Trimming hobby costs - and finding new fun

Hobbies fill entertainment hours for less money than most outside-of-the-house activities, but can still rack up high costs.

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    Janessa Guzman, 5, picks out a book to read at Camden, N.J.'s Main Branch library on Aug. 6. Bibliophiles can save money and find a broader selection of classics in the free alternative to bookstores: a local public library.
    Jessica Kourkounis / AP / File
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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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