If you have sports-playing kids, a fair amount of your "free time" is tied up preparing snacks, watching games and shuttling between events and practices. In the process, you can shell out a lot of money for transportation, athletic wear, equipment, treats and all the other accoutrement kids need these days to participate. While there aren't many ways to cut down on time spent in these endeavors (time well spent), here are some tricks to help you cut down on costs. Kate Forgach, www.freeshipping.org/blog
Be selective: There's plenty of time for your kids to try different sports. They don't have to participate in everything at the same time. Establish a rule of one sport at a time so they can fully explore what each sport has to offer and not be driven ragged. Obviously, you'll also save on outfitting your athlete for multiple sports, thus spreading expenses out over several seasons.
Start simple: Start off your child with sports or activities that have low equipment or startup costs. The equipment costs and fees for soccer and baseball, for example, are often less than those related to football or ice hockey. You can save on purchases of new sports equipment by shopping online sites with free shipping offers.
Look for the best deal: Analyze the hourly rate of each activity. The $150 baseball season that meets three times a week for three months is a better deal than the $150 soccer opportunity that plays just once a week for two months.
Double up: Ask about a sibling discount, if you have more than one child interested in a particular sport. Some organizations will offer cheaper rates for a second and third child. You also might save on gas and equipment.
Stay close to home: Athletes focused on college sports scholarships need the scouting attention that comes with participating in multiple teams and tournaments far from home. Casual athletes, however, can stick to teams that require minimal travel. In addition, if your child is interested in hockey, gymnastics or another sport requiring travel to a specific facility, consider the travel time and fees related to each location before signing up.
Go private: Churches and scout troops have youth activities at no or low costs, plus the focus often is more on good sportsmanship than winning.
Buy used equipment: Almost all sports require special equipment and clothing, which kids will often grow out of within a year. Shop thrift stores, yard sales, Craigslist, eBay and Freecycle for used equipment or set up an equipment swap with other parents and schools. When your child has grown out of equipment or switched sports, sell off discarded items — if there's anything left.
Borrow equipment: Ask friends and family if they have any unused equipment you could borrow.
Crossovers: Buy equipment that will do double duty. For example, football shoes and socks can also be used for rugby.
Make your own: Gatorade costs roughly $2 per bottle when bought at a tournament. A large container of powdered Gatorade costs less than $10 and can last through several seasons.
Pack a lunch: Food at sporting events is exorbitantly priced. Bring your own picnic lunch in a small cooler to avoid this financial trap.