Updated on 09.07.10

Finding New Challenges (and Saving)

Trent Hamm

Reading For a long time (about two years), I got in a rut of reading very generic horror and fantasy novels. I would go to the bookstore, pick out two or three, and blow through them in a week, enjoying the rush but completely forgetting about them within three days after finishing.

This routine was fairly expensive. The books I was reading were in mass market paperback, so I could pick them up for $7 each, but the cost of three of them a week was $20. That’s $1,040 a year.

I decided to focus on reading some fiction that would make me think about the world and stick with me longer, so I adopted a list of Pulitzer Prize winners for fiction as a reading list. The problem was that when I first went to the bookstore to find early entrants on the list, they were unavailable. I eventually turned to my local library (and to PaperBackSwap) to read the books – and the cost of reading went down with this new challenge.

Gaming For several years, I was a heavy player of Magic: the Gathering, a collectible card game (J.D. at Get Rich Slowly also played). My wife also played, but not as competitively. It can be addictively fun to play, but in order to keep playing and acquire new cards to change the gameplay, a player has to purchase new packs and single cards. This can really add up if you’re not careful, to the tune of hundreds of dollars a year.

At some point, I began to realize that the person I most enjoyed playing with was my wife and that we really enjoyed playing with a mix of older and newer cards. This led me to discover a new way of playing which didn’t require me to buy new cards at all. Instead, we just continue to play over and over again with a big pile of cards I already own, removing the expensive collectible nature without removing the aspects that make the game fun. That’s a big chunk of savings right there.

Gardening Until very recently, my wife and I would buy lots of starter plants and seeds each year to get our garden started – and that would be a real cost.

Recently, though, we’ve become more and more interested in trying heirloom varieties – ones that you can actually save the seeds from and grow again next year if you like them. The startup cost is a little higher, but once you find varieties you like, there’s much less cost from year to year.

Our plan now is to start growing everything from seed in our basement in February under a grow light so that we can put very healthy starts from our own seeds in the garden in late April or early May. No more expensive starts, no more trips to the store to buy seeds.

What’s the point of these three stories? In each case, I had a hobby that required a significant amount of upkeep cost to keep the hobby going – new books, new cards, and new seeds and starts. In each case, by seeking out new challenges within that hobby, I took a serious whack at those ongoing upkeep costs, and yet I’m still deeply enjoying those hobbies.

If you have a hobby that has a significant upkeep cost, ask yourself if there isn’t a better way of doing things. Is there a new challenge or a new angle you can take on that hobby? Do you really need new equipment all the time, or is there a way to reuse what you have?

Research is your friend. Visit websites where others practice the hobby you enjoy. Ask them for ideas on how to save money on the upkeep costs. Look for specific ways of enjoying your hobby that minimize those upkeep costs – particularly those that provide you with a new challenge.

After I finish writing this post, I’m going to retreat to the basement and practice my piano playing on an old keyboard using sheet music given to me by an ex-piano teacher – and I’ll enjoy it greatly.

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  1. Stacy says:

    We haven’t found gardening to be a big expense – maybe $20 per year to buy seeds and plants. The cost is worth it, because we aren’t trying to baby and then harden off plants in our basement! Raising plants is much harder than it looks.

    To save money: Buy the bigger packs of seeds and use for two years (they’ll sprout just fine), find a local greenhouse that sells reasonably-priced plants (we get 6 tomato plants for $2). Do NOT buy plants at a big chain store unless you want to pay big bucks.

    There’s got to be a balance between time and money. If you’re willing to spend the time to save a few dollars, kudos to you! :-)

  2. reulte says:

    I’ve heard that you can get (flowering) plants from the county for free just by asking – like when they change the flower display at the airport or other govt buildings. Merely rumor as far as I know, though — I’ve never tried it.

  3. Easter says:

    I’ve been doing something similar with my reading. I got a Barnes and Noble Nook for Christmas, and I found I was spending quite a bit to buy mysteries for it. Then I would read them once and forget about them. Recently, I’ve been challenging myself to read free ebooks. Barnes and Noble releases several classic titles for free each week. I’ve reread all of Jane Austen and right now I am reading Two Years Before the Mast, the 1834 journal of a Harvard student who decided to become a sailor. I would never have picked it up if not for this challenge, and I am really enjoying it.

