How to Reduce the Costs of Race Registrations

Earlier this week, I finally registered for the BMW Dallas Marathon in December. When I decided to run this race, I was reminded of the creative ways I have found to reduce the costs of race registrations. 

After a number of pre-race injuries and changed plans, I like to wait as long as possible to register for races, just in case something unplanned comes up.  Like a child breaking an arm.  Or a torn tendon.  Or a hurricane.  I guess mom life has a few more surprises than I give it credit for. 

Anyways, all that to say I am registered and probably running the race (I don’t want to jinx anything).  Some women have a hard time dropping a cool $170 on race registration fees.  Some women have worn the same jeans for the last 5+ years.  Some women pop ribs because they aren’t willing to pay for a pedicure.  It’s me.  I’m some women. 

I hate spending money, even on things I love, and with race registrations costing anywhere between $60 and $300, I like to be as strategic as possible in budgeting for these costs. 

Luckily, I started running races back in college when I wasn’t just cheap (like I am now), I was also broke.  Being broke and wanting to run half and full marathons meant that I had to come up with some pretty creative ways to pay for these crazy fees.  But necessity, as they say, is the mother of invention. Since I’m not super generous with my cash, I am going to be generous with my wisdom.  Today I am going to share seven creative ways I have found to reduce the costs of race registrations.

Seven Ways to Reduce the Costs of Race Registrations

Employee Wellness Programs
Currently, I am fortunate to work for a company that values employee health.  Now, I can’t honestly say whether this is motivated by altruism, lower insurance costs, or both, but I can say that I am a fan of the employee wellness program my company utilizes.  Part of this plan offers different challenges or incentives that encourage employees to engage in healthy behaviors, and provides different rewards as a result.  At this time, I have been able to connect my Garmin to my wellness account, and I receive points for my daily steps.  As a marathon runner, you can imagine I take a lot of steps on a daily basis.  Over the course of about 6 months, I was able to rack up enough points to cash in for a $120 Visa e-card.  I actually used this to pay for a large portion of my race registration this week.  What’s been really interesting to me is that I have found that a lot of my coworkers aren’t really aware of all the different challenges and incentives that our wellness program offers, and therefore don’t take advantage of them.  While I realize that not everyone works for an employer who offers these kinds of programs, I encourage everyone to ask their employer if this is something they do offer or would consider offering in the future.  If your employer does utilize some sort of wellness program, take some time to look into the different perks and benefits available, and make the most of what is offered.

Birthday/Christmas Gifts
While not everyone has the access to an employee wellness program, everyone has a birthday.  I cannot count the number of times that I have unapologetically asked my mom to cover my race registration as my birthday or Christmas gift.  Being as frugal as I am, I absolutely hate receiving gifts that I’m not going to use (no one ever needs to buy me pajamas, like ever).  So if someone is going to spend money buying me something, I’m not above asking for them to buy something that I will get great joy from.  In addition to my mom’s generosity, I’ve also had a wonderful group of girlfriends who got together and purchased my Houston Marathon race registration as a birthday gift that doubled as an incentive to travel to Houston to visit them.  It was a win/win situation, and I was super touched that they got together and funded something meaningful in that way.  So if you have a group of friends or relatives who are asking what you would like for your birthday, and you aren’t comfortable asking one person to throw down $150, consider asking them to go in and cover your registration as group.

These gorgeous girls paid for my Houston Marathon registration

Credit Card Points
Now before you get huffy about debt and interest fees, please let me quantify this method just a little bit.  I’m cheap, remember?  As much as I am not interested in spending a ton of money on race registrations, I am also equally as unenthusiastic about paying interest on anything.  I have, however, found that there are some great credit cards that offer huge entry bonus points with lots of options for redemption.  Generally speaking, redeeming credit card points for cash is not the biggest bang for your credit card points, but it is an option.  Usually, I utilize my credit card points towards travel costs, but I have covered a couple of race registrations redeeming points for cash and then using that cash to pay for my registration. 

In order to avoid paying interest (or just racking up a bunch of debt I can’t pay for), I have implemented a system where I have a separate bank account just to pay for my credit card balance at the end of the month.  I use my credit cards for almost everything from gas to groceries to my CrossFit membership, and as I spend, I transfer money from my checking account over to my credit card account, and magically I have all the money I need to pay my credit card balance in full when it’s due.  It can be a tedious system, but I’ve learned that most of the best bonuses come from introductory spends.  For example, if you sign up for the Wells Fargo Propel American Express card and spend $3,000 in the first 3 months, you can earn up to $300 cash back (that’s a lot of 3’s, I know).  All that to say, just picking up a Bank of America credit card and using it for gas and dinner probably won’t get you very far in the world of credit card points, so you do have to do a little research and put in some effort.  For me, though, a free $300 is totally worth the hassle; that’s like 1.7 races!  I’m not expert on credit card hacking, but if you’re interested in looking into good options, I’d recommend starting with this blog post and this article.  Of course, it should go without saying, if you are someone who has a history of not utilizing credit cards in a responsible way, this may not be the best option for you, but no worries, I have other suggestions!

