High Cost Hobbies vs. Low Cost Hobbies

[Guest Post by David Carlson of Dinks Finance]

Now that I’m in my early 20s and will graduate college soon, I’ve had to come to terms with the reality of my debt, cost of living, and the true value of each dollar I earn.

One idea I have recently been exposed to is high cost versus low cost hobbies and interests. It’s a pretty simple concept: A low cost hobby would be reading, while a high cost hobby would be snowboarding. Make sense?

So I evaluated some of my interests and it’s not always pretty… nor justifiable if I am trying to get my financial house in order. Some of the results are surprising, though (poker is not only a low cost hobby of mine but a profitable one!). Here they are:

1) Snowboarding – I started snowboarding about five years ago. When all was said and done it was about $700 to start (including a season pass). While this was a very high price it was worth it at the time because I knew it was kind of a now or never thing where I just had to get out there and do it. I’m glad I did it back then, but unless I am going to buy a season pass and go 30-40 times it’s hard to justify spending $40 to go out for a few hours of fun. Result: High Cost

2) Golf – Golf is something that I have been casually engaged in for about seven years. I got some cheap clubs (only about $130 for a full set). It’s so difficult, though, not having a high income and trying to take part in golfing. How can you justify $20-$30 for a round of golf? While I do see it as a good “investment” because I can do it probably for the rest of my life, I get frustrated not having the finances to go out to the driving range a few times a week to stay in top form. Even if you do have a significant income, there is no denying that golf is an expensive sport. Result: High Cost

3) Reading – While I love collecting books, I also love getting books for free from the library. I could get three books, spend two months finishing them all and have spent $0 (not counting gas and opportunity cost) by going to the library instead of purchasing online. Reading is quite possibly one of the lowest cost activities you can take part in! Especially if you like reading popular books because they are almost always available at the library. Also, reading articles and blogs online is extremely low cost; almost all content is free! Result: Low Cost

4) Poker – I had to throw this one in here because this is the most “out of the ordinary” hobby I have. I love playing poker. I have logged a ridiculous number of hours playing online poker as well as live casino play. Personally knowing people who have made over a million playing (see this article about a guy from my high school who made $250,000 in one tournament) gave me a little motivation to stick to it ; ) But this is actually a low cost activity for me, as I’ve made money (not much more than a few grand, but I enjoy it). If you haven’t played much before I would be prepared for this to start as a HIGH cost hobby. Result: Low Cost (for me!)

So as you can see, I have a mix of high cost and low cost activities. I am trying harder to focus on the low cost activities such as reading and poker, while minimizing the high cost activities until my budget can justify them. If that means staying in and watching TV or a $1 movie from Redbox, that’s okay with me.

One final note I wanted to make is that the cost of an activity also has to do with how much you engage in the activity. As I pointed out above, the variable cost of snowboarding drops significantly if I buy a season pass and go 50 times. Likewise, an activity such as board games can seem to be low cost until you spend $30 on that chess board you used once in five years. It all has to do with your interests, your time, and what makes sense to you financially.

What low and high cost hobbies do you have? Do you have any suggestions for low cost activities that readers might want to look into?

David works in finance and will be graduating in December 2010. He is currently in a serious relationship and lives in Minnesota. He has been blogging for two years now on topics as diverse as music, politics, and of course personal finance. You can follow him on twitter @DavidCarlson1.

(Kick ass photo by Evil Erin)

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  1. Ashley September 9, 2010 at 8:30 AM

    Target shooting = expensive. I used to spend about $40 – 60 a week when I lived with my parents. That would never fly now. I go maybe once a year.

    Now my hobby is trying to find ways to DIY house projects :)

  2. Nick September 9, 2010 at 8:50 AM

    I’ve recently discovered I LOVE trying to take foods/desserts I get/love at restaurants and try to make them at home. I’d say it’s a middle of the road cost, because my home-made wings taste FAR better than that of wingzone or a few other local wing places, are healthier, and cost FAR less. But if you mess something up, or have to buy a bunch of specialty ingredients and don’t like what you made, you could be stuck with some weird ingredients. So far i’ve saved money by replacing the following restaurant items

    Panera Sourdough bread
    Snow Cones (make my own syrup!)
    Pizza (stuffed crust/regular/deep dish)
    Hot Wings (boned/boneless/breaded/naked)
    Peanut Butter
    Protein bars
    I know there are more, but it’s not coming to me meow.

