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  • A lifetime of kid sports. Know what you're paying for parents.

    A lifetime of kid sports. Know what you're paying for parents.

    Laurie Campbell

    As a parent – or as someone who aspires to parenthood - you may be interested to know that in Canada the average cost of raising a child from infancy through high school is about $182,000. If you foot the bill for another two to four years of college or university for your child, you can add at least another $40,000 to $50,000 to the sum.

    The numbers represent spending within a typical middle class household. No extravagance here by Canadian standards, just spending that typically reflects the general needs and expectations of most of today’s families across the land.

    Obviously, food and clothing account for much of the spending that goes to raising children. But plenty more goes to other things such as school books and activities, transportation, allowances, maybe special medical and dental needs, gifts, vacations, and – in today’s electronically driven world – computers and cell phones.

    Sports and recreation factor into the picture, too, sometimes in a big way. And that’s what I’d like to focus on today.

    The fact is, in most areas of spending concerning kids, there is not a lot of financial wiggle room for parents. Needs are needs after all, and beyond that it’s basically a given that a child’s lifestyle ought to proportionately reflect that of his or her parents (assuming the parents are fiscally realistic about the lifestyles they lead).

    In matters of sports and recreation, there is significant wiggle room for spending. Smart parents can find ways to spend wisely - even frugally  - and at the same time keep their youngsters active, healthy, and happy.

    In saying this, I’m in no way minimizing the importance of sports and recreation in the lives of children. Kids need to be active for the sake of their physical and mental health. Moreover, sports and recreation activities help kids hone the social skills they need to function well in the competitive adult world they will eventually join.

    What I am saying is that there are plenty of sports and recreation options out there that vary widely in terms of costs, and that educating oneself about those costs can have a significant impact on a family’s finances over the life of the child.

    Newlyweds planning families, and parents whose little ones still have a lot of growing to do, especially benefit from broadening their outlook in this regard. It starts with an understanding of spending options and standards.

    Let’s consider some of those options and standards point by point, and assign a spending value to them in terms of being great, pretty good, and not so good.

    Hockey – Value: Not so good.

    With this assigned value I am not denigrating Canada’s national obsession in any way, I’m just saying it can be hard on the pocketbook as a serious kids’ sport. We’re talking registration costs approaching perhaps $500 a season, plus new gear costing upwards of $1,000. Then there’s the matter of travel/accommodation expenses. And because it’s a shift sport, you have to ask how much actual playing time your child will receive. Of course, if a child has a real desire to play the sport, parents may have to ante up. Tax credit and financial aid programs can help out here (see my note about them at the end of this blog).

    Hockey moms and dads who are strapped ought to check out used equipment options. Note, for example, that in Toronto the civic government has partnered with Goodwill, the Greater Toronto Hockey League (GTHL) and several businesses to launch a Hockey Reuse Equipment Bank.
    See more info.

    Cycling – Value: Not so good.

    In addition to the initial expense of at least $500 for a half decent, new racing bike for a wee racer, parents are looking at hundreds more in outlays for cycling shoes, helmets, and sports duds. Moreover, if your child seriously pursue the sport over time, count on spending thousands on better bikes and renewed equipment over the years. Also fees, transportation costs and time needed for the sport can be daunting. Bike races usually require entry fees of $15 to $30, then there’s the matter of transportation to racing events that can be spaced hundreds, even thousands, of kilometres apart. Many parents buy bikes for their kids anyway. To save coin, you can let the kids roll and have fun exercising freely outside of the official competition.

    Riding – Value: Not so good.

    As you can imagine, a sport involving horses cannot be cheap.  First, lessons are needed at usually $30 to $50 per hour. Now add a saddle, proper riding attire, and the use of a horse, which can run well over $1,000 annually. Of course, you can always buy your child a horse, but that opens another whole bin of costly oats. A horse can cost you from hundreds to thousands of dollars. Then you have to take care of the animal with boarding, grooming, feed, and medical and transportation costs (think horse trailer and a vehicle sturdy enough to pull it). You’ll probably want to consider this as a sport for your kid after you win the lottery.

