Sports equipment can be very expensive. Kids often outgrow items such as pads, and even sticks, before they get really worn. Play it Again Sports has several franchises in our area, where you can buy gently used sports equipment at discounted prices.
When the Buckman Boys were little, we were able to buy cleats there for $1 per pair. Since they wore them for all of maybe eight games, it was a great deal.
It's also a great idea to ask league organizers if they can help you get in touch with parents of older players, who may have outgrown equipment at home. I know I've given plenty of items away to parents of younger players, just to de-clutter my own house. You can also check yard sales and thrift stores for items like hockey and lacrosse sticks, and hockey skates.
Leah also mentions that some sports organizations or schools offer trial memberships, which are great. It's better to find out your child really doesn't like karate before you've paid for an entire year of lessons. Often, these trial memberships will include the necessary equipment for free or a nominal rental fee for the duration of the trial period.
There are some areas where I think you shouldn't worry about saving money. That's when it comes to items and other things that affect player safety. It is vital that every child get a good physical before beginning to play sports.
When it comes to items like helmets, mouth guards and protective pads for contact sports, you want to make sure that your child has up-to-date equipment that will really help keep him or her safe. You can find a list of sports-related items recalled by the Consumer Product Safety Commission here.
Also, check with the coaches to make sure that first-aid kits are on-hand at games, with ice packs and bandages. If the league doesn't provide such items, it might be worth collecting a few dollars from each parent to create a kit. If you're not attending a game in person, make sure the coach or other team parents know how to get in touch with you quickly in case of an emergency.
It may take a while for your child to find a sport or activity they truly love or at which they excel. Of course, it's best if that process of exploration doesn't break your bank. However when your child hits that winning run, goal, touchdown or point, you'll probably forget the expense and realize their sense of accomplishment is priceless.