  3. Nick - Another Nick! September 9, 2010 at 9:51 AM

    I love low cost hobbies. Pickup sports like softball, basketball, etc., can be great. I also love to go apple/fruit/veggie picking (as long as you avoid the hype/impulse purchases that sometimes go along with them). Hiking can be a great low-cost activity.

    But $1 is a lot to spend at Red Box, J Money – here’s a great place to get codes (http://www.insideredbox.com/redbox-codes/)!

  4. Jenna September 9, 2010 at 10:21 AM

    My high cost hobbies is skiing (season pass but I have all my own gear) and home brewing. But I counter act that will making a lot of home made gifts for the holidays, birthday presents and house warming gifts.

  5. Molly On Money September 9, 2010 at 11:08 AM

    We live in a town that has some of the best skiing in the country. My husband and I are both skiers but gave it up when the kids were small. As they got older we started to miss it and decided to teach the kids. The youngest child is not very coordinated and we figured with that we would ski a few times in the season and that would be that.
    After the first lesson it was if the youngest had found her calling. Every weekend she wanted to be on the slopes to feel the wind whipping past her as she sped down the slopes. It became a joke- of course, out of every activity we had tried with her it would be the most expensive one that she would love and do well at!

  6. Techbud September 9, 2010 at 11:30 AM

    Scuba diving = high cost, but is a lot of fun.

    The public Library is a great place for low cost fun. Books, DVDs, CDs, computer use. A great use for the whole family. Most offer hobby workshops, classes on the weekend as well.

  7. Brad September 9, 2010 at 11:47 AM

    Online Gaming: Low Cost (for me!)
    I spend about 1872 hours a year playing games online, divide that with the money spent on computer, electricity, subscription and internet comes to about 33 cents per hour. Not even counting Netflix, online banking or the harder to calculate value of using the computer to lookup and bid contractors to save me money.

  8. Marc September 9, 2010 at 1:02 PM

    My high cost hobby is Skydiving.
    I jump about 15 / 20 times a month. That’s about $400 a month.
    Yes it is expensive but while others play video games, I peacefully jump out of planes.
    It’s a cost that I assume but cutting dramatically on things that I don’t enjoy.
    My lot cost hobby would be rock climbing.

    My rule is: invest in hobbies where
    1) You can get better and improve your skills
    2) That make you Happy
    3) You can keep doing them consistently.

  9. Megan September 9, 2010 at 2:05 PM

    My finances pretty much dictate only low cost hobbies (except maybe graduate school, which would definitely be a high cost hobby!). So two suggestions:

    1. I too love reading. I think libraries are a great resource for a book you want to read and then let go. But for books you KNOW you want to keep, I recommend bookmooch.com. It’s a book swap–you list books you want to get rid of, people order them, you pay to ship and get a credit to “buy” a book you want shipped to you (free). When you ship media mail, it’s about $4 per book ship, so essentially $4 to get a book you want. Paperbackswap.com is similar (and lets you use credits to buy new books from a retailer, too). I like being able to get books for other people too (with my credits, I got my brother some wedding planning books instead of buying them) as well as getting rid of old books in the house.

    2. I swear by my Netflix now. I have $10 a month–one DVD at a time and unlimit streaming. The best thing I’ve learned about this is that streaming is available (simultaneously!) on 5 devices you register. So for my $10 a month, I stream to my laptop, the Wii connected to our living room TV, and have given streaming access to my boyfriend in another state and my brother at college. I can have a movie night at my place with friends whenever I want for the cost of one movie ticket. Total, this is $120 a year–if you’re sharing the service with someone else, sharing the cost might be a good idea too!

  10. Evan September 9, 2010 at 4:11 PM

    I would say my only high cost hobby would be dinner/partying but even that I try to keep controlled. I find that the higher the cost of the hobby the less I actually enjoy it.

    Low cost hobby: Blogging! Can even turn a profit if you are as big as J

  11. Elle September 9, 2010 at 4:55 PM

    I guess my most expensive hobby is playing video games. We try to minimize the expenses by waiting until games are used (exception for fav games).

