Hobbies on the Path to Financial Independence

Let me start off by describing several hobbies I’ve enjoyed over the years.

It’s not a secret that I’m an avid reader. Once upon a time, I had a large collection of books that I’d purchased in various places. Some of them were cheap as they were bought at secondhand stores or acquired via Paperbackswap. When I did finally get rid of my collection, I was able to donate them to a charity and received a receipt for that donation which amounted to about $1.50 per book, allowing me to deduct that from my taxes. Since I paid at least $2 in shipping for even the Paperbackswap books, each of those books became a financial loss for me.

I also used to be an avid golf player, but I basically stopped playing in 2006 after the birth of my first child. I had a few very expensive golf clubs that I kept for a while, but eventually I chose to sell them off. I recouped perhaps 30% of their face value – a financial loss for me.

When I was in high school and college, I was an avid player of the trading card game Magic: the Gathering – I still play it on occasion with old friends. My collection of cards was one of the major things that I purged during my “great sell-off of 2006” (to raise money for debt repayment). I was able to sell my collection for a few thousand dollars. Some individual cards definitely made money – I turned cards I had acquired in the late 1990s for $5 or $10 each into roughly $80 each in 2006 – but most of them were a net loss (“junk” rare cards that I pulled out of $4 packs that I could only resell for a quarter).

I’ve also been an avid collector of vintage baseball cards. Over time, I’ve purchased several old cards from the 1950s and earlier, cards of Hall of Fame-level players, and simply held onto them. I have received offers to buy those cards that were substantially higher than what I paid for them.

In each of these cases, we’re looking at a hobby that involved some level of expenses and eventually resulted in the return of money. In some cases, that return was much less than what was invested; in other cases, it was higher; in still other cases, it could have been profitable with some care.

I’m going to make a simple argument here: hobbies that can result in a positive return on your money are hobbies worth keeping; hobbies that result in a loss on your money should be carefully evaluated.

Enjoyment isn’t the primary factor here because there are so many hobbies that are income-positive that you’re likely to find a few that appeal to you no matter what your interests are like.

This idea ties heavily into the personal finance concept of an asset. An asset is anything that you own that (ideally) retains value and may increase in value. Anything that doesn’t meet that standard is considered a liability.

In other words, if financial independence is a goal for you, hobbies that accumulate assets and lack participation expenses are good hobbies while hobbies that accumulate liabilities and participation expenses are poor hobbies.

This perspective has caused me to re-evaluate a number of my hobbies over the past several years. Today, most of my hobbies fall into two separate groups.

Hobbies Without Acquiring Stuff and Without Participation Fees

These hobbies mostly focus around experience – actually doing things without the need for acquiring new things. In their purest form, these hobbies don’t require any equipment, don’t involve bringing anything home permanently, and don’t cost anything to participate in. These are solid hobbies for people seeking financial independence.

Here are several examples of my own hobbies past and present that fall into this category.

Reading books from the library merely requires me to stop at the library every few weeks – and for ebooks, I don’t even have to do that. I can go in there and pick out books to my heart’s content and even reserve new releases online using their website. None of this costs anything. I can do the same thing with DVDs at the library.

Since I’m an avid reader and am often tempted to collect books, channeling that into checking out books from the library transforms a potentially expensive hobby into a cheap one for me.

Geocaching relies solely on the GPS unit that I already have. We can reach dozens of caches within walking distance of our home and we always find new ones no matter where we happen to be going. All it requires is a willingness to walk around and explore.

Geocaching has become a part of almost anything we do that involves traveling away from home. Since it only requires a GPS unit (which we already have for trip navigation) and a list of coordinates that can be found online at sites like Geocaching.com, it’s a great hobby and a way to help the family be a bit less restless on a road trip.

Yoga/meditation is something that I do in our living room or my bedroom without any equipment other than a timer or a video running on my laptop. Most of the time, I do it without any additional material at all.

If you’re looking for a place to start, this is a great guided meditation for beginners. You can also try this relaxing yoga routine or this high intensity yoga routine. Again, all of this stuff works just fine in your living room without any equipment (I usually use a towel to lay on).

Language learning is a great hobby that’s made very simple by online tools like Duolingo and Livemocha. It doesn’t cost anything to participate and I can do it on my computer or phone whenever I want.

