My wife proudly came home the other day with a bag full of new Wiffle-like balls. When I asked her where she bought them, she replied, "At one of those bargain dollar stores." My expression said it all.
Don't get me wrong, for some things I'm a big fan of discount bargain places. But when it comes to sports equipment, I've found when you pay less, you often get less.
And these cheap balls were no different. It was as if they were disposable. With each hit came a new crack. And my son is 4 years old. I can't imagine letting my teenager swing away at them.
One of the earliest lessons I learned when buying sports equipment is that it's typically worth spending the extra money. One of the best examples I can give is when buying roller skates/blades. I recommend not buying the plastic ones with all the "fancy" gizmos they advertise to keep your child safe. Those wheels that go slow and can be set not to go backwards really prevent your child from learning how to skate properly.
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I got suckered into buying the cheap skates to save a few bucks and my son struggled. Then as soon as he joined a roller hockey team and needed "real skates," he took off as if he had been skating for years.
Baseball gloves are another item. The plastic ones that cost $5.99 at the drugstore will only lengthen the learning curve for your child. Spend a few extra bucks and get a real one at the sporting goods store.
All this being said, I don't think your child needs a $200 bat for tee ball. But the $20 baseball bat will get dinged up quickly and you might end up buying two in the same season, so it's worth paying a little extra from the start.
As for protective equipment like helmets and shin guards, as far as I'm concerned there is no cost too high for my child's safety. However, when shopping for them, compare brands and prices like you would medicines at the store. Often, the basic safety components are the same and you are just paying more for flare, fashion and a logo -- much like you do for a name brand cold medicine instead of generic.
I'm as cheap as the next guy, just ask my wife. But when it comes to sports equipment I've learned the hard way that trying to save money sometimes ends up costing you in the long run.