Opinion February 16, 2016 | 9:30 am

Keeping kids’ sports costs under control

Most parents put countless miles on the car driving kidsback and forth from various practices and games throughout elementary andsecondary school.

As for the actual dollars behind all that driving andpurchasing of uniforms, equipment, lessons and various activity fees, thenumbers are pretty eye-opening. A 2014 study by the Utah State University’sFamilies in Sport Lab (http://www.usufamiliesinsportlab.com) shows that theaverage annual family financial investment in youth sports came out to$2,292.42, or 1.84 percent of that family’s gross annual income.

Other research done within the program indicates that manyparents spend much more – some in excess of 10 percent of gross annual income.

Whether that figure sounds low or high depends on yourchild’s chosen sport and the number of years your child participates in it.

Whether your child’s interest in sports is temporary or along-term commitment, it’s not only important to plan and budget what you’respending but to find ways to save. Here are some steps to begin:

Link up with other parents. Whetherit’s after-school or weekend soccer, hockey or baseball, your first source ofintelligence is with parents who already have kids playing the sport. Discusseverything from the best program for your child overall to individual costs andfees associated with play – and don’t forget to ask them how they’ve kept theirbudget in line.

Schedule for the best discounts. Don’tmiss any opportunities for sales on merchandise or discounts on training andactivity fees. Paying early on merchandise, sports camp or pre-season activityfees can save significant money over time. Above all, avoid late registrationfees on all sports and activities.

Make sure your child’s health insurance isadequate. Depending on what sport your child plays, you may endup buying additional coverage beyond what your family health insurance allows.It takes virtually no time for a night or two in the hospital to run into tensof thousands of dollars, so take every step to make sure your child has theright coverage. Some health insurers may sell special sports coverage forminors, but if your child is playing an organized sport within a school systemor league, they may have their own insurance requirements before they allowyour child to play. There may be other coverage options as well –run thoseoptions by your qualified financial experts or fellow parents who are insuringtheir children against sports injuries.

Buy used. Whether it’sequipment or uniforms, see if there are safe options to buy used. Auction sitesmay provide some solutions while many communities known for particular sportsmay have used equipment stores that can cut your bills extensively. If yourchild isn’t destined for the pros, buying used makes a lot of sense – why buyfull price if at some point their interest wanes?

Buy multiple sizes and neutral colors andstyles. If you’ve got a growing child who is likely tomaintain interest in a particular sport over several seasons, stock up onclothing in different sizes and go for neutral colors and styles that allow forgender-neutral hand-me-downs.

Negotiate shared transportation and group feeswhen possible. Again, in partnership with other parentsor your school system, see if there are cheaper ways to travel, buy gear andfind play and practice space. Always be on the lookout for cheaper options andset up a network either by email or social media where there’s a free flow ofspending tips and discounts that might come in handy. As for lessons, try theclassroom approach. If your child wants to improve in a sport, work with otherparents to hire an instructor who will do group lessons that will assure alower cost per family.

Bottom line: Even if yourchild doesn’t grow up with the natural skill of a Manning brother or a Williamssister, it’s possible to introducing them to youth athletics without ruiningyour family finances.

Nathaniel Sillin directs Visa’s financialeducation programs. To follow Practical Money Skills on Twitter: www.twitter.com/PracticalMoney.

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