I have used Duolingo to gradually teach myself conversational French, so not only is it an enjoyable way to pass the time for free, it’s also teaching me a new and potentially valuable skill.

Computer programming is something I still engage in (even after my career switch) because I enjoy the problem-solving aspect of it and I love how contributing to open source projects can help people launch all kinds of interesting things. All I need is the computer that’s already in my home.

There are also many ways to learn how to program online for free – try Code Academy for starters. Plus, most flavors of computer programming don’t require any sort of expensive software.

League of Legends is my favorite computer game of the last several years. It’s completely free to play (they make money from people who are impatient or people who want pretty doodads) and doesn’t take up any space at all other than a fraction of the space on your computer hard drive.

This is a game I mostly play to keep in touch with friends (as I’ll play with them), but it doesn’t cost a thing and it’s a pretty enjoyable free hobby if you were once an active videogamer who no longer has the time to invest in it.

Hobbies That Involve Acquisition of Assets (Items That Retain and Build Value)

Many hobbies, of course, involve acquiring items, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that this is going to be a black hole of money. If you are able to acquire items that retain and grow their value, then you will have a hobby that doesn’t involve losing money during your time spent on that hobby.

It’s worth noting that “value on paper” doesn’t really count here. If you have an asset that you can’t easily liquidate, it’s not worth as much as you think it is. I have a painting that’s theoretically valued quite highly, but it requires someone willing to pay that for the painting to actually have that value and I’m honestly not sure how I would ever find a buyer for it. Because of that, I don’t view the painting as being worth nearly that much.

Here are several examples of my own hobbies, past and present, that fall into this category of a hobby that involves acquiring assets.

Collecting sports and other trading cards can easily fall into this category if you’re selective when it comes to your purchases. This requires some knowledge of the specific genre that you’re investing in. If you do this well, you’ll acquire items that you can enjoy aesthetically or, in the case of gaming cards, even as part of a game without reducing the value at all.

It is worth noting that this is a hobby that can become income-negative very quickly if you’re not careful. If you resort to buying unopened packs, particularly at full price, and then you open them seeking particular cards, you’re likely to lose value. Most of the time, sealed packs have a much higher value than the actual cards inside – opening packs is akin to playing the lottery, which is a very income-negative hobby.

Geode collecting involves no acquisition cost at all – you can simply find them in the woods. If you choose to save them for decoration, that’s still a money-saver as you’re decorating for free. If you choose to sell them – and you may be able to do this on your own or in conjunction with a local gift shop – you can make a bit of money from this hobby.

This is very similar to my brother’s hobby of finding arrowheads, which he’s incredibly good at. Almost anything that you can find while walking around and have permission to pick up for free that can be re-sold will fall perfectly into this category.

Morel mushroom hunting is a hobby that works wonderfully during the first few weeks of spring when these delicacies are popping up in the woods. If nothing else, it’s a walk in the woods – a free way to pass the time. If you happen to be lucky enough to find some of these mushrooms, they can either provide a delicious meal or you can actually sell them to restaurants if you happen to be in the right area.

I enjoy using morels in a wide variety of dishes, so I’ll often use them in our own cooking as a way to turn something simple into something amazing. Rather than scrambling a dozen eggs for our dinner, I’ll scramble eight eggs and mix in morels, which means we’re spending less on the food (since the morels were free) and having an amazing gourmet meal rather than ordinary scrambled eggs.

Computer repair can certainly be a hobby that falls into this category. If you can buy broken computers that only require a few simple repairs to resuscitate and you can buy them incredibly cheaply, you can turn a nice little profit along the way.

I have purchased several “broken” computers over the years and have even been given a few. In each case, it only took a repair or two to bring the computer back to life and I was then able to sell it for at least a little return. I was able to re-sell them by posting on public bulletin boards in the community.

What About Other Hobbies?

Just because a hobby doesn’t fall cleanly into those areas doesn’t mean that you have to abandon it. There are often ways to mitigate the expenses of a hobby so that it falls into the first category or even twist it to a value-building proposition like in the second category.

Here are three examples of my own hobbies that fall into this category, along with how I mitigate the expense.

Board gaming does inevitably require the acquisition of such games and you can never resell them for enough to make up the cost. However, you most certainly can trade them. The majority of my collection was acquired through trading games, where I traded off games that we didn’t particularly enjoy or that we played until we were all tired of it. Also, the need to acquire is greatly lessened if you participate in a gaming group in your community. Most larger towns and cities have an active board gaming group.

