Making Expensive Hobbies More Financially Manageable

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Before my financial turnaround, I subscribed to several expensive hobbies. I loved to golf on the weekends, I played Magic: the Gathering somewhat competitively, I collected DVDs (of certain directors, actors, etc.), and I thought it great to eat out as many meals as possible at high-end restaurants, among others. Each of these hobbies was a massive drain on my bank account, constantly consuming money in huge bites like a cash-starved elephant.

Since then, I’ve given up most of my hobbies and channeled the remainder into paths that are much more financially stable. In order to channel my hobbies into more financially sensible paths, I had to adopt a handful of useful tactics. If you have a hobby that’s a constant money drain, try some of these to see if you can make it more financially sensible.

Tone down your competitiveness
I played Magic: the Gathering in a very competitive environment, constantly attempting to qualify for $25K tournaments and the like. In order to keep up with the other players attempting to do the same, I had to throw quite a bit of money into the hobby at the start, then as I grew sufficiently skilled, I didn’t spend as much on the hobby as I spent on long car trips going to tournaments, hotel rooms, and the like. My competitiveness was in full swing, even if I didn’t have nearly the time to devote to it as others did. I still spent far too many weekends burning money on more cards, tournaments, and so on.

The solution for me was simply toning down my competitiveness. I still play on occasion, but it’s usually just to meet up with friends. I tend to just borrow whatever cards they have extra and play with those, and I don’t travel to tournaments – I just play locally on occasion. This enables me to still get much of the joy and social connection I had during the days when I played heavily, but it doesn’t require me to constantly dump cash down a sinkhole.

Focus on low-end equipment
When I was avidly golfing, there was always a push to have the latest and greatest equipment – massive drivers, well-crafted irons, and balls that flew a mile. It was almost like an arm’s race – who would pull the most impressive weapon out of their bag?

Fortunately, I saw the light here as well. Golfing can be just as much fun with a dirt cheap four iron and a used golf ball as it is with the latest Titleist equipment. Sure, your shot might not fly as far through the air, but that just means you yank out the three iron instead of the four iron. Problem solved – and golf becomes much cheaper to enjoy.

If you have equipment that does the job, stick with that equipment. Don’t worry about blowing money on a barely-better piece of equipment if the old one does the job just fine.

Learn the craftsmanship
Whenever I’d go out to eat at restaurants, I’d simply marvel at the amazing foods put out before me. The amazing breads, the delicious cheeses, the fine beers and wines, the tender entrees – I was always impressed by the amazing quality and craftsmanship.

What I found, though, is that I had much the same joy in my own kitchen preparing my own foods. I got to enjoy the craftsmanship of making foods for myself – the joy of homebrewing, the pleasure of baking my own bread and making my own pasta, and so on. I moved from spending $30 on a restaurant meal to spending $10 in ingredients and a passionate hour in the kitchen creating something amazing for myself. I found that spending an hour making homemade fettuccine was well worth the time invested, as I began to intimately understand the elements of good food that made me love it.

You can apply this to almost anything you’re passionate about, from soaps to clothes. Instead of spending tons of money in the stores or shops on this stuff, channel that passion into learning about the craftsmanship behind the item. You can make almost anything (aside from some electronics) at home with some basic equipment, some time, and some passion. Instead of just enjoying buying what others make, channel that interest into making it yourself.

Understand what you’re actually collecting
I used to collect reams of DVDs – they nearly overwhelmed our old apartment. I’d buy huge piles of DVDs so that I could have all of Johnny Depp’s films on hand, or every one directed by Akira Kurosawa. Thankfully, I got that desire under control, because I realized that I was spending $20 a pop collecting something that I rarely actually looked at after the first experience. It turned out that what I was actually collecting was the experience of a great film with great actors, great scripts, great directors, and great cinematography.

Instead, I made it a point just to watch every Kurosawa film and every film with Depp in it. I’d check them out at the library and enjoy them. Some I’d check out time and time again, and if that happened, I’d usually put them on my Amazon wish list. I also made a concerted effort to purge all of the unwatched stuff from my DVD collection, narrowing it down to stuff I wanted to watch again and again or stuff that I intended to share with my children later on.

Now, I use a number of tools to enjoy movies – the library, trading with friends, and SwapADVD chief among them. I still get that rush of the experience of watching a great movie, and I’m still collecting Johnny Depp films – but now I just collect the experience of watching them.

