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More for Your Money: Don't get run over by school-sports trip costs

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Whether you're driving the kids to games in your vehicle or sending them on a bus provided by the school, coordinating sports-related teen travel itineraries can be a logistical exercise that requires near-military precision.

Factor in the need for frugality — such activities can really strain a budget — and you may find yourself in need of serious assistance.

Here are some cost-cutting travel tips to help parents successfully navigate the school sports circuit.

A fair price for fare: Food can take a big bite out of your budget, but for weekend tournaments and games when the school bus will be returning late, restaurant tabs are often unavoidable. This is where checking your credit card's points program can come in handy.

For example, one of my credit cards allows customers to use accumulated reward points to purchase gift cards from some of the restaurant chains that are typically near highway exits. Check ahead of time with trip organizers to see if their plans include those places.

You can avoid the tournament snack stands, with their high-priced sodas and sugary treats, and save a pretty penny by packing your own water, energy bars and lunches for your player and your family spectators. (It's a good idea, especially with Southern California's mercurial temperatures, to freeze the full water bottles to be sipped later and also used to keep other drinks cool.) Jenn Fowler, whose blog is Frugalupstate.com, favors powdered lemonade and iced tea mixes that come in small tubes.

She buys multi-packs of the mixes at her local dollar store, which means she can provide her children with a simple beverage option that they can enjoy from their individual water bottles.

Getting there: Some grocery store chains partner with gas stations to offer discounted gas prices as part of their loyalty card program.

If that's the case where you shop, consider buying your fuel there before you hit the road for your teen's next sports tournament.

Gasbuddy.com is a helpful website for finding which fueling stations are offering the best prices on the day you are traveling. Having this information ahead of time will help you decide on the best place to top off your tank before heading home.

If you have a smartphone, consider such apps as SmartFuel (annual subscription fee) or GasBag.

When it comes to driving, carpooling is king, said soccer mom and freelance writer Tisha Kulak-Tolar, never mind its green quotient. She often saves money on fuel by sharing driving duties with other parents.

Keep things organized: Kulak-Tolar also points to organization and planning as two of her top money-saving strategies for sports travel with her children.

To avoid duplicate purchases of such items as insect repellent, sunscreen and extra first aid supplies, she keeps a kit stocked in the back of the minivan along with extra blankets and sweat shirts for unexpected drops in temperature.

When it comes to orderly storage for the gear and belongings of multiple team members, my money's on individual rolling duffels. If each child has his or her own, it's easier to transport gear, shower supplies and uniforms between the school bus or van and the host school's locker room. Corral the clutter and keep it from walking away.

Watch out for the extras: You'll often find videographers or photographers on the sidelines who would love for you to buy the game pictures or movie starring your child, the sports star. Resist the temptation.

If you want to see your child in action, you can always use your smartphone or borrow one to capture your athlete in action. And those commemorative tournament T-shirts? Try not to think of them as "must haves" but as very expensive, soon-to-be dust rags.

Times staff writer Anne Harnagel contributed to this report.

travel@latimes.com

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Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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