Want to turn your hobbies into cash?

A little knowledge about baseball cards, video games, or coins can turn a relaxing hobby into a profit-making venture.

Robert Harbison / The Christian Science Monitor / File
'Magic', the original trading card game and the video game based on it, can both turn out to be profitable hobbies - if you know what you're doing. File photo from June 2002, Los Angeles, Calf.

When I was sixteen, I bought a cigar box full of 1960s baseball cards for $5 from someone who was cleaning out their mother’s attic. I sold one single card in the box – a 1965 Topps Mickey Mantle in excellent condition – for $200.

Several years ago, I was at a yard sale. The person running the yard sale had a box full of trading cards sitting there that her son had left behind when he went to college. I offered $5 for the box and proceeded to resell them on eBay, netting almost $1,000 in the process. (The cards were Magic: the Gathering cards from the Unlimited and Arabian Nights sets.)

About a year ago, I bought a pile of used video games at a yard sale. I picked them up for $2 apiece – 15 games for $30. Several months later, I piled these up and traded them at a local gaming store for approximately $200 in store credit, which (in combination with other traded-in items) I used to pick up a Playstation 3.

What do these little stories have in common?

First, in each case, I took advantage of a hobby of mine to turn a substantial profit. I’m familiar with the value of many types of trading cards, video games, and other certain types of collectibles because they’re hobbies of mine. Thus, when I notice these items, I can inspect them carefully and often evaluate their prices.

Second, I routinely put myself in situations where I’ll stumble across these items without a proper valuation. Yard sales and garage sales are a great start, but there are lots of places to look: going out of business sales, estate sales, and so on.

Third, I knew how to re-sell the items. There are many collectibles and other items that have theoretical value, but if you don’t know how to re-sell them for that value, they don’t have any value at all.

Let’s look at how you can use each one to not only have a lot of fun enjoying a hobby of yours, but also turn a profit sometimes, too.

Know Your Hobby
This is the easiest part of the three. Almost every hobby involves some sort of equipment or materials. From rock collecting to gardening to more obvious things like movie collecting, hobbies usually involve the acquisition of certain items.

Simply by being involved with the hobby, it’s often easy to be aware of the values of many of the items associated with the hobby. Keep your ears and your eyes open and you’ll soon have a grasp of the value of many items within the hobby, as well as good resources for identifying the value of items you’re unsure of.

Know Your Situation
It gets a bit trickier when you’re looking for ways to find such bargains. Above, I named several avenues for finding such items. Here’s some specific notes on these avenues.

Yard sales and garage sales These are almost always my best bet for finding huge bargains on hobby-related items. The trick, of course, is knowing how to separate the junk from the valuable. If the price is cheap enough, I’ll often jump on board even if I’m not 100% sure of the value of the item because the profit potential is so high.

Going out of business sales I never miss these, particularly for independent non-chain businesses. Often, items are priced as a discount off of MSRP – and often they’re cleaning out everything they can find from their back rooms. Sometimes, this means older and rare items that have a lot of value are out there for less than they should have sold for new. If you know what you’re looking for, this can be a treasure trove.

Estate sales and auctions This is similar to a yard sale. It can work well for certain types of items. Your best bet is to simply peruse listings in advance to decide if the sale is worth your time.

Odd jobs Whenever you have the chance to perform odd jobs for independent businesses – or even do things like help someone clean out the house of a deceased family member (which is a nice thing to do anyway) – you can just stumble upon all kinds of great things. I’ve found great items in the back room of an independent coin shop and in the closets of a deceased cousin of a friend.

Know Your Outlet
Of course, just because you find an item that has significant theoretical value, that doesn’t mean that you’re going to make a profit. Thus, I only pick up items if one of these two statements are true.

The item must immediately be resellable at a profit. Can I go list this item on eBay and turn a profit on it? Or, can I take this item to some sort of trader or retailer and immediately get more for it than I paid for it?

The item must have immediate use. An item I might use doesn’t cut it. I must be able to immediately put the item to some reasonable use within my hobby. Ideally, the item continues to retain some value as well.

If I can’t immediately validate one of these two statements, I don’t make the purchase.

Knowledge Is Money
In simplest terms, knowledge is rewarded here, as is participation. The more you know your hobby, the more likely it is you’ll be able to identify potential bargains. The more you participate in events where such bargains appear, the more likely you are to find it.

That’s why my wife and I often go to garage sales on weekends – and why we often go away empty handed. We usually go only to look for specific items – things we need, like children’s clothes, or things we know we can profit from.

Good luck!

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