Maximize your fencing budget to get more out of the sport
We all know that fencing can be expensive. There are so many little things to spend money on – equipment often breaks, lessons aren’t cheap and travel can really strain your finances.
However, it’s not all bad news. At least fencers don’t need to stable their own horse or maintain a sailboat. So, the good news is that it’s not the most expensive sport out there either. And the real truth is, if you want to get serious about any sport, it’ll cost you a fair bit of money.
We don’t need to go over why you should fence (if you need a refresher on some of the benefits fencing has in store for you, be sure to check out some of our other articles), but we will go over how to prioritize your fencing spending.
This article also isn’t about fencing on the cheap. To a certain extent, you’ll need to spend what you need to spend to reach and maintain your desired level. However, this article will attempt to identify how to focus your investment in fencing to get the most value.
Quick Note: A special thanks to the folks in the fencing subreddit and The Fencing Coach’s Facebook Group for contributing to these suggestions. If you are looking for more granular details about some of these suggestions check out this thread.
Whether you’re just starting out or regularly competing at national tournaments, you’re going to need to maintain a working set of gear (if you’d like to learn how to repair your own equipment, check out our equipment repair articles on the subject). Your needs will differ based on your skill level and competitive goals, but you’ll want to remember these rules of thumb:
You get what you pay for
Be wary of purchasing cheap equipment. You will likely have to replace it sooner than you’d like. An inexpensive set of cotton whites will break down in a year or so. Instead, look for jackets and knickers that are made out of various kinds of nylon. They will be a lot more comfortable, are designed to better handle sweat and will last a lot longer.
You don’t need the most expensive set of gear
Likewise, you don’t need to buy the most expensive FIE – approved mask the minute you start fencing. Instead, look for a quality, mid-range version with a removable liner (for cleaning) that is comfortable and meets the FIE standards. You also don’t necessarily need shoes made specifically for fencing. Many less expensive court shoes (for squash, racquetball, volleyball, or handball) work equally well (and there are a few top-level fencers that don’t wear fencing-specific shoes for competition). You also don’t need to buy fencing-specific socks. Any long sock (such as those made for soccer players) will work just as well.
Buy some equipment, borrow the rest
If you are new and just trying out the sport, you don’t need a full set of gear right away. Many clubs will lend equipment as a part of their introductory packages. This can be a great way to save money if you’re just starting out.
Most people prefer to buy new stuff, but it’s definitely not necessary. Ask around at the club or in local fencing Facebook groups to see if you can buy equipment from other fencers or their parents. Most fencing families will have lots of good, used equipment lying around after their fencers have upgraded (or left the sport).
Take care of your equipment!
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Simply put, take care of your equipment, and it will last a lot longer. Hang wet items up as soon as you can. Don’t bleach or use harsh chemicals and keep your metal gear dry and away from your whites. Check out our in-depth article on equipment care for more information.
Repair your own equipment or pay for repairs
Don't rush off to buy new equipment just because yours failed inspection. Sew holes in gloves. Patch lamés. Fix body cords. You can often get a good deal of extra life out of your equipment if you spend the time to repair it.
Alternative Fencing Bags
Having a rolling fencing bag is a convenience, but it’s certainly not required. Before you plunk down the cash for a top of the line Allstar bag, consider one without wheels. Sabre fencers can even get away with large duffel bags if they take apart their weapons and check the blades separately.
At the fencing club
There’s no ‘one size fits all’ routine for fencing. If you speak to fencers who have been competing for a long time, you’ll start to hear a lot of differences in their training preferences. Some fencers will focus mainly on their footwork, while others will spend more time bouting. Some will fence 7 times a week, while others will do more cross training and fence less often.
This is great news for fencing on a budget. It means you don’t have to fence every night and buy expensive lessons to improve quickly (not that it hurts – it’s just not strictly necessary). Here are a few things to keep in mind.
It’s worth going to a quality club to avoid developing bad habits
It’s better to fence less often at a higher quality club than it is to learn bad habits and have to correct them later. Do a little research before picking out the club you’d like to join. What are the coaches credentials? Who will be teaching the beginner classes? This information can go a long way in helping you improve quickly.
