How to afford an expensive hobby

You dream about it at work, you spend full weekends doing research and you’ll talk any willing ear off about it but… can you afford it?

Hobbies keep us sane in the pressure cooker that is Singapore. Trouble is, some of these outlets are pricier than others. So how do you afford your passion and still eat lunch regularly? Let us show you the way:

First, what is an “expensive” hobby?

There isn’t actually a fixed number, as it’s based on your income and obsession level. To a student, collecting Funko figures may be expensive. But if you’re a working adult, sound systems and antiques may be your criteria of expensive. It’s all quite variable, so let’s define it this way:

An expensive hobby is one in which you:

  • Cannot afford to pay for the item or service in a single month’s income (e.g. most Singaporeans can’t afford a $10,000 scuba-dive trip to the Galapagos on a month’s pay)

  • Spend more than 75 percent of your entertainment income on every year – so if you spend, say, $3,000 on pure fun every year, and $2,250 of it goes into the same hobby, it can be considered comparatively expensive (it’s costly enough to keep you from other activities.

  • Find you often need to save up for six months or more to afford (e.g. you need to save six months before you can afford that new guitar)

Here’s how you can keep affording this kind of hobby, without resorting to loans or overspending:

1. Actually budget for the hobby, so the “passion fund” isn’t eroded by other impulse buys

Human brains are strange. You may know that what you really want is that $1,500 set of golf clubs that will let you totally dominate. But what your brain wants, however, is to squander the $1,500 on random impulse buys that happen every day: a $9.90 cup of coffee here, an unnecessary $30 cab ride because it’s past seven and you’re lazy to take the train, and boom! You’ve squandered $1,500 on random nonsense that you may not even remember buying.

The best way around this is to actually plan for the amount you’ll spend on your hobby. Call it your passion fund: set aside cash for it as you would the other expenses in life (power bill, food, transport, etc.)

It may seem stuffy to do that, but financial discipline can lead to joy. You’ll find your life more fulfilling, when you don’t allow momentary distractions to disrupt your true passion.

Don’t knock it till you try it: set aside the money every month for your hobby, and it’ll feel great when you finally buy that $10,000 Gibson, or an entire shipping container of Magic: The Gathering cards, or whatever it is that truly satisfies you.

Remember, you can use your Financial GPS to easily track exactly where you’re at. More on budgeting here.

2. If you’ve been at your hobby for a while, see if you can monetise it

Have you been racing Motocross bikes for years? Consider mounting a GoPro and starting a YouTube channel. Do you make cosplay outfits? Make a website about the process. It’s sometimes possible monetise it with ads. If not money, then free samples or discounts may still come your way.

Some hobbies also open the possibility for commissioned services, such as antique restoration, digital art, or painting wargame pieces. But be careful with this approach: it’s more business-like, and you should have the terms stated in black and white before you engage clients, even if they’re friends.

(What if you damage something or fail to deliver? Make sure your liability is limited.)

The up/downside here is that it might turn your hobby into a job, so you want to do this in moderation. In general, aim to offset the cost of your hobby slightly, rather than turning it into a whole other side-income. Unless, of course, you really do intend to turn it into a full-fledged business.

3. Go second-hand, or rent the equipment you need

If you’re just starting out, you don’t need to over-commit yet. Buy a second-hand camera to support your photography, or rent your sports equipment. We know the feeling sucks – but this is helping you to save up for the things you really want (see point 1).

These days, it’s much easier to find good second-hand deals with the rise of eBay, Carousell, and other related sites.

The added advantage is that you get to try out the equipment; when the time comes, you’ll have a better sense of what you really want.

4. Sell, don’t hoard

In the course of pursuing your hobby, you’ll probably end up with a stash of things you no longer need. We’re looking at you, readers who bought five or six Samick or Kapok guitars.

The ideal way to do this is to “trade up”. For example, say you bought a violin at $500. After you save up another $500, you might try to sell that violin for $350, and then buy an $850 violin.

Once you work your way to the most high-end items, you may even find that you can sell for more than you bought them. A quality, $30,000 watch, for instance, may just appreciate to $35,000 when you finally sell it.

Your old equipment can go on sale to support new hobbyists (see point 3), while also offsetting the cost of new stuff. It also prevents your having to pay for storage, as no one living on this island ever has enough room.

This step can be tougher if your hobby is in fact a collection, such as toy or rare book collecting. In these cases, you may want to consider narrowing the range of your collection (e.g. toys and books of a specific genre only). You should also remember that it’s fun to own different things, once you’re bored of the current ones; don’t hesitate to sell, and enjoy your next pride and joy.

5. Join clubs and organisations

Besides having people to talk about your hobby with, these are some of the best ways to make any hobby affordable. Fellow enthusiasts often trade and re-sell with each other; and due to the close ties between them, there’s often a motive beyond profit. A fellow enthusiast may be inclined to sell you something for cheaper than they would to a stranger, if they know their items are going to a good home.

Also, being part of clubs and organisations can mean discounts: you may not be able to bargain for a cheaper cooking masterclass yourself, but a club of 200 culinary enthusiasts could collectively get that price down (which organiser doesn’t want to sell 200 tickets at once?)

The most important rule to keep a hobby affordable, however, is to not borrow excessively

Whether it’s golf, video games, photography, etc., don’t let it get to the point where you’re reliant on credit for it.

The financial damage this causes could, in the end, deprive you of your hobby (and more) for years to come. If you ever find yourself thinking about taking, say, a personal loan for five years to buy a hobby item, stop. Stick to your assigned budget, and remember that the long term cost isn’t worth it.