Hopefully, some of these tactics will help you get some of your own expensive hobbies in line.

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36 thoughts on “Making Expensive Hobbies More Financially Manageable

  1. Very true. I too used to buy a lot of DVDs (though not nearly as many as you). Finally I also realized I was spending money and rarely watching these more than once.

    I eventually quit buying dvds and turned to renting, usually through blockbuster rewards. I’ve recently signed up for netflix, 1 at a time unlimited. It costs me $9/mo and in the first two months I’ve averaged 4-5 movies a month.

  2. Nice article. I especially agree with learning the craftsmanship. I also love to cook and bake, and I’ve even started doing a little brewing now and then.

    Fortunately, summer is the prime season for my favorite cheap hobby: dumpster diving. I dive for construction materials at new home building sites. I haven’t yet worked up the nerve to dive for food or behind businesses where someone might care if I rummage through their dumpster. No one’s around to care if I go through a big flatbed dumpster on a Sunday at a site no one’s living at yet. The only cost so far is a little gasoline and a current tetanus shot!

  3. Yes, very true. I used to collect everything (music, DVDs, computer games) just for the sake of having it. I still do it to a point, but I only get what I mean to use.

    As for eating out, my wife and I have recently cut down our eating out, and we are eating a lot at home instead, and we love it. Not only we are spending much less, but we are also eating top quality food that would be expensive in a restaurant, at a fraction of the price. We have a fresh fish market nearby, and we are trying all sorts of new fish. Best of all, when the ingredients are good, you do not need a complex recipe, just broil it or grill it, with maybe some olive oil, garlic and onions…

    We do, however, have a hobby that we cannot cut down: skiing. We live in the East, and we love skiing. There is no cheap skiing equipment. You need to buy quality skis and boots according to your skill level. You need to get good quality pants, jackets, gloves and a helmet or you’ll freeze. Resorts are expensive, and unless you leave right next door to one of them, you also need to stay over, with the related expenses: lodging, food… Obviously there are tricks to make it less expensive: buy equipment at sales of the end of the season; get last season boots or skis; keep the same boots for ever, and the same skis for many years; rent a house with friends instead of staying at a hotel;…

  4. I hear you on the equipment side. Back when I was competing in snowboard competitions (never *really* that competitive, but us older guys like to get out there and mix it up, too :) ), I had a pro-form deal with a snowboard maker. So often, I felt I had to go and get this board or that board, and I justified it because I was paying dealer’s cost for the gear.

    Looking back now, I realized I’d spend many thousands of dollars on gear that I really never used, and didn’t get any more enjoyment or performance boost than I did riding the $100.00 “rock board” I bought so I could have a board that I could ride and not worry if it got beat up… funny thing, I did better on *that* board than I did on any of the top flight rigs I owned, mainly because I spent more time on it than any of the other boards that I reserved for those “just right” occassions.

    Today I’m in the process of selling off my last remaining “non-essential” boards and realizing that, unless you are truly an elite caliber competitor, the one pound difference in bindings between the $50.00 model and the $300.00 model really doesn’t amount to much… well, except for the fact I could *save* $250.00 :).

  5. Try Freecycle to get the equipment you need for your hobby. Whether it’s golf clubs, a sewing machine, an RC plane or a bicycle, chances are someone else has one collecting dust that you can put to good use. It has been a great resource for me to pass along items that still have value. Try looking for a local freecycle group on yahoo or Google groups, too!

  6. I love collecting baseball cards – have been for over 20 years. But I like to take them to minor league parks and get them autographed. So I’ll buy several hundred dollars worth of cards – open them up – keep the cheap, unsigned cards that I want – and sell the rest (autographed cards, jersey cards, premium cards) on eBay. Usually I make a good percentage of my money back – sometimes I even break even or make a few bucks. It makes my hobby much more affordable.

    I also keep things in perspective. We’re talking about cardboard photos of 20 year old athletes. There is no investment here – I don’t care what anyone says. I remember seeing people’s card collections after Katrina flooded their homes. Needless to say most cards didn’t survive a flood. I’d much rather invest money in something like a stock, bond, CD, my home, etc., not a piece of cardboard. So this helps me keep my spending in perspective. The purpose of my hobby is pure enjoyment – not profit.

  7. Good thing I have relatively cheap hobbies.

    Reading – borrow it from the library.

