I am a strong, strong believer that the good life involves having some time that you’ve set aside for leisure activities that you do solely for personal enjoyment and personal enrichment. I block off significant portions of time in my daily and weekly schedule for hobbies, and although I do sometimes jettison those blocks of time, it’s become readily apparent to me over the years that having such free time is incredibly valuable for my level of happiness and my mental well being.
While all of these things are fine hobbies, there are quite a few things I enjoy doing in my spare time that I mentally catalogue as “frugality” or “household tasks” rather than hobbies.
Why? Those activities happen to be things that actually save money or even earn a little money. Those activities are a net financial positive in my life. Many of my friends have hobbies that fall into this category as well.
What follows is an additional list of hobbies you might want to try out in your spare time. The common thread here, of course, is that each of these hobbies is usually a net financial positive in one’s life. Each of these items is a hobby practiced by myself, someone in my family, or a close friend.
Cooking / Making Food Items
Cooking (and making food items) is an incredible money-saving hobby. The better you get at cooking, the less you find yourself relying on prepackaged foods and restaurants, and that almost always ends up being a significant money saver. At first, you’re probably going to make some really mediocre meals, but you quickly move past that stage.
I’ll give you an example. Last night for dinner, we had a cheese lasagna, a side salad, and breadsticks. I made all of these things myself, more or less. The cheese lasagna was just layers of a simple pasta sauce on sale, lasagna noodles, vegetables, and cheese left in a slow cooker for several hours. The side salad was simply some tossed greens, some from our garden, mixed with a bit of dressing. The breadsticks were just a simple bread recipe with some garlic powder in the dough, stretched out into breadstick shapes. I invested maybe an hour in the meal preparation and I considered it quite fun. The total cost of the meal, which served five of us and made two full lunches for Sarah and myself (seven meals, in other words) was under $20. If you can show me a restaurant where our family can eat for less than $3 a head, I’d love to see it. It doesn’t exist.
I similarly enjoy making food items, something I don’t consider to be strictly “cooking” but is pretty adjacent to it and often produces items that I use in cooking. For example, as I write this, I have a batch of sauerkraut fermenting (I love sauerkraut as a topping on many things and even as a side dish on its own) in a crock in our kitchen and a batch of homemade cider bubbling away that will eventually be consumed over the holidays at family events. The cost of a gallon of sauerkraut in the stores is quite pricey – the cost of making it myself was three heads of cabbage out of the garden and a cup or two of salt. I enjoy the process and I usually love the results, so it’s a good money saver. You simply turn your time and energy into lower food costs.
DIY and/or House Flipping
This is a hobby that a close friend of mine engages in. He moves into a house that’s a complete dump and begins work on it, fixing it up with a ton of his own effort, then he sells the house and moves on to another one. He really enjoys home improvement projects and they fill up a lot of his spare time.
DIY work is a hobby that can save you a lot of money if it causes you to buy more of a fixer-upper kind of house and you fix it up yourself. If you do it again and again, it can end up earning you quite a bit of money, too.
In our own home, for example, we’ve taken on a lot of DIY projects as of late as we gradually repurpose several rooms in our home. This project is enabling us to give each of our children their own bedroom without having to move to a new house while also adding some value to our home. We’ve been able to handle a lot of small repairs along the way, too, and having the desire and the skills to handle those repairs ourselves without calling the repairman has made a huge difference for us. You turn your time and energy into lower home maintenance and repair costs.
It costs nothing to exercise, but it has a profound positive impact on your medical bills over the course of your life. Incorporating simple exercise into your life – things like going on regular walks, doing some mild bodyweight exercises, and simply picking up heavy things regularly – will reduce your chances of getting a lot of diseases and chronic conditions and make you feel better to boot, and exercise costs nothing at all.
I’m currently focusing on programs where I increase my squat and pushup count and my plank time; as I reach my target number with each, I’m moving on to harder versions. I try to walk every day as well, strolling around my neighborhood and often going on a walk in the nearby country (I live on the very edge of a small town). I like to bicycle to the nearby grocery store and the library, too.
The total cost for all of that is zero. However, when I’m doing it consistently, I feel really good, and I know from the medical literature that exercise is going to reduce the odds of many medical conditions that will require pricey treatment. To me, that’s a great benefit, one that keeps me engaged with this hobby. You turn your time into lower medical bills.
