In the last six months or so I’ve discovered a new hobby: Board games. I’m not talking about games like Trivial Pursuit, Monopoly, LIFE and the like that are available at the big box stores. I’ve discovered what are commonly called “Euro-games” because they are designed in Europe by European designers. They aren’t generally available in the big-box stores (although Target does have a few including Dominion and Settlers of Catan). You usually have to get them at dedicated game and hobby stores or from online vendors. A friend introduced me to these types of games and I’ve been hooked ever since.
It’s a great hobby, but it’s expensive. A new game can easily run $20 – $60 dollars or more. While it’s certainly not the most expensive hobby out there (I have a friend who drops close to 50K every year on her horses), it can be a budget buster if I’m not careful. Many hobbies like photography, cake decorating, crafts, antique collecting, and model trains can put serious dents in your budget. Some are so expensive that it seems impossible to even get into the hobby without going broke. However, there are ways to get into even expensive hobbies without laying out a fortune.
Join a group that shares/rents equipment
I found a local gaming store that has gaming groups that meet during the week. People bring their favorite games and the store also has a library to choose from. This shared pool of games broadens my horizons considerably without requiring me to spend money. Many hobby-specific stores offer pools of equipment that can be shared or rented. You may be able to rent a camera for a weekend photo expedition from a camera store, for example, or there may be a local photography group that shares equipment amongst themselves. Get involved in your local hobby community and look for places that share or rent equipment. This can allow you to enjoy your hobby for free or minimal expense.
Set a budget and stick to it
This is, of course, easier said than done but it’s an essential step. Figure out how much money you can safely devote to the hobby initially for start up expenses and then decide how much you can spend on a monthly or semi-monthly basis. Once you’ve decided that, stick to it. This will allow you to enjoy your new hobby without fear that you will spend too much. You’ll still get the thrill of buying new equipment without the regret.
Shop the used market
When looking for hobby equipment, shop the used market. Many people before you have decided to take up your hobby and have either given it up or moved on to more advanced equipment. That older, used equipment can be bought for much less than new. Try yard sales, thrift stores, estate sales, and flea markets. Also, many hobby communities (both online and off) run their own sale or swap markets. Buying used gives you a chance to try new things without investing a fortune and you can often find gems of like-new equipment for pennies on the dollar.
Make a list and prioritize your wants
When hobbying on a budget, you’re not going to be able to afford everything you want and need in the beginning. Make a list of the things you need and want the most. Once you have your list, prioritize it so that you get the necessities/most wanted items first. It doesn’t do you any good to buy a great lens for a camera you don’t yet own, for example, or to buy something that is for advanced users when you’re new to the hobby. Use your limited funds to get active in the hobby and then work from there.
Ask for gifts related to your new hobby
If someone asks you what you want for Christmas or your birthday, ask for something hobby-related. If you don’t think they’ll know exactly what to get, ask for a gift certificate to your favorite hobby-related store.
Shop at places other than “hobby specific” stores
In my case board game and hobby stores are the go-to place to check out new games, but they are usually the most expensive places to buy. Less expensive alternatives are Amazon.com, other online merchants, and stores like Barnes and Noble (they give out good coupons) and even Target which is now carrying some of the new Euro-games. If you’re into crafts, craft stores are likely to be the most expensive places, so find alternatives. Photographers will likely find that specialty photography stores are the most expensive but maybe Target carries acceptable equipment. Whatever you’re into, look for places that sell what you need for less.
Try to turn it into a money maker
I haven’t yet figured out how to turn board gaming into a money maker (short of opening my own store), but many hobbies can earn you extra money. Photography, cake decorating, and crafts all generate salable merchandise or have contests with cash prizes. Many other hobbies can be turned into businesses. If you can earn a little money, with your hobby, you can use that money to buy more supplies.
Re-allocate your budget to the new hobby
If you can’t make money from your hobby, at least try to find something else that it replaces and use the money you spent previously on that on your new hobby. We spend nights in now playing games instead of going to the movies, so the movie money has been moved to the gaming fund. We’re still spending money, but no more than we were before.
I try to look at my gaming as an “investment” of sorts and that adds to the value it brings me. No, I’ll never be able to sell the games for more than I paid (the conventional definition of “investment”), but they do build a stash of entertainment that will be usable for many years to come. Unlike video games which will become obsolete when the next console rolls around, my boardgames will always be playable. The $50 I put into a great game today will more than pay for itself after several years of play. Heck, it can cost almost that much for the two of us to see a movie and have refreshments in the theater these days, and that’s only one night of fun.
Do your research
Before you buy anything, make sure it’s something that you really need or want and that it meets your specifications. Read reviews and get a feel for the item. Don’t waste your limited funds on things that won’t get used, that will break too soon, or that aren’t needed for the goals you want to achieve. Also make sure that what you buy fits your skill level. It’s fine to want to own advanced equipment, but if you don’t know how to use it yet or if it won’t work with what you already have, it’s a waste of money.
See what you can borrow or test
If you’re lucky, you may be able to borrow some equipment from family or friends. You may also be able to borrow from your local library or hobby store. Even if you can’t take an item out of the store, you may be able to play with it in store to get a feel for the item. If you can borrow something or at least test it out before you buy, you’ll save money over buying things that ultimately disappoint you.
When it comes to hobby publications, look for freebies
Many people who take up hobbies enjoy reading related publications. Magazines and books give you new ideas and how-to’s. They also serve to keep you connected to the hobby community at large. Many books and magazines can be found for free at libraries. You can sometimes find free subscriptions to hobby magazines, too. Also ask at your hobby store if they have any older issues you can have. When I was first getting into computers, my local computer store had old issues of magazines that patrons were welcome to take. Also use the Internet. There are tons of free hobby-related blogs and websites, and some publications put older articles and reviews up, as well.
Just because a hobby is expensive doesn’t mean that you can’t enjoy it. It just means that you have to plan your entry into the hobby more carefully than you would if the equipment was inexpensive. Make a budget and enter the hobby gradually and intelligently and you can have fun without breaking the bank.
(Photo courtesy of BrickArt!san)