Stretching the pennies is sometimes necessary when it comes to sports equipment, it’s always possible.

A walk inside your local Play It Again Sports store is one example. A 32-inch Louisville Slugger wood baseball bat is available for just $20. Over in the corner, a used set of free weights is priced significantly cheaper than a comparable shiny new set. Used golf clubs are for sale if you need to replace your putter. Second-hand tennis rackets are plentiful, and at a discount.

“We like to price our used products at half of what they are retail, give or take a little bit,” said Pat Quinn, director of Play It Again Sports. “That way, we offer value. Otherwise, there’s not enough reason to buy used if it’s priced too close to new.”

Used sporting goods are just one way active families can keep the costs down while keeping the activities up. Even during tough economic times, when consumer confidence bottoms out and unemployment climbs high, studies show that active lifestyles often aren’t compromised. Parents make sure their children are playing sports, and many adults remain committed to staying in shape.

Carl Brandt, owner of Movin Shoes in the San Diego area, has seen his running footwear sales stay steady even when the economy is wobbling uncontrollably.

“For many of the people that we deal with, (running shoes) are what can legitimately be classified as necessities,” Brandt said.

Finding Cheaper Gear

That’s not to say that his business is recession-proof. Brandt said that clothing sales have declined in unstable times, a sign that active people are at least reconsidering the amount they spend on their athletic hobbies.

That’s no surprise to Quinn. He said that Play It Again Sports has seen its sales on discounted used equipment climb significantly during tough economic times. Customers can also sell their unwanted used equipment to Play It Again for cash, and that has gained in popularity, too. Some even eliminate the middle man and put their used equipment on sites like Amazon or Ebay to try to get extra money.

Awareness of a cheaper used market is one way to save money and stay active.

“A lot of customers purchase used equipment because a lot of it is already broken in and it’s roughly 40 to 60 percent of what it was new,” Quinn said. “The savings are huge.”

Staying Grounded

Even if used equipment isn’t your thing, corners can be cut among new products too. Brandt suggests that customers honestly evaluate exactly what it is they need, and not get lured in by unnecessary bells and whistles.

“In the heart rate monitor world, most people buy a device which they use about 10 percent of its capabilities instead of buying the less expensive device which would suit their needs just fine,” Brandt said. “They need to really figure out which features are important to them. You can still get inexpensive heart rate monitors.”

Brandt points out a Timex heart rate monitor in his store that sells for $49. “It’s as accurate as those other things,” Brandt said. “It doesn’t have all of the features as far as recovery modes and things like that, but if you just want to know what your heart rate is while running? You don’t have to spend 150, 200 dollars.”

Most businesses, including Brandt’s, do not sell used equipment. But there is a place for big discounts in those stores regardless. When a company releases a new model of running shoes, for instance, what’s left of the old model often goes to the sale rack for what amounts to a pretty good deal.

Taking Care of What You Have

Once you’ve bought the gear and saved some money, the responsibility isn’t done. In many cases, you still can make sure your next trip to the sporting goods store isn’t too soon.

“If you have that ball glove, it probably has another year, two years left or five years left,” Quinn said. “Take care of it. Purchase glove oil, have it re-stitched, whatever it may be. That will prolong the life of the glove and get it through another season.

“Take care of your gear. Get more life out of it.”