Hobby bleeding you dry? Might be time to put away the Magic cards

Hobbies that requires constant spending, may keep you from improving your finances. Instead, look for a way to cap the hobby or, better yet, find a new, cheaper hobby or activity with which to replace it.

Robert Harbison / The Christian Science Monitor
Pictured is a card game called "Magic, the Trading Card Game" that has been made into a computer game. Video and computer games are an entertainment medium that rival the movie industry totals of dollars spent annually. Playing Magic regularly requires a constant stream of new cards, and can be an expensive hobby.

When I was in college, I went through a long period where I avidly played Magic: the Gathering. For those unaware, Magic is a card game where a player (if they want to compete in tournaments) has to regularly supplement his collection of cards by buying new cards. In other words, sticking with the hobby meant buying new cards all the time.

For a few years (circa 2003 to 2005), I was an avid golfer. Golf means consistently buying balls, paying for greens fees, and paying for sessions at the driving range. Lose a ball? It’ll cost you. Play on a decent course? It’ll cost you. Bend a club accidentally? It’ll cost you. Work on your drive? It’ll cost you.

Around that same time, I acquired a large collection of DVDs. I wanted to have immediate access to lots of great movies and television series. Of course, when you’re chasing something as nebulous as “having all the good stuff,” there’s constantly something more to buy to sate your hobby.

Each of these hobbies cost me a lot of money over the years. I can’t tell you how many packs of cards for Magic (and its cousin, Netrunner) that I bought over the years. Let’s just say a lot. I can’t tell you how many buckets of balls I hit and how many Top-Flites I lost into the trees. I couldn’t even guess the total count of DVDs I’ve owned over the years.

In each case, I was into a hobby that (from the way I practiced it) required a constant influx of buying new things. That means a constant outflow from my already-difficult financial situation.

The solution to all of these cases was to simply recognize that these hobbies were running me dry.

For me, it was really effective to simply calculate how much the hobby was costing me each month and face that total. When I would see that I had spent more than $100 on DVDs or spent $300 on golf in a single month, I would feel nervous. When I’d multiply that by twelve to get an estimate of a year’s spending, I’d feel awful. Thousands of dollars on a hobby? That was enough to wake me up.

In the case of golf, I largely dropped the sport. I haven’t been golfing in years and, frankly, I don’t miss it. I’ve found other things to fill my time.

In the case of the other hobbies, I found limited ways to still enjoy them. With Magic, I simply assembled a small collection of cards that I could constantly draw on for fun games at the kitchen table. With DVDs, I simply decided to try to build a collection of my 100 (or so) favorite movies and, when I achieved that, I had to literally remove one from my collection in order to add a new one.

In other words, I found new ways to enjoy some of my hobbies that didn’t involve buying new things. Usually, this involves putting some sort of “cap” on the collecting aspect and choosing to stay within that “cap.”

In other cases (like with golf), I found other activities to fill my time. I started doing more volunteer work, mostly, as I’ve served on multiple committees, volunteered for other projects, and served as a youth sports coach several times.

If you have a hobby that requires constant spending, look for a way to cap that hobby or, better yet, find a new hobby with which to replace it. A hobby that requires you to constantly spend is a hobby that will constantly keep you from improving your finances.

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