As a fairly frugal person, I struggle with the fact that two of my favorite hobbies are closely tied with the idea of collecting things.
I love books. I love to curl up with a good book for many hours and get lost in them. Unfortunately, that does mean that I do sometimes buy books and over time I can wind up with a fairly big collection, which is in reality just a big sunk cost.
Similarly, I love big, long, strategic board games. I love to gather a few friends around a table for a few hours and dive deep into strategy, or even to pull out a solitaire game on a rainy afternoon and fill up a table with wooden bits and puzzles to solve. As with books, it does mean that sometimes I buy games and over time I’ve built up a rather large collection of tabletop games.
I’ve had other hobbies in the past that tended to involve buying new things regularly – golf comes to mind, most definitely, but there were other hobbies such as video games as well.
In the past, I tended to look at these hobbies as individual entities, with different strategies for cutting costs, but as time has gone on, I’ve found that most of the core strategies for keeping costs low on a hobby that gears itself toward the accumulation of things are very similar from hobby to hobby.
Here are the core strategies that I use in all of my hobbies and interests to keep my accumulation tendencies in check (more or less).
Strategy #1 – Aim for highly regarded things from the recent past rather than the latest and greatest.
When a new item comes out related to your hobby of choice, especially if it’s a high quality item that’s expected to be well regarded, it sells for a high price and is typically covered heavily in the media, particularly all media related to your hobby of choice.
I see it with books. I read several websites related to books and they’ll all be loaded down with reviews of the latest books from established authors or books of particular interest when those books come out. Right then, of course, those books are really expensive.
In a year or two, though, most used bookstores will have several copies of the big books from a year or two ago. They’re still just as good as they were then, but rather than paying $20 a book, you’re paying $2 or $3 a book.
I see it with board games, too. A new game comes along and it’s all the rage for a while. Of course, you can only find it for sale at MSRP.
Give it a year. After some play and some reviews, it’ll either continue to be well regarded or it’ll be exposed as a less compelling game without a lot of replay value. In either case, it’ll often be available for sale at a lower price at that point or available used.
This is true for almost every hobby out there. The thing that’s new and attracting a lot of attention is probably as expensive as it ever will be. Almost always, if you give it some time, the price will start to decline and you’ll see it popping up occasionally in sales.
My favorite example of this comes from the video game hobby, where really good games come out listed for $60 or so, but if you wait two years to see which games win “game of the year” awards and remain very well regarded, you’ll see those games be available for a fraction of their original cost, often with expansion packs built into the game, and they’re still just as fun as they were when they first came out two years ago.
That doesn’t mean that these items are no longer good. It just means that the premium cost of having the latest and greatest thing has faded away. For anything that isn’t actually perishable or are designed to quickly become obsolete, things that were useful a year ago are similarly useful now.
There’s also the used market…
Strategy #2 – Buy used items rather than new ones.
Hand in hand with the first strategy is simply buying those very items used rather than new and saving a ton of money in the process.
For many hobbies – video games, books, sports, board games, clothing, basically any hobby where you have stuff that isn’t consumed – there is some sort of secondary market where people buy and sell used items. You see secondhand sporting goods stores, used bookstores, used video game stores, and many websites that cater to those things as well.
Most of the time, buying an item used just means that you get a fully functional item with a minor bit of wear on it, but you pay a small fraction of the original price. Considering that you’re unlikely to completely wear out a hobby item, that’s a pretty good deal, as it’ll probably last through all of your uses.
Take a used book, for example. Unless the binding is already falling apart, it will probably function perfectly well through your reading of that book.
A used board game is the same. It’s very unlikely that you’ll play the game so many times that the components fall apart, even if the first owner put a little bit of wear on it.
The key, then, is to find avenues for acquiring used items for your hobby. Are there local stores that deal in used items for your hobby? Used bookstores? Used sporting goods stores? Clothing consignment stores? Are there any stores that sell mostly new stuff but deal with used items, too?
Similarly, you can look online for communities that deal with used items. Most hobby sites have some type of forum for selling used items, which you can use to buy those items. Plus, there are more general services like eBay and Amazon Marketplace for finding used items of interest.
Strategy #3 – Choose items that will see a lot of re-use.
