the costs involved, using money they make from odd jobs or part-time work. If they have “skin in the game," they may feel more committed to the activity and be less likely to drop out after just a few weeks.
  • Reuse and recycle old equipment. Buying new equipment each year for growing kids can add up. "Some of the old equipment can be recycled," says Karen Friedman, 51, whose two teenage sons play hockey. "You can lengthen a stick, and switch skate blades to avoid buying a new pair. My younger son also gets a lot of hand-me-downs from his older brother." The higher-end retail stores may offer “trade-ins" on merchandise previously purchased there, if put towards the cost of new equipment. "But these specialty stores have much higher prices," explains Friedman. "And you may get better deals at the national sportswear chains or even Canadian Tire."

Using some or all of these strategies can help keep the cost of your kids' sports "in check."

[i] Canadian Youth Sports Report

[ii] Today's Parent

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