- Related: How to Build a Really Effective and Meaningful Home Exercise Routine You’ll Actually Want to Do
Sarah and I have had a garden behind our house each year since moving in, with varying degrees of success. Even in years when the garden isn’t the best, it still produces a lot of perennial herbs and asparagus. During good years, it produces tons of produce, far more than we can deal with.
The cost is almost entirely just our time. We invest perhaps $10 in seeds per year and get far, far more than $10 in produce out of our garden, even in the bad years. In good years, we get hundreds of dollars in produce, considering that we often swap the excess with neighbors and friends. You turn your time into a lower food bill.
Working in the garden is a nice, quiet, meditative task, too. You can just get lost in the simple task of pulling weeds or picking vegetables or spreading compost and the time just flies by. Plus, you’re outside getting fresh air and sunshine and some mild exercise (depending on the task).
Sewing / Knitting / Crocheting
Knowing how to sew a button on or fix a small tear in an article of clothing enables you to greatly extend the lifetime of that article of clothing, and doing that means that you have less need to head out to the store to buy more clothing. If you’re good at it, you can do things like hem up pants or modify clothing or even make garments of your own.
Every little bit of sewing skill helps, and it’s even better if you have someone in the family who enjoys sewing. My wife loves to get her sewing machine out every once in a while and work on fixing a busted seam or make a Halloween costume out of some spare cloth.
It can feel really good to repair clothing that’s mostly in good shape – I’ve done this myself. My wife loves making costumes and doll clothes and major clothing repair. The best part? You’re turning your time into lower clothing bills.
My wife also loves to crochet and is often found in the evenings adding a few rows to a blanket that’s in progress or making one of her Morse code scarves for someone (where she spells out their name or something in Morse code with stripes). Again, this enables her to turn some yarn into an amazing item, spending perhaps $10 or $15 on something that would cost far, far more in the store. She turns her time into lower gift-giving bills.
Canning / Preserving Food
Food preservation is a nice little hobby that enables you to turn any extra food items you have on hand into items that can be stored for the long term and used later. There are lots of strategies here – canning, freezing, and drying are among the common ones.
It’s actually a pretty enjoyable process if you get into it. It’s fun getting out a strainer to convert a pile of tomatoes into tomato sauce or apples into applesauce, then putting them into jars to save for later. I also enjoy freezing a lot of vegetables into quart containers for later use.
Most of the containers we use are reusable, so there’s not much cost in terms of materials. It enables us to turn excess food that might go to waste into something we’re glad to have in the winter months. Basically, it turns our spare time into future savings on our food bills.
One of my closest friends is an avid yard sale junkie. She basically goes from yard sale to yard sale every spring and early summer weekend, looking for things that she knows are obvious bargains. She’ll buy them and either sell them at a substantial profit, keep them around to give as gifts (I’ve received “yard sale” gifts before), or use them at home.
This is a hobby and a skill for her. She has a really keen sense of what the value of something is and whether or not it’s an extreme bargain. She can sniff out bargains a mile away.
For her, this hobby is a big money saver. She often saves 80% or 90% or more on a wide range of things, both for herself and for others, and sometimes she makes money by flipping things. However, this comes with a caveat: it only works because she’s picky about what she buys. She doesn’t buy things that are junk and she doesn’t buy things that are overpriced. She prefers patience, and sometimes she’ll spend an entire Saturday and come home with nothing and view it as being perfectly fine.
In the end, she’s swapping her time for savings on clothes, household items, and gifts. It’s a pretty good bargain for her.
Sarah and I love to camp. We often camp as a part of our family vacation (we camped for nine days straight while visiting national parks as our family’s summer vacation last summer, and we plan on camping for six or seven days while visiting parks in a different direction next summer).
Doing this gives us a lot of additional time in the great outdoors. I simply love sleeping out in the fresh air. I love setting up a campsite. I love starting a fire and preparing food over it. It’s just enjoyable to me.
The kicker, of course, is that this is a huge money saver as compared to staying at a hotel and often saves us a lot of money on meals, too, as we’re preparing a simple meal over a campfire instead of eating at a restaurant.
Simply put, camping turns a bit of time and effort into huge savings on travel bills.
