Save on equipment for kids’ activities

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When I was growing up, there always seemed to be a supply of unused sporting equipment in the house. The tiny ice skates I outgrew after just one season. The four rackets relegated to the basement after family tennis lessons went bust. The spikes I never used again after getting kicked off the track team for missing a practice … and the list goes on.

As youth sports and practice camps gear up for summer, parents will be shelling out quite a bit of cash for fees and equipment. According to TurboTax, parents spend about $671 annually on sports-related activities. The most expensive sport is football and the least expensive is swimming.

While you can reduce fees by keeping sports recreational rather than competitive, you still need the proper equipment, and depending on the sport, that can be a large amount of the total expense.

As you think about which activities your kids will join this summer and into the fall, a little advance planning will help you save. Create a budget to help you keep costs reasonable, and when it is time to buy equipment, keep these tips in mind:

Swap/trade: Check with friends and neighbors to find out what equipment they may have or need and arrange a trade. If you organize a league-, school- or neighborhood-wide equipment swap, you increase the chances of finding items in a range of sizes for a variety of sports. You also may be able to swap or borrow equipment from venues hosting the activities such as gymnastics centers and ice skating rinks.

Don't forget to sell: Unlike my family, do not let your unused equipment sit around the house or garage. If it is in good, usable condition, sell it and put the money into an activity fund that goes toward paying for the next round of activity fees.

Buy used: You can substantially reduce how much you spend on activities by finding used equipment. Stores like Play It Again Sports make it easy to buy, sell and trade a range of gear. If you have some time on your hands, comb through the racks at resale stores, hit yard sales, and check the usual websites like eBay, Craigslist and Freecycle. It can be hit or miss, but it is a big payoff if you find what you need.

Shop offseason: As with clothing, shop for sporting goods when demand is low. That generally means whenever the sporting season ends (e.g., football gear in spring). Join membership programs at sporting goods stores and always look for discounts and coupons before you shop.

Buy in bulk: This won't work for everything, but you can save on things like balls, bats, gloves or other standard items that everyone playing the sport will need. Get together with a few other families and spread out the cost to help save on overall expenses.