    Exercise – about 6 workout dvds a year, most of which I can borrow from the library or netflix to “test drive” before the purchase.

    There are other miscellaneous entertainment purchases throughout the year too, but nothing I consider a hobby or are a chronic drain on my finances.

  8. About collecting DVD’s. Have you tried buying them cheaper? I know you can buy DVD’s at Walmart, some of them for $5 if you are willing to look through the bins throughout the store to find ones that may interest you. Also, Ebay sells them cheap if you are good at bidding. I do not collect DVD’s nor do I see the benefit in doing so. With 4 small kids, we have enough collections that DVD’s are at the bottom of my list. However, if it is one of your passions (and I know for many people, it is), then you should not deny yourself that pleasure of owning something instead of just watching something. Smart shopping would help you to get what you want without paying lots for it. If you love Depp, I am sure that there is some girl somewhere who has moved on from her Depp obsession and would love to sell her collection to make a little extra pocket money for college. Check Craigslist or like in my area, our library has a Used Book sale that benefits the Friends of the Library where they sell everything from books to DVD’s.

    I commend you on your thoughtfulness with regard to Magic (expensive and time-consuming), golf (expensive) and eating out. You thought of ways to make each of your hobbies more enjoyable for you and less costly.

    As a mom of four, my hobbies are totally different. I can’t afford eating out all the time and I do not golf (although my boys would love to start) and I know from my two older boys experience with WoW how expensive (and addictive) that can be…so we pulled the plug on that. We got them a Wii for Christmas and rent Wii games from Blockbuster occassionally to mix it up a bit. That way we don’t have to purchase $50 Wii games that the kids really don’t enjoy…then you’re stuck.

    Any way…just a few thoughts on your DVD collection. Tangible collections, whether like me it is Depression Glass, or like you DVD’s are extremely satisfying. You can’t touch a golf game, or feel the eating out in your hands as a tangible feeling…but DVD’s are something that can be less costly, if you use your techniques that you write about here. Great article. Can’t believe I wrote a comment that just took me so long…never did that before. Hope you have a great day and keep on doing what you love.

    Your blog is very informative and I check it out often as I click on over from http://www.HomeEc101.com.
    Maureen

  9. I’m sure there are other things you can’t make yourself at home. On the other hand, while you obviously can’t fabricate a CPU in your garage clean room, you can put together a computer system yourself and save money over having someone else build a system for you. (On the other hand, once you know how to install your own video card, you’re probably going to be more tempted to upgrade your video card when yours gets “too slow.”)

  10. my “collecting” problem is with clothes and books, i can never have enough. I just love having the latest book out there by my favorite author or perusing the shelves of Barnes and Noble to find new authors, but it becomes expensive. I need to start going to the library, plus my roommates and I have started a book club to swap books with each other. Clothing is a whole other realm. I love wearing new clothes out on the weekends, but that gets expensive quickly. I should start rotating my outfits more and appreciating what I have instead of needing to buy more. I’ve stopped buying new clothes for the most part, but it’s hard when I go to the mall for something else to pass up my favorite stores.

  11. Funny, I’ve been having a related discussion about this on another group. My hobby is decorating cakes. I like to do it, and in some ways it is gratifying to have the reputation for doing beauitiful cakes that people request BUT at the same time, ingredients alone can run up to $20 or $30 per cake (more if it is really fancy). I’d kind of like to start charging for cakes, but that means either doing it illegally from my kitchen, building a second, food industry standard kitchen (in my dreams), or renting a licensed kitchen, which is $150 a day where I live. It has crossed my mind that I would have been a lot better off if I had gotten really good at making a nice gelatin salad.

  12. Trent, love the blog and am a devoted reader.

    But… your comments about golf may apply to someone who plays infrequently, but the notion that a “dirt cheap 4 iron” is “as much fun” to play as the latest technology is absurd.

    Technology has changed the game dramatically in the last 10-15 years and it’s simply untrue that cheap and/or old irons are as enjoyable as modern “game improvement” clubs.

    Having said that, it is also true that many golfers will buy this year’s new driver in the hope of fixing a faulty swing. They’d be far better off investing in a lesson or two.

    My point: if you’re an “avid” golfer, trying to play with substandard equipment will definitely diminish your enjoyment.

