CINCINNATI, OH (FOX19) - Club and travel sports can be a lot of fun. But really honing your child's athletic skills can come at a steep price.
Twenty percent of American families now spend more than $12,000 a year on sports, per child.
"My husband works for Procter and Gamble and has a great job there, and I work, seriously, in order to pay for all of the sporting activities that the children do," said Shelly O'Neill.
She has four children. All of them play sports -- a lot of sports. She has a 15-year-old daughter who's a gymnast at Cincinnati Gymnastics Academy, a 12-year-old son who plays for Cincinnati United Premiere, a 9-year-old son who plays for Cincinnati United, plays basketball, runs track, and a 7-year-old son who plays football, plays for Cincinnati United, plays basketball, and also runs track.
A recent survey finds 63 percent of parents spend between $100 and $500 a month -- per child -- on each sport they play. Twenty percent of parents spend more than $1,000 a month, per athlete.
O'Neill believes it. The expenses add up fast between fees, travel costs, equipment and more -- especially for her daughter, an elite gymnast.
"We have already deemed that we've paid her college tuition over the time period of her sports to this point," she said.
D.J. Gruen, Simply Money's Client Service Coordinator, knows how important it is to plan for the costs of kids' sports, as a father of three athletic kids and a volunteer coach himself.
His advice? Ask up front about all the costs associated with the team, and then budget for that amount. He also says it's important to be realistic about potential payoffs down the road.
"You think, my son's going to play basketball in college and maybe get a basketball scholarship," said Gruen. "If he does, that's fantastic, but you might have already paid a significant portion of that up front for playing basketball year-round."
Only about two percent of high school athletes get athletic scholarships for college. And many of those are only partial awards.
So let's crunch some numbers:
- Spending $500 a month on your child’s sport for 12 years equals $72,000
- If, instead, you’d invested that $72,000 in 20 years, assuming a 7 percent return, that would, perhaps, mean another $278,000 for retirement
If your child wants to play but you can't swing the cost of club sports, look into school teams, or co-rec programs. Swap athletic gear with other families, or buy it used, or in the off-season when prices drop. For travel teams -- carpooling and sharing hotel rooms can cut costs.
O'Neill said, for her family, all of the time and money is well worth it.
"I do feel soccer played a big role in me becoming who I am today, and I want the same thing to happen for them. But if they chose not to play a sport, and they chose to go into music for instance, I'd support that as well," she said.
Gruen says it's important for parents to keep academics at the top of the list of priorities.
"At the end of the day, I know plenty of people who played college athletics, and they all have day jobs today. So your education is more important, so if you're gonna spend money, I'd say that's where you do it."
One other important point: doctors say kids who specialize in one sport year-round are 70 percent more likely to suffer an injury. The Simply Money point: giving kids an off-season could save you money on fees and medical care.