Thanks for all the free races mom!

Running for Charity
Now this is not an option that I have too much experience with.  In fact, the only time I attempted to run a race for charity, I ended up having to defer my registration due to family circumstances.  I will say that I did pick a charity that was special to my family and I, and while I wasn’t happy about deferring, I didn’t at all mind the money still going to my charity of choice.  There are a few different ways that you can run for charity, if you are so inclined.  For me, I set up a GoFundMe page, and put the link up on my social media sites and asked for donations towards the amount I had pledged to donate.  I liked that I had the option to raise the money before I committed (though I procrastinated and didn’t go with this option).  Team in Training is a great organization that supports cancer research, and has a very structure race for charity program.  The program offers a lot of support in the fund raising process, and also provides a solid community aspect.  My girlfriend Katy participated in Team in Training several years ago, and had nothing but positive things to say about her experience.

Really what this should say is “side hustle,” because any side hustle that makes you a decent amount of money will work.  However, for me, my side of hustle of choice that I have utilized and enjoyed is coaching running clients.  I really think everyone has a skill that they can share with others and eventually monetize.  Speak Spanish? Offer to give lessons.  Play a sport?  Start coaching.  Good at writing? See about tutoring high school kids.  The list goes on.  If however, you are not super interested in marketing yourself and your services, any side hustle will do.  According to Buzzfeed, the average Uber driver can earn up to $25 an hour, baby sitters generally charge $12-15 an hour, so on and so forth.  If you can average $20 an hour, that means you can cover the cost of a $160 race registration in one Saturday.  If you need some help figuring out which side hustle might work for you, take a look at this article.

Spartan Race Finish
I was lucky enough to coach all four of these people. We will always miss you, Doug.

Sell Something (Just Not Yourself)
I am a person who is naturally inclined towards minimalism.  If I’m not using something, I’m not attached to it, and if I can make some money getting it out of my life, all the better.  My family knows at this point that almost anything is fair game if I’m looking for a few extra dollars to cover a race.  Some items that have been more profitable for me than others have been old bicycle’s that my kid has outgrown, jewelry that was “real” but no longer my taste, college textbooks (back in the day), high(ish) end purses that I wasn’t using, baby furniture, and my beloved BOB stroller.  I can almost guarantee that if you really look around your living quarters you will find at least one item that will sell for $60-$80, and that means you’re likely halfway there.  I prefer to utilize the FaceBook market, because it’s somewhat easy in that I can ask to meet at the Whataburger that is .1 miles from my home and I don’t have to ship anything.  I’ve also had some success with Poshmark for shoes, clothes, and jewelry, and have generally gotten a higher price point for name brand items there than the market.

Con Work Into Paying
Now, you may be thinking, “Andrea, we already covered that I don’t work somewhere that’s willing to pay for an employee wellness program, why would you think my company is willing to cover my race registration?”  But hear me out.  Most races have large, corporate sponsors, like grocery stores, tech companies, construction businesses, etc.  You might be surprised to learn that your company sponsors a race, but never says much of anything to their employees about it.  One of my coaching clients found out that her husband’s company sponsored a local race, and was able to get a corporate entry.  Also, even if your company doesn’t sponsor races, if you have a good relationship with decision makers, it might be worth asking about.  In college, I worked for a local spa, and was able to convince the owner to pay for two entries to local races in exchange for having one of my shirts screen printed with their logo.  I also worked for a small gym that made a similar deal with me.  If you work for a company that would be at all interested in marketing to runners in the area, it never hurts to pitch the idea and hope for the best.  I was shot down in pitching the idea of company-sponsored group of runners for a local race last year, but  it would have been a pretty sweet deal if it had worked in my favor.

I would estimate that I’ve run well over 30 races over the past few years, and at an average cost of $130 a pop, that’s just under 4 grand.  For some people, that may not be a bank-breaking amount of money, and at this point in my life I could probably just suck it up and pay for the 5-6 races I do a year.  I am just not all that enthusiastic about parting with money if I can avoid it, and for the most part I’ve been able to find creative ways of funding my ridiculous habit.  I’m super grateful for all of the people in my life who support my silly interests, and are willing to assist me in paying good money to enjoy an activity that is usually free.  What are some other creative ways you’ve paid for your race registration?

Related post: I also wrote a blog post on the different ways I have funded traveling to races away from home. If you’d like to check it out, please go here.

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