    Otherwise… love the blog and keep up the good work!

    kjc

  13. I’m not so sure about it being cheaper to make clothes yourself. I’ve tried making some myself, and fabric is surprisingly expensive. You can’t really buy it in bulk either, unless you plan on having a monochrome wardrobe. Same with thread – you’ll need lots of thread for different color fabric. You can definitely find cheap fabric out there, but it might not be something you’d want to wear, whereas sometimes the cheapest food ingredients can make a great meal. I think you’re better off picking up a thrift-store habit.

  14. I think the problem I have, when it arises, is getting over the desire to have the best, or nicest, or whatever I want. My willpower is weak when my brain says I have to have this awesome copy of a book instead of bargain-hunting, or this specific prop for my still life photography. I don’t know how to shut that off in my brain so well: do others have any tips?

  15. Your points on collecting are spot on. Even seemingly inexpensive hobbies can get out of control. I collect live music recordings of bands that support free trading of their concerts, and realized some time ago that it had gotten out of hand. The costs of storage and media ballooned, and in addition, I came to notice that I was spending all my time collecting and not enjoying. Now I’m enjoying, by actually listening to those recordings, and have all but stopped obtaining new ones.

  16. Mike,
    Here’s how we afforded skiing: my husband got an evening job in a ski shop. He got new equipment at a reduced price. Then every other year we would sell it for what he paid for it, and buy new again. We bought a condo off of the mountain for very cheap, rent it out most of the season and stay there when we want. Then in the summer, the mountain has events that he volunteers in to earn free season lift tickets.
    It can be done!

  17. Also another option is to find a way to do your hobby for free/cheaper, by volunteering or working there.

    I study Ju Jitsu, and at $10/class, twice a week, it can be a semi-significant monthly expense. But my instructor also teaches a self defense class at the local University, and it’s helpful for him to have someone there when a stand-in is needed, or just for extra eyes to watch for mistakes. When I assist him there, my training is free. Plus we get to play in between classes.

    So not only do I get free Ju Jitsu lessons, I also get extra practice and the added experience of teaching, which is the best way to learn most anything. I didn’t realize it until I’d been doing it a while, but it’s quite an excellent frugal compromise for us both.

  18. Eh…I like owning certain movies/video games, but sometimes I try to wait for a collection set, sale or coupons so that at least I’ll get it cheaper.

  19. Margaret -
    Maybe you can barter your cakes for people to give you items or services in exchange. That way it’s not illegal but you still get “paid back.”

  20. I’ve got an expensive hobby…flying.

    Love doing it, dreamed of it as a kid, and wouldn’t give it up for anything. BUT, there are ways to make it cheaper, which I am actively doing. Aviation fuel is up to $6-$7 a gallon in my area…but that flying freedom makes every hard-earned penny worth it.

    My wife says it’s worse than drugs. :)

  21. One way to save on your hobbies is to spend your money on fewer but better things. I like to go to restaurants, for the food but also for the atmosphere and service. A meal at a high-end restaurant can go for $100/person (everything included). But the experience of that meal, both food and service, is so high-quality that once a year is usually sufficient to enjoy it (in this case, my birthday). A chain restaurant meal (say, Olive Garden) might run $25/person except the experience usually sums up as “the food was OK and we didn’t have to cook.” If you cut out only 4 cheap restaurant visits during the year, it makes up for the annual extravaganza.

  22. If computing is your hobby, and you’re tired of spending all that money on apps for your Windows or OSX system – and, one hopes, posess the ethics to shun cracks, published S/Ns and other piracy methods – then it’s time to consider a switch to Linux. Not only is the OS itself available completely (and legally) free, but so are the overwhelming majority of the thousands of apps that run on it.
    The much-ballyhooed “Linux learning curve” has gotten much less steep with recent releases of Linux (called distributions or “distros”), and loads of help with specific issues is freely available online. For the current “power user” of a more mainstream OS, it can rejuvenate your entire interest in your hobby; for once, everything is visible “under the hood” and there is always more you can learn about and more you can tweak.
    For novices to Linux, regardless of their proficiency in other OSes (some of it will translate across, but to a lesser extent than many power users tend to expect), I recommend getting the latest Mandriva distribution, as it has IMHO the best configuration toolset and the most helpful online community of the current distros.

  23. @ Margaret,
    I don’t think it’s all inappropriate to ask people to reimburse you the cost of supplies to make a cake. Most people are pretty oblivious to the cost of materials for anything outside of what they themselves know how to do. I imagine if you told them directly that you’re willing to make a beautiful cake for them if they provide the supplies, it won’t be any problem. That’s not the same as setting up a business.

