Sports $ Savers: Gear Up on a Budget
Seek gear in a variety of places to make the most of your back-to-school budget
Participating in youth sports doesn't come cheap. In addition to registration or league fees, families are usually on the hook for at least some of their player's gear.
But there are ways to reduce the out-of-pocket costs! Here's a list of my top budget-friendly gear go-to's for sports families:
- Friends & family - Don't be afraid to ask around! Most parents are happy to see items their kids have outgrown to be passed along. Shoes may need to be freshened up a bit, and you may need to pump up sports balls that haven't been used in a while.
- Gear swaps - Keep your eyes open for these gear swaps or sales that some teams, leagues, or rec departments will host during the year. Even if there is no organized event, check in with your league - they may have some items that have been donated for families to use.
- Seasonal consignment sales, like 3 Little Monkeys - Big seasonal sales that happen one or two times each year are a great opportunity to save on new, nearly new, and good used condition items. In particular, look for shoes, balls, athletic clothing (undershirts, sports shorts), and sometimes even shin guards or goggles. The 3 Little Monkeys fall sale is taking place this weekend (August 28-29), and there are many of the remaining items will be 50% off on Sunday afternoon!
- Online community listings - Town and regional listservs can be a great way to connect with other families that might be looking to get rid of items collecting dust in their garage. You can keep an eye on listings, but don't forget that you could also send out a "In Search Of" post if you haven't seen any relevant listings. The same approach is helpful when using online community listings like the dailyUV Market or town/area online yard sale or swap sites.
- Thrift shops, like Listen - This isn't always a consistent way to source your youth sports gear, but it should be on your list. We've been lucky a few times and picked up a pair of nearly new cleats, as well as used catcher's gear that came in handy as the boys were just starting out. Again, you may not always find what you need but it's worth a few minutes to stop by and check out what is available before purchasing at retail price.
- Off-brand stores, like TJ Maxx - You might not know this, but TJ Maxx is a great place to look for sports items. The inventory is always changing, but the sports section is always one that we check out when we are at TJ Maxx. Many times this section will be near the men's clothing. You'll also want to check out men's underwear/socks (that's where the sports socks are found) and clearance racks. Some of our best finds: soccer shin guards, goalie gloves, basketball socks, Under Armour undershirts/spandex, baseball batting gloves, sneakers (hit or miss on sizes), name brand sports bras, duffles & sports bags, balls. (see photo below for some of our recent finds)
- Outlets - In New Hampshire, we are pretty fortunate to have a few outlet shopping centers that make for easy day trips. Our family makes regular pilgrimages to Tilton and North Conway in particular to check out the Nike outlets. Merrimack has more sports outlets to choose from (Nike, New Balance, Asics, Under Armour, Puma, Reebok) compared to Tilton (Nike, Under Armour) or North Conway (Nike, Adidas, New Balance, Under Armour)...but all are tax free! Sizes can be limited and some items are a previous year's style, but we have found some really great deals at outlet stores. Check out websites ahead of your visit to see if there are any sales or promotions, and check in store to see if they have a customer savings club. Sometimes you can just send a text while in store to sign up and get your discount coupon to use that day for extra savings.
- Local shops, like Stateline Sports - If you need to purchase outright, shopping local should be a consideration. Not just for convenience of not going out of your way, but for the added benefits of access to knowledgeable staff and focus on sports items so you don't get side tracked at the department store and walk out with a cartful of stuff you didn't know you needed. Local stores can have some great sales, and many have clearance sections to check out first. Another reason to seek out your local sports store - they often will have related services available like skate sharpening. And restringing a baseball glove is usually a less expensive option than purchasing a new one.
Online sites, like Eastbay or Amazon - Shopping online should be part of your research process for larger ticket items or when you are looking for a larger selection of sizes or styles than can be found locally. Eastbay is one of our favorite sports gear sites for their many sports and items available, frequent coupons/discounts, and team pricing if you are getting a group order organized. Amazon can also be a good option, but make sure you are paying attention to what can be part of Prime and what isn't so that you factor in shipping costs while you compare prices.
- Chain stores, like Olympia and Dicks - The selection and sales available at chain stores can make it an important stop, especially if you can't wait for an online order to ship. You can still be a savvy shopper at retail stores: At Olympia Sports and Dick's Sporting Goods you can sign up for their frequent shopper club and earn points that can be used for additional discounts. They also are supportive of youth sports teams and often have coupons available for youth teams or coaches, so don't be afraid to ask!
BONUS TIP: Verify from the league what is and isn't provided for play so that you can focus on just the items that you need to up front, especially while kids are younger! For example, our Mascoma Youth Sports League provides balls for use in all sports, in addition to goalie gear, field hockey sticks & goggles, bats, tees, batting helmets and catcher's gear. Uniform shirts (and in the spring - also hats/visors) are included in the registration fee, and you can purchase basic youth-sized mouthguards at cost.
I hope that this list gives you some ideas on how you can save some money on key youth sports gear. I'll be sharing more money-saving sports ideas in future posts. Let me know if there is anything in particular you're interested in learning more about, and be sure to leave a comment with YOUR favorite way to save in sports. Believe me...we need the extra cash to help with the gas to and from all of those practices and games!
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