  4. Becca says:

    The Salvation Army in my area sells books for 25 cents each, and everything in the store is half price on Wednesdays. I can find current fiction for very little money. Sometimes the selection is pretty picked over. One time when I found no interesting current fiction I explored the older vintage books. I picked out an obscure novel written in the 40s. It turned out to be a pretty decent read. Virtually any source of used books has an immense glut of old fiction. I guess as aspect of this I find to be interesting is that when I’m reading obscure vintage fiction, I realize I might be the only person on the planet currently reading it. That makes it a little cool for me.

  5. Dbirch says:

    I agree with Stacy – the $20 spent on seeds and plants each year makes it well worth it. In some of your other posts, you’ve detailed down to the minute of time spent on certain tasks. I’ve become a believer that hardening plants is not worth the time and effort (plus the electricity, which I realize probably isn’t all that much) compared to buying them in the store (not box stores). But like anything, if a person enjoys doing it, the time spent is a minimal issue.

  6. Steve says:

    I already loved this site. You have some great tips and insight that definitely help me live the way I want to live.

    Then you mentioned cube drafting, which is quite possibly the greatest thing (related to MtG at least). Any chance you have a list up somewhere or is it not that formal/organized for you guys?

  7. Trent Hamm Trent says:

    @Steve: It’s not that organized.

  8. I like your point that being frugal and looking for ways to save money does not spoil the fun.

  9. arvin says:

    What’s the upfront cost of the grow lights and electricity, plus the heirloom seeds? Does that end up being worth it?

  10. Gretchen says:

    Not to mention the sadness when the seedlings fail. :(

    This was our first year with seeds and it was a mixed batch. The only thing that grew really well was the basil. I don’t even really like basil.

  11. Courtney says:

    We have 50 tomato plants and around a quarter of them are heirlooms. While the heirlooms are tasty, they tend to produce a very small crop – so if you are hoping to have enough tomatoes to make sauce or salsa, I would recommend planting some hybrids along with the heirlooms.

  12. Jason says:

    For some great card games that have a magic-esque feel with the boosters packs to buy check out Ascension, Dominion, and Thunderstone. As an old Magic tournament player I love these games. And best of all the family gets into them as well since its more balanced for everyone playing.

  13. Nicole says:

    Not a big fan of collectible card games. Luckily DH did his last collectible game (mageknight? something with “clicks”) years ago and stopped.

  14. Christina Crowe ( @CashCampfire ) says:

    I go to the library every other week. If I don’t have time to finish a book (because I’m working or doing other endeavors), I’ll renew it. If I especially love the book, I then buy it on Amazon. Getting your books from the library is definitely money saving and, if I were to buy every book I’ve ever read, I would be in dire financial stress.

    Good luck with your piano playing!

  15. rosa rugosa says:

    That’s a great book list; I’m going to save it as a favorite. I’ve read several of them and they were certainly worthwhile, so I’m motivated to seek out some of the others.
    My manager loves to read and buys loads of books, and I’m first on her lend list. This is a decent perq because we have similar tastes and enjoy discussing the books afterwards. She enjoys sharing, and of course it’s a total win for me!

  16. Availle says:

    As avid reader I agree – books can cost a huge amount of money… Unfortunately my library is not that well stocked, and I usually don’t have patience to wait for inter library loan.

    There are tons of classic books online for free on gutenberg.org. They come in a number of different formats, I’m sure one of them fits an ereader (I don’t have one, so I read on my PC).

    If you’re looking for audiobooks – again the classics and free – check out librivox.org. Volunteers read books and they can be downloaded as mp3. The quality varies, but some readers are excellent. There are many old mysteries and scifi stories that are very good.

  17. Mac says:

    For me the attraction to heirloom seeds is the sheer variety available that isn’t commonly found in stores. Purple, orange, yellow, green and black tomatoes. Chocolate peppers. Moon and stars melons. Eggplants that are white and purple striped. Varieties that are nearly extinct. A couple dozen seeds of these treasures often cost less than a single plant of the everyday variety. And you can sell either the seedlings you won’t use or the fruits and make all your money back and then some.

  18. shweta says:

    yes, we must love the books and never spoil them. the books are our constant companions. therefore, it is very essential that we should make the best use of these and always try to increase our knowledge by reading them……

  19. Business India says:

    there is no doubt that games make a man tough and hard working. and these games are very essential for the students, no body can deny the importance of games for them, because the students of today are the citizens of tomorrow……….