  24. Margaret – I would suggest asking people for the cost of the ingredients or have the cake be your gift for whatever occassion….baby shower, birthdays, bridal shower, etc. If I were asking you to decorate a cake for me, I would never in my wildest dreams expect you to do it for free. I don’t think it is illegal to ask people to contribute for the ingredients.

  25. DVD’s actually begin to corrode after 10 years and shortly after that they are no longer useable. But hey, in 10 years we won’t even be using dvd players anymore. If you don’t believe be look at the VHS or the floppy disk.
    Technology double every 9 months so this was a good hobby to crack down on.
    My hobby is definately eating out, it hits the bank pretty hard sometimes. Especially because at my ages (20) eating out is really social and if you stay home then you stay home with parents and this isn’t as cool.

  26. Good post, especially in regards to being satisfied with older things. One of my hobbies was gaming, and I spent a good bit on a PC with saved up money and christmas money that year – that was almost four years ago. Aside from a few things that died, and a few small upgrades I found while deal-hunting, the PC has done fine. I still have an old mouse and keyboard. Some people are insane about having the latest gaming mouse with nine buttons and can’t live without it – my three-button mini-optical works fine, and Battlefield: 1942 is still awesome.

  27. I definitely feel you on the DVD thing. My mother has hundreds of them and I get them frequently as gifts, but when I buy them for myself I very rarely ever watch them…

    Some hobbies don’t allow you to use low-end equipment without putting yourself in danger though. I’m a caver and I will gladly shell out the extra dough for a more pricy helmet that fits correctly and is not going to fall into my eyes when I’m navigating an underground ridge, or a decent headlight that’s not going to suddenly die on me in the middle of a treacherous breakdown.

    My weakness is video games. I recently bought a PS3 that ended up costing me over five hundred dollars (with a game bundled in)…while I’m still geeking out over the thing, that is a LOT of money…

  28. Focusing on low-end equipment only works if there’s no chance of getting hurt by the low-end equipment. I go hiking a lot and wear out 2-3 pairs of boots a year. Tried substituting less costly boots (not lowest-end) and the ones that fit well don’t have the stability, protection or durability as my regular boots. Not worth risking an injury out there.

    In the end, what really counts is value, not cost.

  29. It’s important to live within your means and not spend more than you can afford on your lifestlye. But what price do you put on enjoyment? Sometimes the spending a bit extra proves priceless in terms of personal satisfaction.

  30. Golf…….what a wonderful game. A hobby is meant to enjoy at the best rate you can enjoy it. Why not purchase the best clubs?

    For example, I spend $1000 dollars on equipment every 5 years………it’s part of my FUN budget and I play with the best clubs, balls, etc. Not to mention I can refurbish my older clubs and give them away to a charity like First Tee.

  31. I agree that Freecycle is an excellent resource, especially if you don’t need equipment immediately and can wait for the good stuff to come around. Same goes for garage sales.

    I personally like hobbies that 1) allow you to spend time with friends in a way that doesn’t cost a lot of money [a night baking cookies or watching a DVD, or in my case all my girlfriends bring their knitting and we gossip for a night], or 2) are meditative and relaxing. Of course, one of my main hobbies [sewing] has the potential for heavy materials costs [if you get swayed into designer fabrics and all the cute embellishments that go along with them] … but materials can be got for cheap as well, as long as you have discipline.

    Nice post!

  32. Pingback: JLP’s Roundup (July 19, 2008) | AllFinancialMatters

  33. My main hobby is knitting, which is not a cheap hobby. I do it because I sit at a computer all day and use my brain, but I also have to have something to do with my hands. Knitting is also very relaxing for me. However, I do a lot of planning of what projects I do, figure out how much yarn I need to make it, use the Internet to look at my yarn options, and I save up for it. There are also frugal ways to get good yarn. You can recycle old sweaters and use the yarn from that.

  34. I participate in a very expensive hobby: Ironman Triathlon. Not only do I need to cover costs for swimming and running, but I need to pay for my bicycle gear too! I make it all work by buying used gear and maintaining the gear I have. I also buy my cycling clothing with running in mind, so I essentially make my gear do double duty. Joining swimming, biking, and running clubs also helps since there are people who are always looking to sell their unwanted gear. :)

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