When it comes to your kids' volleyball, basketball and everything in between, costs seem to be rising every year. This puts extra pressure on already-strained family budgets, and can sometimes lead to skipping the very activities that kids enjoy most. Before you scrap plans for putting Junior on the team, check out these simple tactics for getting more game time for your hard-earned dollar. (For more, see 7 Ways To Fund Your Child's Athletic Pursuits.)

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Keep it In the Family
While every child is unique, and there is no guarantee that all siblings will enjoy the same sport, a shared love of football, soccer or tennis has its financial benefits. In addition to the possibility of combining carpooling duties and saving fuel, there is the chance to hand down equipment and uniforms to younger brothers and sisters. Many class athletics, like karate and gymnastics, will give discounts of 5-40% to each additional family member that signs up for lessons after the first enrollment. Your mileage will vary for this "bulk buying" approach, but it has worked for many large families over the years. (For a related reading, check out The Dark Side Of Buying Bulk.)

Skip the Fundraising
Selling popcorn, greeting cards and holiday wreaths in an effort to fund athletic programs comes from pure intentions. Unfortunately, the time and effort involved can quickly drain a fundraising mom or dad (and is not usually welcomed by the family and friends you peddle to.) Before you sign up to market pizza coupons to your workplace, see if there is possibility to simply donate the cash equivalent of what the organization would net on the sale. Profit margins on fundraising items can be dismally low, and many people would rather just see that the child be supported - sans the overpriced gimmick.

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Allow Your Child to Pitch In
Many kids want to be involved in every sport available to them, and when forced to choose just a few, it can cause turmoil and tears. We agree that most of the money for at least one athletic program should come from the pockets of the parents, if possible, but if a highly-motivated player wants to do more, let them help with the cost. In addition to allowance and job earnings, kids can choose to redirect gift funds into their athletic pursuits. You may be surprised to learn just how much Grandma would enjoy seeing her $20 birthday cash go toward the promise of a future athlete. (To learn more, see Teaching Your Child To Be Financially Savvy.)

Research Costs
By nature, some sports will cost much more to participate in than others. Therefore, it's perfectly acceptable to nudge your child towards those pursuits that fit into the family budget. Be sure to take the entire season into account when figuring up the total bill; many sports last almost the entire year, involve several clinics and drag out their post-season events until the next season is about ready to start.

Likewise, it's best to avoid those sports that require a large initial investment until you are certain that your child is both mature enough and passionate enough for the pursuit. Nothing is worse than plunking down hundreds of dollars for special equipment, only to find that your child hasn't the gumption to play past the first week. If you are unsure about how well your child will take to a new sport, inquire about a special visit to an actual game or participation in a free lesson or practice session. You can usually get a feel for any major conflicts or fears before putting any cash down. (For more, see The Most Economical Sports For Kids.)

Ask for Help
In today's trying economic times, it's not uncommon to see families struggling to put even the smallest amount of their paychecks towards sporting hobbies. As a response to the need, many schools and private organizations offer scholarships, grants and payment programs designed to get kids off the bench for a more reasonable fee. If the private team in your neighborhood or school is still out of your budget, your child may benefit from playing a community sport or engaging in free play at the local YMCA. (A loosely-structured team environment is still better than no team at all.)

The Bottom Line
Childhood obesity and the school dropout rate are reminders of how important athletic pursuits can be in a child's life. In addition to providing life skills, positive character traits, and physical fitness benefits, they are a great way to get kids connected in the school and community. Make the time to get your child involved in a budget-friendly sporting activity while they are young, and realize a return on investment that cannot be beat in any marketplace.