  20. littlepitcher says:

    Make friends with your local seedsman. This way, you may be able to get your hybrids (Better Boy maters, Daytona squash, etc.) at a great discount at the end of the season. Then spend the difference on exotic veggie seeds which would cost you a mortgage at your local grocery.
    Or, check such venues as Family Dollar/Dollar General/Big Lots, who often have markdown seeds for as low as a dime a pack.
    I crave current eBooks but settle for Goodwill fiction at a quarter per book.

  21. GayleRN says:

    I have recently decided to bust my fabric stash which is a quilter’s addiction. You collect fabric because you like it and might want to use it someday. I have challenged myself to use what I have on hand to produce some quilts suitable for giving away to Project Linus or something similar. My self imposed parameter is to use what I have on hand first which has been a creative challenge. It is fun because they are small quickly finished projects. The best part is less stuff in my house.

  22. nancy says:

    I have grown plants from seeds many times. Sometimes like last year they did very well. Other years they died from a fungus. They need to be warm and well lit. They often get very leggy if not getting enough light. This makes them hard to handle and harden off. I have found that a table top in a south facing window is better than a light in the basement.(Be careful they don’t get too cold at night from the cold seeping off the window.) The plants were less leggy. I have only grown tomatoes and peppers from seed. It will be a great learning experience for you and your family. Good luck!!

  23. Lauren says:

    Trent, I would love to hear about your research process and final decision for the grow light. I have been toying with the idea of getting one, but I wasn’t sure where to begin. Thanks!

  24. B. Watts says:

    How right you are on the cost of hobbies. We’ve had the costly ones (sailboating, for instance) and cheap ones (garage sales)plus many more in between. But right now my painting hobby is combining garage sales, flea marketing and the actual painting. I use all manner of things I find to paint on, such as trays, magazine rack, end table, mailbox, plate, ornaments, bird houses, etc. and I make the majority of our gifts we give to family and friends. I have sold some of my work, as well. I do take a class a week, but I barter my cooking expertise in payment for the class. All in all, this has been the best hobby yet for me. I even won a Best in Show at the State Fair last year with my work. I love it and I feel I am being creative as well as saving us dollars with our gift giving. The family, especially, seem to love it and so do I. Right now I’m finishing up a Bride’s Box for a wedding gift with the invitation decoupaged on the inside of the lid and painted flowers and ribbons all over the outside of the box along with the wedding date. Being snior citizens, spending a bundle on gifts and hobbies just isn’t in the cards any more and I feel I’m combining something enjoyable for me, being frugal, but still giving memorable gifts.

  25. lynne powell says:

    I’m also an avid reader, and use the country library regularly. I read the reviews in the newspaper and often reserve those books, as well as the books on both the fiction & non-fiction lists for the New York Best Sellers List (top 10) hardback & paperback. I don’t mind waiting for books, and will check out books by the authors of the above mentioned books, or sometimes browse the shelves, etc. If books are not in stock in my city’s branches, or county branches, they have an agreement with neighboring counties where my book may come from. I’ve gotten books from all over N.CA this way. Best of all, it is free :)

  26. lynne powell says:

    B.Watts Your painting sounds great. Keep it up. I bet the bride & groom will be thrilled with your gift. How lovely to receive something so exquisitely personal and from the heart.

  27. Rob says:

    seeing as you’re a fantasy and MTG fan — I assume you’re a fan of Brandon Sanderson? Any chance you two have had a MTG match?

  28. JT says:

    I’ve had a similar experience with golf. Before I knew any better, I’d schedule tee times on weekend mornings, buy brand new clubs, etc, without realizing how cheap of a hobby it can be if you do a little research.

    I’m now using tee time specials (ezlinks.com, teetimewatch.com, golfnow.com) and can play for about 1/3 the price that I used to (regularly finding $20-$30 at excellent courses). I’m buying 2007-2008 club models instead of the brand new stuff.

    I’m spending less money buying huge buckets of range balls, and instead spending 60% of my practice time on the chipping/putting green, which is free (and more important to be practicing in the first place!)

  29. Ali Manning says:

    I love these ideas! One of my hobbies is rubber stamping and making cards, but it can get expensive buying the latest and greatest tools etc. So, I teach classes locally and use the proceeds to fund my hobby. It feels good not to take money from the family budget for my hobby and it’s a good social outlet too.

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