One of the big advantages of waiting for a while to buy an item is that it gives you a chance to see what people think about it after some time has passed, rather than relying on fresh reviews.
Is this item still holding up after a year? Is this a board game that is still interesting and fun after a lot of plays, or does it become dull after a few plays? Is this a book that people are deeply enjoying and even re-reading or using for reference, or is it one that people often don’t finish and can’t imagine re-reading? Is this a well-made item that is standing up to lots of use, or is it breaking or showing flaws pretty quickly?
By waiting for a while, you can learn from the first wave of buyers and thus choose items that will have a lot of use for you. Items that you’ll be able to use and use and use again are ones where you’re going to get the most value for your dollar.
For me, this shows up really well in the board gaming hobby. If you buy a new release, it’s really hard to tell whether or not this is a well designed classic or something simply rushed to market with little game design and some nice components. After some time has passed, you can pay attention to later reviews and figure out whether the game holds up to a lot of play. Are people still talking about it after many, many plays? Or is no one mentioning it any more after just a play or two? Hint: you want to choose the first type and avoid the second.
With other hobbies, you may want to consider other things. For example, with computer games, I tend to lean toward long, involved single player strategy games with lots of deployability because you will get many, many hours of play from them. Many short games are finished in just a few hours, or only remain enjoyable if others are playing it online.
The factor I like to think about is “what is my cost per hour I’m going to spend with this item?” If I spend $20 on a board game and play it ten times, and each time takes two hours, that’s about $1 per hour of entertainment. For me, that’s a great value. On the other hand, if I spent $40 on a new board game release, played it twice for an hour each time, and then realized I didn’t want to play it any more, my cost per hour is $20. That’s not good. The first game was obviously the better choice, and I was able to figure that out before buying by being patient and looking for clear indications that it had a lot of replay potential.
Again, you can translate this idea to almost any hobby. If you’re considering buying a Bluray, is this one you’re going to re-watch over and over again ($15 for 6 hours of entertainment because you’ll watch it three times, $2.50 per hour), or is it just a convenient way to see a new release ($20 for 2 hours of entertainment, probably never watched again, $10 per hour)? There’s a big difference there – one is probably worthwhile, while the other isn’t.
Another element to consider is whether or not your friends would also enjoy this item in the future (see Strategy #5 for more on why this is important). If you can find an item that a friend would also really like, you will get substantially more value out of that item.
Strategy #4 – Once you’re done with something, trade or sell it rather than building a collection of dusty things.
Once you’ve finished reading a book and you’re pretty sure you won’t re-read it in at least the next year or two, take it to a used bookstore and sell it or swap it. Don’t let it sit around and gather dust if you’re not going to use it again for a while.
The same is true for a video game. You beat a game! Great! Are you going to replay it with any seriousness in the next year or two? If not, trade it or sell it now.
That same idea holds true for almost any hobby item. If you’ve used it for a while and now you’ve reached a point where it’s doubtful that you will use it again any time soon, sell it off now while it still has maximum value.
This is a far better approach than allowing such items to build up around your home under the idea that you might someday possibly use some of those items again. Holding onto those items actually has a cost. You have to figure out how to store them, and that takes up space, and that space has a financial cost. You also have to maintain them, keep them organized, move them about – all of those have time costs and, if you move, a likely financial cost, too.
When you’re done with something, even if you think there’s a small chance you may want to enjoy it again or read it again in the future, let it go. Trade it off or sell it.
Strategy #5 – Make it social, and swap items frequently with friends.
Earlier on in this article, I mentioned that choosing items that your friends might be interested in is a good way of adding value to the items that you buy for yourself. Why? If you’ve chosen something that a friend might value, then you have a great opportunity to swap that item with a friend, or loan it to that friend under the idea that you might eventually borrow an item from them at some point.
This is something I do quite a lot with my friends with which I share hobbies. If I buy a board game, I’m usually thinking of them. I’ll often loan games to friends, swap games with friends, or sell games within the local board game group. If I buy a book, I’m often thinking about loaning that book to a friend who might also like it. Right now, I’m reading two different books loaned to me by friends and I have at least two loaned out to other friends.
You can do the same thing with DVDs, Blurays, clothes, sporting equipment, woodworking equipment… pretty much anything that you could buy for any hobby that you happen to share with a friend.
