Personal Finance

Behind every Olympian is a financial sacrifice

Key Points
  • Jennifer and Matt Freezer spend roughly $60,000 a year in skating lessons, registration fees, ice time and travel for their daughter Elise.
  • It can cost thousands of dollars to raise an athlete, let alone an Olympian, yet many parents make the sacrifices to do it.
Source: Matt and Jennifer Freezer

When Elise Freezer started skating at age 5 and showed great potential, her parents were all in.

Nearly from the start, that meant private lessons to the tune of $20,000 a year. And the costs only escalated.

Elise's parents, Jennifer and Matt, downsized to a small apartment and one car. Matt worked two jobs before starting his own engineering business in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

Jennifer estimates that skating costs for Elise, now 11 and at the intermediate level, add up to roughly $60,000 a year — including lessons, registration fees, ice time and travel.

"It's a sport that requires technical direction all the time," Jennifer Freezer said. "We tried to cut back on lessons but she struggled."

To make it work, the Freezers commute to a highly regarded but less expensive training facility in Edmonton, Alberta. They don't take vacations or eat out.

"We make the sacrifices and we still wonder if we can continue on this track," she said.

Costs of raising an athlete

At this year's Olympic Games, the competitions represent far more than athletic prowess and years of practice. They're also an accumulation of significant financial and emotional sacrifices.

Beyond the mere 242 American athletes who have made it to the very top of their sport, millions of families invest in after-school activities for their children, starting as young as infancy and through every skill level and at almost any cost.

About 40 percent of American families spend more than $1,000 a year on their children's extracurricular activities, and 20 percent spend more than $2,500 a year, according to a recent report by SunTrust Bank. A separate "Parents, Kids and Money" survey by T. Rowe Price found that a little over a quarter of all parents of 8-to-14-year-old children spent more than $200 on athletics alone per child.

Although Americans have been doing a better job at savings, few have families with that kind of cash to spare. According to a 2017 GOBankingRates survey, more than half of Americans, or 57 percent, have less than $1,000 in their savings accounts.

How kids sports turned into a $15 billion industry
How kids sports turned into a $15 billion industry

That's why an investment in sports, from Little League to private coaching, almost always requires a tradeoff.

"That's the exact money that would have funded a family vacation or been put in a retirement fund," said Susan Johnson, SunTrust's chief marketing officer.

To enable their children to pursue their passions, parents like the Freezers most often sacrifice dining out, vacations and retirement savings, SunTrust found.

The Freezers are realistic about the odds of Elise achieving her own Olympic dreams — let alone landing a triple axel like Mirai Nagasu — but seeing their daughter develop a strong work ethic and maintain a healthy, athletic lifestyle is its own reward, Jennifer said.

"When you are involved in a sport, you focus on the health of your body," she said. "You don't have time to get involved in the wrong stuff."

Disclosure: CNBC parent NBCUniversal owns NBC Sports and NBC Olympics. NBC Olympics is the U.S. broadcast rights holder to all Summer and Winter Games through the year 2032.

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