Credit Card Churning
Credit card churning refers to the practice of utilizing lots of different introductory credit card offers and moving balances around to take advantage of those signup bonuses. People often do this to save money on travel and hotel visits (as those are the nature of a lot of introductory rewards on credit cards), as well as more general “points” on various cards.
This hobby requires some significant time and attention because it requires being aware of the latest credit card offers as well as knowing where your card balances are so that you’re not dinged with a late fee. For some, this kind of researching and planning turns into a pretty fun game that can provide a huge discount on an upcoming trip.
One of my friends does credit card churning solely to help pay for part of his family’s summer vacation each year. He accumulates a bunch of points in various programs, then plans a family vacation that gobbles up all of those points in the form of discounted or free flights and free hotel stays. One year, his family of four flew to New York City and stayed in hotels for six days, all of which were free.
Credit card churning is a hobby that turns your time and effort (and good credit) into significant discounts on travel (and other things, depending on the card offer).
One of my relatives is passionate about photography. While you might expect that this is a pretty expensive hobby (and it is, especially at the start), she actually saves quite a bit of money with it.
For starters, rather than her family ever utilizing a professional photographer or portrait studio, she takes the pictures herself, setting up the lighting and framing and other elements. This means that her family’s photography cost is zero. She also takes a lot of pictures that she uses for various decorative purposes, including making her own holiday cards that are beautiful and unique rather than buying them.
In addition, she often “gifts” her photography services to friends for their wedding. While she doesn’t do this as a business, she will happily serve as the photographer for the wedding and either hand over the digital files or else the files plus a few prints, depending on the relationship. This is far, far less expensive than a nice wedding gifts.
Her photography hobby, in the end, saves her substantial money on photography, stationery, and gifts.
Sports Coaching and Refereeing
Several of my friends are avid sports coaches and referees in their spare time. This allows them to stay intimately involved in competitive sports that they enjoy when the years no longer allow them to participate as they once did.
This overlaps heavily with the “exercise” hobby in that it saves money due to health reasons, as coaches often get involved in practices and improve their own health accordingly. It also scratches a “teaching” itch.
While many sports coaching gigs are unpaid, they often come with small perks for the coaches such as free concessions, a small amount of apparel, and so on. Refereeing gigs are often paid a small amount and also come with small perks.
In the end, sports coaching and refereeing exchanges time and energy for lower health care costs and occasional savings on food and apparel and occasional small amounts of income.
This final hobby centers around having an interest in doing basic maintenance and repairs to your own cars rather than simply going to Jiffy Lube or to a mechanic for such tasks. Again, this is something where an interest can save you quite a bit of money.
If you enjoy tinkering around with cars, changing the oil yourself, doing minor repairs, and so on – or it sounds interesting to you – this is definitely a hobby to dig into. It’s actually fairly difficult to really damage things on a car (though you can make a mess pretty easily), but it can be a lot of fun to actually unscrew things and see how they work.
The best part? You don’t actually need many tools for most of the basic things you might want to do, and the ones you do need are pretty inexpensive. Your car’s owner manual plus some Youtube videos show you everything you need to know for all of the maintenance tasks and some minor repairs. Plus, you get your hands a little dirty and learn how your vehicle really works.
Automotive mechanics is a great hobby that can save you quite a bit on your automobile costs.
The nice thing about each of these hobbies is that they can be very engaging on their own even without the financial benefits. I personally enjoy several of these hobbies and would continue to do them even if they were a “break even” hobby or even one that cost a little money, simply because I enjoy doing them. I enjoy how I feel when I’m making a batch of homemade sauerkraut or making an unusual dinner for my family or starting a campfire or changing the oil on a car.
The key thing is to find something you enjoy doing. The interesting part, though, is that it’s often hard to tell what it is that will really click with you until you actually do it a few times. There are many things that I now enjoy doing that seemed miserable when I would think about them and it was only through a commitment to trying new things a few times that I was able to break past that initial resistance and come to appreciate new things. Now, I actually find myself with more hobbies than I possibly have time for, which is a good thing. I don’t remember what it feels like to be bored!
Find a hobby. Stick to it. Whether it’s a frugal hobby or a once-in-a-while activity that might blossom into a frugal hobby or a hobby that actually offers you tangible financial savings, there’s something out there for you that can add a little spice to your life. Try something new. You won’t regret it.