How to Build an Inexpensive Hobby

As any regular reader of The Simple Dollar knows, I love to read. It’s a hobby that relaxes me, encourages me to think, and doesn’t cost very much to participate in, and it’s one I’ve enjoyed as far back as I can remember. I can scarcely leave my house without a book in tow and I’m far more content when business traveling to curl up in my hotel room with a book than to hit the town.
I find that a hobby that’s financially frugal is a great way to reduce spending and leave yourself not feeling bored, ever.

I’m a busy person, though. How do I find time for such a time consuming hobby? The biggest key is to focus on a very small number of key interests, and devote real time to them. For me, those hobbies start and end with writing, reading, and a limited amount of games. Simply put, I put aside time for reading. I have a block of time each day, roughly an hour, where I simply do nothing but read.

I usually read in the most comfortable place in the house. Leaned back on the incredibly comfortable couch in the basement with a big, cool beverage (and perhaps a small snack) at arm’s length. I feel very comfortable and happy here, with my immediate needs covered well. I can just let go of things – my seat is comfortable, my thirst and hunger needs are taken care of – and just sink into a book.

I tend to choose a mix of materials to read, from deep, involving books and complicated essays to light and simple fare. I’ll follow a treatise on systematic theology with a Terry Pratchett novel and not skip a beat. One makes me grow, the other makes me laugh. By mixing stuff up and not burying myself in “boring” items, I keep reading exciting and lively. In fact, I believe this is one of the big reasons people get turned off from reading – they get their face rubbed in something that’s really, really pushing their comfort level until they get so frustrated that they hate reading.

I also often take notes on what I read. About half the time, these notes wind up forming the core of a book review on The Simple Dollar. Basically, if I own the book, I’ll just jot down (in the margins) any thought of interest to me, and I’ll underline key points. Then, when I’m done, I’ll go back through and hit all of those points again in one sitting. Usually, this brings a book together for me. Even better, those notes are often a great place to start a blog post, if you’re a blogger (or thinking about starting one).

I also find that setting reading goals makes things more fun. A few years ago, I made it my goal to read every Charles Dickens novel. I’ve also read every single biography of Teddy Roosevelt I’ve been able to find (he’s probably the closest thing I have to a role model). I’m about to systematically start reading every Pulitzer Prize winning novel in reverse chronological order, even re-reading the ones I’ve already read. I follow these goals diligently, but not exclusively – I’ll throw all sorts of stuff in the middle to liven things up and lighten the mood. The success in reaching such a goal, though, is tremendous.

Because of these goals, I find it very easy to bargain hunt. If I know I’m going to read all of the novels of Charles Dickens, for example, I can turn to services like PaperBackSwap and the library to get most of them very cheaply. Suddenly, I have a lot of books to read – and it didn’t cost me much at all.

Here’s the game plan for a busy person if you want to start a reading hobby – or want to develop any hobby:

7 Tips to Start a Frugal Hobby

1. Set aside time

Find a block of time that you can set aside each day (or with any intense regularity), and set it aside exclusively to follow your hobby.

2. Make it portable and easily accessible

As best you can, make it so that you can take some aspect of the hobby with you wherever you go. If you like puzzle games and are trying to build lateral thinking skills, get a Nintendo DS or a pocket puzzle book. If you’re learning the harmonica, keep it in your pocket.

3. Do it where you’re most comfortable

I find that during my regular readings, I get much more into it (and feel much happier afterwards) if I do it in a comfortable place. Sometimes this isn’t possible, but if you can plan to practice your hobby in a place where you feel happiest and most comfortable, the hobby will feel happier and more comfortable, too.

4. Mix guilty pleasure with challenge

You might be tempted to dive into some of the most challenging pieces of your hobby right off the bat. Don’t. Mix the challenging stuff with the pure fun stuff. When I was learning to play the banjo, I’d play “Foggy Mountain Breakdown” over and over again and get incredibly frustrated. Instead, I found it went much better if I played the challenging piece for a while and when I felt the frustration really kicking in, I’d back off and play something easier that I really enjoyed, like “Yankee Doodle.” Do the same with any hobby and you won’t grow alienated from it.

5. Focus on bargains in your specific area

Once you’ve defined a specific hobby and are actively following it, you’ll find your entertainment spending naturally goes down. Even better, you can kick the bargain hunting into high gear – it’s much easier to find a bargain when you know exactly what you’re looking for and it’s in a niche area.

6. Take notes – perhaps even start a blog

Keep a record of your progress – what you like, what you hate, what you learned, and how it made you feel. This seems silly for some things, but it’s not – in fact, it’s a way of really savoring those good experiences, both now when you record them and later when you look back on them. One great way to do this is to start a simple blog about it, sharing your experiences with others.

7. Set goals

Maybe you want to learn a song. Maybe you want to be able to solve a simple sudoku puzzle in five minutes. When I was a kid, I tried really hard to learn how to solve a Rubik’s Cube puzzle in under a minute. If you enjoy the process, the sweetness of achieving a goal becomes just that much better – it’s a milestone and a sure sign that you’re becoming more than just a mere novice.

Trent Hamm
Trent Hamm
Founder of The Simple Dollar

Trent Hamm founded The Simple Dollar in 2006 after developing innovative financial strategies to get out of debt. Since then, he’s written three books (published by Simon & Schuster and Financial Times Press), contributed to Business Insider, US News & World Report, Yahoo Finance, and Lifehacker, and been featured in The New York Times, TIME, Forbes, The Guardian, and elsewhere.

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