Spend some time actually bouting
Many clubs have free (included as part of a basic membership) or inexpensive bouting opportunities. This is a great way to get more practice on the strip without having to shell out for expensive classes several times a week.
Private lessons are not required unless you’re trying to compete
Private lessons can be hugely beneficial to your fencing progress because they allow you to work with a coach one-on-one. However, even without private lessons, many coaches are willing to help you in their group classes if you express interest and a drive to learn. Discussing your goals with your teacher can go a long way towards helping your early fencing progression.
Talk to your coach about prices
Most fencing coaches are still in the game because they love the sport. Many understand that fencing is expensive, and you may not be able to afford it. It is not uncommon for coaches to charge students on a sliding scale, or to ask a student to help out around the club in exchange for discounts on lessons. It never hurts to ask!
One of the best ways to keep the cost of private lessons and/or classes down is to just get more out of the classes you do go to. Consider keeping a fencing journal to write down all of the information you’ve learned after every class. Keep those lessons fresh in your mind by reviewing them before each new session. If you want to learn more, consider looking at Soren Thompson's thoughts about training for the unknown.
Unfortunately, fencing competitively is expensive. If you want to compete in a tournament, you’re going to have to shell out for registration fees. However, here are a few basic tips to help control the indirect costs:
Don’t fly if you can drive
Driving is usually cheaper. Plus, you can stay farther away from the venue if you have a car, which opens up more hotel options.
There’s no reason to stay in the venue hotel
Most of the time, the venue hotel is going to be an expensive Marriott or Hilton. If you do a little research, you can usually find a number of less expensive hotels within a 5-10 minute drive of the venue. There is also the option of staying at an Airbnb which provides the opportunity to cut costs by sharing with family, teammates, coaches and/or like-minded fencers. Most will be equipped with a kitchen so you can prepare your own food and avoid the expense of eating out. If you don’t have a car, be sure to consider how much you’ll pay in Taxi/Ubers into the comparative costs.
Local tournaments are much more affordable than national tournaments
Local tournament registration fees are much more reasonable than NACs. If you’re trying to get more tournament experience and aren’t that concerned about national points, chances are you’ll be able to compete in at least a few tournaments a year in your local area. Check askfred.net for upcoming events.
Consider getting qualified as a referee
If you referee at events, the organizers will often pay for your airfare and a few nights in a hotel. This can get you to a tournament at a much more affordable rate.
Book your tickets in advance, but not too far in advance
Booking your airline tickets a couple months in advance usually gets you the least expensive flights, according to this study done on the cheapest time to book tickets. It seems that somewhere around 54 days ahead is the sweet spot.
Consider bag fees when purchasing airline tickets
When searching for the cheapest flight, remember to take into consideration that most airlines charge at least $25 each way per checked bag. The only domestic airline without checked baggage fees (for 1st or 2nd bag) is Southwest (as of 2018). If you travel with a large fencing bag, you’ll also want to check on size restrictions, so you aren’t surprised by oversize luggage penalties.
Take advantage of hotel and credit card rewards programs
The benefits of these loyalty programs vary widely but reward programs can offer helpful perks to traveling fencers, such as free breakfasts, additional nights in hotels and/or frequent flyer miles to redeem for flights or upgrades. Sticking with a program can really pay off in the long run.
Bring your own snacks / plan your meals
If you like to eat certain snacks at tournaments, pack them and bring them with you. This will help save you money and concern at the tournament, as food options tend to be limited and expensive at the venue. Alternatively, there will often be a grocery store nearby where you can stock up on the items you like.
Over the years, a surprising amount of expenses can be attributed to hasty tournament spending - when you’ve forgotten something at home, or an item fails inspection (that you know you can repair) and you need to use it in the next 30 minutes. Make a few friends at tournaments. Most fencers are more than happy to lend their gear when they aren’t using it.
Fencing isn’t the most cost-effective hobby or sport you can pick up (perhaps try meditation), but there are a few strategies to help your green go the extra mile. We hope you found this article helpful and will keep these tips in mind.