    Gymnastics – Value: Not so good.

    Dreams of Olympic gold can quickly turn to lead when you start adding up the costs here. You wouldn’t think gymnastics would be all that expensive. But outlays for simple weekly lessons soon grow as quickly as your kid’s limbs. Suddenly, there is the need for professional private coaching that costs hundreds of dollars a month. Now add warm-up and performance attire, not to mention travel costs and registration fees. It’s easy to spend $1,000 to $5,000 a year for basic expenses, not including skills camps and Olympic circuit training.

    Martial Arts – Value: Pretty Good.

    Team sports are great for developing social skills. But there is a lot to be said for individual disciplines that teach kids self-reliance and discipline. Karate, Tae Kwon Do and other martial arts require simple attire and that’s it beyond the training fees, which may run parents $400 or $500 a year. Naturally, courses with celebrated masters in teaching roles can run much higher, but does your child really need to learn his or her chops from Steven Seagal?

    Soccer – Value: Great.

    For all the talk about hockey being Canada’s national sport, the truth is that in terms of the sheer number of kids in Canada who play the game, soccer is the sport of choice. Parents can expect to spend as little as $300 for the privilege of seeing their kids runs themselves ragged for 90 minutes a game. The gear, shorts and sweat shirts, don’t come with big price tags, and soccer balls can be had for $20 each on sale. In terms of practice, soccer can be played just about anywhere.

    Swimming – Value: Great.

    A great strengthening sport from the point of view of both individual skills development and team skill development.  Gear is minimal, obviously, and school swim teams frequently have either their own pools or pools under sponsorship. Practice can be had for the small price of a local community pool membership, plus there are bodies of water everywhere worth dipping into come warm sunshine. Special swimming lessons may run parents a few hundred dollars.

    Basketball and Volleyball – Value: Great.

    Basketball and volleyball are very popular school and community centre sports with courts and balls provided. Your expense amounts to a simple uniform and, if your child plays in a community league, maybe a small community membership fee. You may have to put a little money towards gas to drive to and from games. Practice is easy. Pick up games for either sport are easily arranged on courts at playgrounds and on school property.

    Track Sports – Value: Great.

    Running is perhaps the most affordable sport. We’re talking about expenses that amount to the cost of a pair of good running shoes. Schools everywhere have track and field programs that are fully sponsored. Most schools readily supply equipment for field sports such as javelin or pole vaulting. Practice can take place anywhere there is a field.

    So, all this should help you decide what kind of value you’re getting for the dollars you spend on your kids’ sports activities. You will notice I left football out of the mix. That’s because it’s mostly oriented to male high school students, and my thinking here was to look at sports that apply to a broad cross section of youngsters.

    The bottom line is, when spending on sports and recreation for your kids, be money smart. Spend only what you can afford to spend. If you promote affordable sports to your kids when they are young, they are likely to cotton to them.

    Meanwhile, be aware that the federal government offers a tax benefit that helps parents cover costs for kids’ sports and recreation activities. Through the Canada Revenue Agency, you can, and I quote, “claim to a maximum of $500 per child the fees paid in 2011 relating to the cost of registering your or your spouse's or common-law partner's child in a prescribed program of physical activity.”

    As well, the Province of Ontario offers something called the Ontario Children's Activity Tax Credit covering an extensive array of sports and recreation activities. Under the program, parents and guardians are able to claim up to $500 of eligible expenses per child. There is a refundable tax credit worth up to $50 per child under 16 years of age, or up to $100 for a child with a disability under age 18.

    Last but not least, financially strapped parents should take note of a charitable organization called KidSport, with chapters in all regions of Canada. KidSport provides grants ranging from $100 to $500 to cover the cost of registration fees for one season of sport. Some chapters may also assist with equipment, youth leadership opportunities, sport camps and travel costs.

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