  12. Robin September 9, 2010 at 9:14 PM

    I have two fairly pricey hobbies – horses and cycling. There is always some new saddle I need, and I can’t stop at only four bikes. My dream bike is only five thousand bucks, but I don’t need it enough to get a real job.

    Fortunately, reading is my favorite hobby, so if I can’t buy a new saddle/horse/bike, I can read about them and live vicariously through someone who can. With just s teensy bit of envy.

  13. David Carlson September 9, 2010 at 10:13 PM

    @Ashley DIY House Projects > Target Shooting! Or at least more profitable ; )

    @Nick that’s impressive! I’ve been meaning to try to make an “at home” Chipotle Burrito as well as Olive Garden salad, but I just haven’t got around to it.

    @Another Nick – Hey this is actually a guest post by me, J is out of the country. Come on $1 too much for a movie? Watch it with one other person it’s only .50 or 4 and it’s only a quarter each!

    @Jenna – I like the balancing act. It’s okay to have a high-cost hobby, but you better save some cash elsewhere ; )

    @Molly – Who knows! Maybe she will be in the Olympics one day!

    @Techbud – my girlfriend…errrr… I mean fiance (as of Sunday!) wants to scuba dive, but I agree about the public library. We both love getting free books at the library (as well as dvds, magazines, and other stuff!)

    @Brad – That’s great! The cost of the activity depends on how often you partake in it. For some activities, like online gaming, the more you play the less expensive it is!

    @Marc – DITTO
    “My rule is: invest in hobbies where
    1) You can get better and improve your skills
    2) That make you Happy
    3) You can keep doing them consistently.”

    @Megan – Definitely will get Netflix when I get married next year! Nice!

    @Evan – Yes blogging is low cost!!! Writing is where it’s at. If you like it you might as well give it a try!

    @Robin – Ah horses….yeah that will give your wallet a hit : / But if it’s what you enjoy you should keep pursuing it. If you buy horses you could probably make a little money on the side letting people take rides or whatnot. Something to think about.

    Keep the comments coming!

  14. Nick September 9, 2010 at 11:25 PM

    Ha! Oops, forgot it was a guest post. (Although I am fairly cheap…)

    I was just having a little fun with the codes. Great post.

  15. David Carlson September 10, 2010 at 12:08 AM

    Haha I hear ya and no prob!

  16. Roberta Nyquist September 10, 2010 at 8:27 AM

    Golfing is one of my most favorite activities and it doesn’t have to be expensive. No, it isn’t as cheap as getting books from the library, but there are ways to indulge in golf at a pretty reasonable price. The initial cost of the clubs can be expensive, kind of like the snowboarding. Plus, a person needs to keep a supply of golf balls, which can be expensive depending upon which ones you purchase. Or, you can find them on the golf course, like my husband does. He has found enough golf balls to supply both of us for years! There are a few discount books that I purchase which give “buy one-get one free” discounts (like the American Cancer Society discount book – $25 and the money goes to a charity), which really make the game reasonable on a budget. Look for on-line discounts or in the newspaper, and golf during non-primetime, like late afternoons/early evening. Golf at the smaller golf courses outside of metropolitan areas, especially when you are just beginning to learn the game. They generally are far cheaper, less congested, and are generally easier to navigate, which also builds confidence. In fact, a person can get a season membership at these courses generally for a reasonable price. Get a part time job on the weekends at your favorite course. Most courses offer free or drastically reduced greens fees just for working a few hours a week. Not only will you get free/cheap golf, you will be adding to your bottom line and increasing your budget. My philosophy is that if there is a will, there is a way. You just won’t be golfing the TPC.

  17. WR September 10, 2010 at 7:07 PM

    Nice article.

    I have always made the distinction between ‘caviar’ hobbies and ‘paper plate’ hobbies. I enjoy both but not for the reasons I once thought. I have friends I go fishing with and friends I golf with. I enjoy the National Symphony Orchestra at the Kennedy Center (looking forward to Beethoven- Symphony No. 9 this fall) as well as the tractor pull at the county fair. Different crowd, different friends but both are immensely entertaining. The Symphony tickets for the whole family are just marginally more expensive than a 3D movie and a thousand times more memorable. The County fair was quite expensive because of my kids affinity for funnel cake and cotton candy (adds up!)