Beyond that, you can sometimes find rare board games (like old Avalon Hill titles) at thrift stores for a dollar or two. Those games can often be flipped on eBay for a direct profit or simply added to your collection for further trading.

Another approach is to become very focused on a single game, such as chess. You can play chess on the computer for free or acquire a chess set for a very small amount and never have to acquire anything else.

Exercise is a hobby that can certainly produce ongoing costs (going to the gym) and also result in the acquisition of equipment and materials. At the same time, you can exercise at home using your own body weight (pushups, squats, jumps, etc.) and using exercise routines from the internet. It really depends on the approach you take.

My usual exercise routine is mostly based around the lifetime fitness ladder. The exercises there don’t involve any equipment at all and are things I can do at home. It adjusts itself to my current fitness level, too.

Gardening is another hobby that can be very income-negative or somewhat income-positive depending on how you approach it. If you save seeds and share equipment and seeds with friends and neighbors, it’s not too hard to be profitable when it comes to gardening (as it reduces grocery bills significantly). If you buy fresh seeds every year and must have lots of equipment of your own, then it’s going to be an income-negative hobby.

Over time, our own gardening approaches have moved gardening from a fairly expensive hobby to an income-positive hobby. I don’t think we actually invested any money at all into our garden this year, yet we obtained lots of beans, tomatoes, pumpkins, dill, cucumbers, and other items from it. That’s because we save seeds, maintain and use our tools, and borrow tools from the neighbors.

Discarding Hobbies That Don’t Fit

Naturally, many hobbies don’t fit into these categories. What do you do about those hobbies?

Reduce their impact. In other words, cut down on the time that you spend and the equipment that you buy for those hobbies. This was my approach when it came to golf, which was probably my worst hobby in terms of my financial situation. I simply got rid of several of my clubs, keeping only my original set.

I’ve found that by simply dabbling in new hobbies (which I discuss a bit more below), my time spent on other hobbies is naturally cut without really feeling as though I’m “depriving” myself in any way. Then, when I have free time and pick an old hobby back up, I’ll consciously choose an income-positive or income-neutral hobby.

Share them. Look for groups where you can share the equipment and expenses that come with a particular hobby. Rather than having a full woodworking setup for yourself, join a Maker group in your town, for example. Rather than having an enormous board game library, have just a few games and participate in a group where others own games, too.

This does require that you make your hobby social. You’ll need to seek out people around you that have the same hobby as you and find opportunities to share those hobbies. A good way to start is to check out Meetup.com. Another great strategy is to check out your local library and see what community groups are hosted there.

Discover hobbies that fit into the other categories. Whatever your hobby is, perhaps you just can’t imagine giving it up. Rather than just walking away from it, try digging into a new hobby for a while, one that fits into one of the categories above. See if the new hobby clicks deeply with you and, if it doesn’t, try another one. If you can find something fulfilling that doesn’t involve constant expenses, it will make abandoning the previous hobby much easier.

There’s so much value in simply trying something new that, even though I have a roster of hobbies that I enjoy, I’ll often try out new hobbies, particularly free ones, to see if they click with me. I’ll be honest – I have more things I’d like to do than I possibly have time for in a given day and that’s a great thing.

If you choose to give the hobby up, liquidate the items. Sell off your gear so that you at least get some return from those hobbies … and then don’t be afraid to use that money to get started on another hobby that’s income-positive or income-neutral.

Final Thoughts

These days, the vast majority of my hobby time is spent on income-neutral and income-positive hobbies. Not too long ago, most of my hobby time was spent on income-negative hobbies – ones where money just drained away from me, never to return.

This isn’t to say that I don’t have hobby expenses – I do. However, I also have a handful of collections with significant resale value that I’ve built up within my hobbies thanks to buying low, selling high, and trading. If I ever chose to walk away from some of my hobbies, I could recoup the money invested in them without much effort at all and I would likely turn a significant profit.

If you’re looking at a life that features financial independence as a major goal, spend some time looking at your hobbies. Do they drain your money? (That’s bad.) Are they free? (That’s good.) Do they generate income? (That’s very good!)

With the multitude of great hobbies available to people, using those simple questions as a filter can help you find hobbies that will work in concert with all of your financial goals.