Racing and Registration
#1: Race less- Reducing the number of triathlons over a season by 1-2 events can save quite a bit of cash. While the money savings is helpful, the time factor is also valuable. Fewer events means more time to train, and less time spent in post race recovery. It also makes for a less stressful season and frees up time for other activities. If you are someone who enjoys the journey as much or more than the destination, then racing less is a great cost saving technique.
#2: Branch out- Triathlons are expensive because RD's are essentially putting on a swim event, a bike race, and a run all on the same day. As individual events however, the costs aren't always as bad. Individualized swimming, biking, or running events can provide a racing "fix" at a cost that's more manageable for someone on a budget.
#3: Hunt for Bargains- In 2013, I found some great deals. The tradeoff was sometimes a different distance or racing events that were a little closer together, but the savings were huge. I did a 50 mile trail run for $75.00, a century bike ride for $30.00, a 2.4 mile swim race for $20, a half-marathon for $15.00, and an olympic distance triathlon for about $35.00. That's a total cost of $175 dollars for five events. This savings allowed me to invest in a WTC event and the associated travel costs, etc. Choosing these events also helped me to develop more of a "base" in each discipline which has helped my overall performance in Triathlon a great deal.
#4: Go beyond WTC- For those who do half and iron distance triathlons, there is a greater challenge in terms of saving money. In fact, I'm not sure that it's even worth trying for a full iron distance event. At the half-iron level, however, there are a few other options besides the WTC. For my first 70.3 distance, I chose a HITS event which was in its first year of producing triathlons. If you register early enough, they offer a lot of discounts and a race at the half-iron distance can cost you as little as $100. That's a pretty good deal.
#5: Volunteer to earn free or discounted entry- Some races will offer you a discount or even a free entry if you're willing to volunteer for them at another event. This spring I will volunteer at one triathlon which will provide me a discount to the half-iron event that I want to do in early September. The cost for me will be $100. Again a pretty good deal.
Part of the appeal of triathlon, at least for me anyway, is all of the cool equipment that is part of the sport. While some items may help enhance your performance through better aerodynamics, speed, etc., really progress is the result of your training and effort. The "stuff" is just kind of cool. For the budget-minded enthusiast however, this presents a conundrum. In truth, triathlons can be done with a minimal amount of gear and experienced triathletes will tell you that there's no reason to invest in expensive gear right off the bat. Using an entry level road bike or even a hybrid style bike makes perfect sense for someone who is just getting started in the sport. Even a wet suit really isn't necessary for many distances (I was well into my first year of triathlon before I "splurged" on a wetsuit).
But if you do want to get some of the gear, there are a lot of obvious options for doing so with less cost. For example, companies like Sierra Trading Post sell triathlon kit for a cost that is much lower than many tri-specific sites like Trisports. I've also been able to pick up racing shoes from places like runningwarehouse.com for less than $50 (Plus they have free shipping).
Lastly, there is that great resource for just about anything: ebay. For less than $40, I bought a used aero helmet that new would have cost me upwards of $200.
When it comes to gear, the reality is that if you don't have a lot of money, stuff that is gently used, on sale, or perhaps even closeout may not be the sexiest thing out there, but it will work just fine.