    I agree with Roberta Nyquist’s post. There are almost always a way to do what you enjoy on the cheap. When looking for Hobby accoutrements, craigslist is your friend. (it’s not used… it’s thoroughly tested.)


  18. David Carlson September 10, 2010 at 8:02 PM

    Roberta I knew I could count on you to defend golf as a “potential” low-cost hobby. At my age, though, I still think it’s very hard to call it low cost. Victoria and I have not put in the money to buy a decent set of clubs (I have a $130 set!) and she doesn’t even have a set yet! One day we will play regularly tho!

  19. David Carlson September 10, 2010 at 8:03 PM

    @WR hmmm I’m just not a huge fan of the symphony, not gonna lie : / I would much rather go to a 3d movie :P

  20. Kim September 11, 2010 at 10:07 PM

    My high-cost hobby is martial arts.

    I will point out, though, that hobbies can also be an important networking tool. For example, I try to make a point to join the guys for lunch at least once a month. It’s an opportunity to talk off-the-clock, build connections, and even build a career. Golf, from what I understand, can do many of those things.

    And yet, I’m not a golfer. Le sigh.

  21. J. Money September 15, 2010 at 9:16 AM

    You played professionally? That is awesome man! Did you ever catch my guest post by my prof. online player last year? Here’s the link – maybe you know him?


    His screen name was/is? “NNNobodYYY”

    And I think my expensive hobby for sure is traveling. Having been to a half dozen countries, and states in the past 6 months alone!!! :)

    Least expensive: watching movies and blogging. yeah, def. blogging.

  22. The Skinny On September 15, 2010 at 9:27 AM

    Yes, That is a great post! NNNobodYYY is a beast. I had a nice run summer of 08, but had the grand idea of going to vegas to play some wsop events and went busto.


  23. WR September 15, 2010 at 9:43 AM

    A slightly tangential topic could be the concept of owning hobby stuff vs. renting your fun. I am a huge advocate of renting vs. owning (in regards to entertainment). A dollar goes much further this way. Sure, there are some hobbies that require the ownership of certain things but almost always there are places that will rent the experience for a nominal fee. some examples:

    1. Owning a vacation home is nice but renting a vacation experience does not tie you down to a particular location. (trust me on this one, after the fun wanes, it can become a burden to go to your vacation spot. gotta mow the lawn, gotta repair the roof, etc. the vacation becomes more of a maintenance exercise)

    2. Owning a boat makes sense if you live on a body of water. If you, like most of us, do not it could be much more cost effective to rent. Not needing to winterize, tow, store, register and the hundred other things boats require is worth it. Just like the vacation property, an owned boat starts to feel like a second job over time.

    I have rented vacation homes all over the world, speedboats, houseboats and pontoon boats. Sometimes being a ‘hand’ on a headboat is fun as well if you like deep sea fishing.

    I also own a (soon to be sold) rental house in N.C at the beach and recently donated a 25′ sailboat to the boyscouts (seascouts). I’ll never go back.

    The point is, think about how many times over the course of a year you will actually engage in an activity or hobby (and where you want to do it) and determine if owning and maintaining the stuff you need to do it is worth it. Where I live, most boats sit under a tarp 6 months out of the year but alas, the payments are required for all 12. This could apply to golf, skiiing and scuba as well as movies and videogames. I think Gamefly will rent a game for relatively cheap.

    Another quick example. I have found, believe it or not, that flying to Vail for a ski trip and renting the skis/snowboard is a more cost effective experience than owning and going local (Here in the Northern Virginia area) and about 1,000 times more fun than skidding around on man-made ice sheets. I don’t go that often but when I do, I want it to be memorable.


  24. J. Money September 19, 2010 at 11:04 PM

    @The Skinny On – Haha, at least you went for it!!! More than you can say for lot of us others just dreaming about it ;)
    @WR – All valid points! ESPECIALLY on renting vacay spots over owning – I’m trying to actually do that with my 1st home! haha…. home ownership is def. not for me (I don’t like being tied down) so I hear you loud and clear my friend. Also cool you’re in the Northern VA area – we’re right down the street from each other :)

  25. Carmie of the Single Nester September 21, 2010 at 5:09 PM

    $20-30 for a round of golf? Wow. Near me, private clubs are around $100 and public – $20-$40.