Playing sports can be a great way to build confidence and character, and for some talented children playing at high levels, it can potentially lead to scholarships or international competition. But, when your child is at home on the ice, the pool, or the uneven parallel bars, you'll need to pay for the fees and equipment required to make it in competitive leagues.

One recent Ipsos poll showed that more than half of Canadian families are struggling to keep up with the costs of extracurricular sports, especially hockey. A 2019 Scotiabank Hockey Club and FlipGive survey revealed that 47% of Canadian parents spent between $500 and $1,000 every season on hockey equipment alone. And if your child plays at an elite level, costs can run as high as $5,000 to $10,000 per year or more for gear, tournaments, travel, training camps, and extra coaching or ice time. Other expensive sports include gymnastics, lacrosse, and speed-skating.

If your kid is passionate about their sport, there are plenty of ways to save money; all you need is a savvy game plan for spending. Here's how to spend smart to support the athlete in your family.

Incorporate sports fees into your monthly household budget

Think about what your child’s sports-related expenses are going to be for the year as you are building your household budget. Each year, your child's sports leagues may require a registration fee in one lump sum when the season starts. By planning ahead, you can slowly for that cost in advance.

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If you notice your kid's football equipment was getting too small at the end of last season, figure out which items you'll need to replace and work that cost into your family budget early so it's easier to manage once the new season starts back up.

Gather information from other parents

If your child is just starting to get involved in competitive sports, talk to as many other parents as you can. They'll be able to give you a complete breakdown of costs such as tournament and travel fees or team photos before you sign up so you can factor them into your budget.

Other sports parents are also a great resource to tap for cost-saving tips, discounts, and other ways to keep your finances on track during the season.

Take advantage of discounts

Ask your sports league if they offer early registration discounts or reduced fees if you sign up more than one child for the season. Even if there are no official discounts, you might be able to negotiate lower prices. And be aware that many associations charge late fees if you miss the registration deadline.

Some clubs have also negotiated special deals with local sporting stores so families can pay less for equipment, skate sharpening, and other perks. Many communities have grants available to subsidize youth sports – including registration fees and equipment – if the family qualifies for financial aid.

Team up with other parents

Pool resources with other sports parents. Carpooling to practice, games, and tournaments can save a substantial amount of money on gas bills or parking fees. If your child needs extra training, consider splitting the cost of coaching sessions or ice time with other players' families when possible.

Elite sports teams also do a lot of travelling, both regionally and nationally. That can add thousands of dollars to your family budget if you're not careful. Keep a lid on travel costs by sharing hotel rooms and booking ones that have kitchenettes so you can bring your own food instead of having to eat out three meals a day. You can also stay on budget by redeeming airline or hotel rewards earned with your credit card.

Check out second-hand equipment and uniforms

Buying brand-new equipment and uniforms can easily blow your family's sports budget, so find out if your sporting association organizes used gear sales or swap days. Often, you can pick up gently used helmets, skates, soccer cleats, or other equipment for a fraction of the cost, and the funds raised usually benefit your local sports organization.

Check out social media groups and online marketplaces to see if parents of older players have hand-me-downs to offer. Many parents swap gear, so if you have kids of different ages playing sports, don't be shy to post what you're willing to trade or sell. If you have more than one child playing the same sport, passing down uniforms and equipment will help save hundreds of dollars every season.

Fundraise to save the whole team money

For competitive young athletes and their families, fundraising can help reduce sky-high sports and tournament fees. Some clubs organize car washes, grocery-bagging, or can and bottle drives that raise lots of money. Bonus: these events are great opportunities for team building.

It's often up to parents to coordinate fundraising, so research which local businesses are willing to allow sports teams to set up. Many grocery stores are happy to support youth sports, either with donations, offering their parking lots for car washes, or by having kids work as baggers.

Be ready for surprise costs, too

In high-level competitive sports, you can count on added fees throughout the season. For example, if your child's team wins at a regional tournament, they'll move on to the next level – which means more travel, food, and hotel costs.

In some sports, extra practice or training means more wear and tear on equipment. For instance, some hockey players can go through three or four hockey sticks per season. Children can also outgrow their gear in the middle of the year, so you'll have to allow for room for that in your budget.

Consult an advisor

Expenses for high-level sports can seem overwhelming, but working with a Scotia advisor can help you stay on track money-wise so your child can pursue athletic excellence. They can help you create a plan that sets savings goals, controls spending, and prepares for your kid's future education.

Team sports are a wonderful way to provide young athletes with active, healthy lifestyles and memorable experiences – and they don't have to overly strain your family budget along the way. Think about including your kids in conversations around budgeting for sports. It's a great way to start teaching them the importance of budgeting throughout their lives.

Ready to get your finances on track for your future? Come in and speak to a Scotia advisor today