If you do this well, every item you buy is worth the use of at least one more similar item, and perhaps more. If you buy a book that you and your friend are both excited about, you can lend it to your friend when you’re done. They’ll probably do the same, so you’ll be able to read a book you’re excited about without paying a dime. It gets even better if you have a larger group. What if you have three or four friends that pass those books around? Suddenly, you have three or four books to read for every one you buy.
What I particularly like about this strategy is it inherently amps up the social nature of that particular hobby. If I have a few friends that are into a hobby, swapping items related to that hobby with them becomes a social opportunity, one that strengthens our friendship. I love stopping by a friend’s house to pick up a book or a board game, because it almost always turns into a conversation about that swapped item or about something else going on in our lives. It’s a great way to generate that face-to-face social contact that sometimes eludes us.
Strategy #6 – Learn where the bargains are found within your particular hobby.
As you become more passionate about a particular hobby, it is well worth your time to really dig into a hobby and figure out what the discount retailers are in your hobby.
Almost every niche in the world has retailers that target different aspects of that niche. Many retailers will try to be full service retailers, offering lots of customer service and help in finding the right product and many other features, which is really nice if you’re starting to get into a hobby.
Eventually, though, you’re going to know what you want and many of the benefits of a full service retailer are things that you just don’t really need any more. You might choose to still support them sometimes because of the convenience or because they help grow the hobby, but there is a huge savings in discovering who the discount retailers are which can get you the items you’re looking for at the lowest possible price.
It’s often not obvious who those discount retailers are at first, because the best discount retailers usually don’t spend much on marketing to get their name out there, instead relying on word of mouth to raise their recognition. Most such retailers are vastly less expensive than Amazon.
For example, in the board game hobby, two great examples of discount retailers are Coolstuffinc and Miniature Market, which consistently have prices that are far under other retailers and they have frequent sales that drop prices even further, so if you’re patient, you can pay surprisingly little.
There are several different discount book retailers around, too, such as Half Price Books, and they often dabble in buying and selling used books, too.
The trick is finding them, and that takes patience. If you’re in a particular hobby, it is well worth your time to figure out who the best discount retailers are.
Strategy #7 – Focus on the experience, not the item itself.
Almost every hobby is launched from an enjoyable experience. You try out something, find it really enjoyable, and want to experience it more.
Maybe you really enjoyed making a few food items in your kitchen, so it launched a cooking hobby. Maybe you read a few books that really tickled your brain, so now you’re a reader.
Whatever it may be, hobbies typically come down to experiences. The trick is keeping the hobby focused on the experience, rather than letting it be converted into having a focus on stuff.
For example, rather than focusing on the size of your book collection, focus on expanding your list of books that you’ve read and enjoyed. Rather than increasing your game collection, focus instead on increasing the list of games you’ve played, or the list of games you’ve played at least ten times. That’s actually my focus in my board gaming hobby these days – I’m trying to play every game I have at least ten times before getting new ones.
Let the actual stuff be as secondary as possible. You can always borrow a book at the library or from a friend or buy one inexpensively at the used book store. You don’t need to have a giant shelf of books. Focus not on the book, but on improving your own list of “books you’ve read.”
The challenge is that it’s often much easier to find a few spare dollars to buy a new game or book (or whatever item is related to your hobby) than to find a few spare hours to read a book or play a game, so in a life where you have extra money but not enough time, buying a game becomes a lazy substitute.
Don’t let that happen. Channel that emotion toward financial independence, or toward finding ways to have genuine lasting free time so that you can enjoy your hobby instead of just throwing money at it. If you’re throwing money at a hobby without enjoying it nearly as much as you want, then it’s a sign that your time priorities are sorely out of whack, and that’s a completely separate problem to solve.
Your hobby should be about your collection of experiences, not your collection of things. The few items you have for that hobby should be ones that are purely there to help you enjoy an experience in the near future, nothing more. Collect the experiences, not the stuff.
I find that these principles are helpful with almost any hobby that I might enjoy, whether it’s reading or hiking or cooking or preserving foods or playing games or anything else. I can apply almost all of these principles to any hobby that might be expensive and find that my costs go down while my enjoyment does not.
If you have an expensive hobby, try applying some of these strategies to your own hobby and see what happens. You might just find that you can get a lot more value for your dollar than you once thought.