How to Make Youth Sports More Affordable 

Youth sports is a multi-billion dollar industry. PNC shares tips for making the cost work for your budget.   

It’s a nearly two-hour drive down Interstate 69 to Indianapolis from Erika Halliwill’s home in Fort Wayne, Ind. She makes the trip at least two times a week for her daughter Morgan’s club soccer practice.

Halliwill, a relationship strategist for PNC Wealth Management, is one of millions of parents across the United States supporting a child in competitive youth sports. It’s a multi-billion dollar industry[1] with rising costs that can stretch a family budget.

Halliwill estimates that with registration fees, travel and equipment costs for her two daughters, her family spends close to $10,000 a year on soccer. It’s an investment she hopes will lead to a scholarship and little to no college debt for her oldest daughter.

“There are days where I feel like we don’t have a life outside of soccer,” Halliwill says. “But there are so many negative things that kids can get into, so I feel good about the investment we’re making.”

child kicking a soccer ball

Cary Guffey’s son Patrick also is working toward a college scholarship for soccer. Guffey, a Certified Financial Planner™ and financial advisor at PNC, said costs for youth sports have grown as brands have built an industry around it, including apparel and equipment.

“When I was playing baseball, the coach had a bag with bats and helmets and you used what was there,” he says. “Now, everyone has to have their own bat.”

Guffey’s baseball example expands to other sports and supports 2017 data from the Aspen Institute’s Sports and Society Program[2], which shows that participation in sports is decreasing among children, with children from the lowest income bracket at the highest risk of being inactive.

What can parents do to help youth sports fit within their budget? Guffey says there’s no one size fits all.

“Everyone’s circumstance is different – there’s no standard percentage to account for in your budget,” he says. “Your budget for sports will be dependent on other spending priorities. To me, having the latest clothes or a nicer car is not important, but it may be to someone else.”

Guffey and Halliwill offered seven tips for parents that can help make youth sports more affordable:

1. Plan Ahead – Youth sports costs are variable based on the sport and the level of competition, but with a little research, you can make an educated guess as to how much you need to set aside in your family budget. Check participation fees and league schedules, and ask other parents about their expenses to help create an estimate.  

2. Hand down/buy used equipment – Equipment and clothing can be a major expense for youth sports – especially when they are outdated or outgrown after one season. Gently-used equipment and uniforms can be found at sports resale shops for a fraction of the price.

3. Shop discount stores – If new equipment is a must, discount retailers can be an option. Some discount retailers or outlet stores may stock last year’s models or lesser-known brands of equipment at a lower price.

4. Carpool – Establishing a carpool group for parents shuttling kids to practice or out of town games is an easy way to share travel costs, Halliwill said.

“Our neighbors have helped, our family has helped and it’s a good way to meet parents and friends you may not have interacted with otherwise,” she said. “I can’t stress enough how important a carpool is to our family.”

5. Use credit card rewards – Charging expenses on a credit card with travel rewards can add up quickly. Using a card with cash back for gas or points toward a certain hotel chain or airline can help offset future sports travel expenses or fund an offseason family vacation.

“Whatever card you choose to use, be consistent,” Guffey advises. “Take advantage of the little things and be smart about the money you spend.”

6. Employee discounts – Many employers – like PNC – offer employee discounts for various hotels, rental car companies or restaurants that can help save money for families on-the-go. Check with your employer to see what discounts may be available to you.

7. Don’t be afraid to say “No” – Youth sports come with a lot of extras in the form of clothes, equipment, fundraisers and camps that can quickly stretch a family budget. Guffey says it’s important for parents to know what they feel comfortable spending and when it’s time to draw a line.

“Sometimes you have to make tough choices,” Guffey says. “You have to be able to look at the situation and say ‘this is what we can spend and if it’s beyond our budget, we’re not going to do it.’”

You have to be able to look at the situation and say ‘this is what we can spend and if it’s beyond our budget, we’re not going to do it.’

For both Halliwill and Guffey, youth sports may be an avenue to a subsidized college education for their children – among other benefits of physical activity, camaraderie etc. Both acknowledged that may not be the case or desire for all parents.

“Not everyone is going to be superstar,” Guffey says. “Even if you have talent, there are only so many positions available in the NFL or on a college roster. Parents need to be mindful about pouring money into something that’s such a narrow funnel.”

Cary Guffey
Cary Guffey is a Certified Financial Planner and financial advisor at PNC Bank
Erika Halliwill
Erika Halliwill is a relationship strategist for PNC Wealth Management
We work really hard to make sure our kids don’t burn out. When kids are passionate about something, it’s important to make sure they have time for other things.

– Erika Halliwill