Mar 25, 2010

Keeping Hobbies Reasonable (Janssen)

I love hobbies. I think they can make your life more fun and fulfilling, give you something to do, help you find a circle of friends, and make you feel better about yourself and your life. 

But it's also easy to throw a lot of money into a new hobby before you know if it's really going to be worth it.

You know the drill - you suddenly get the idea, on a beautiful weekend morning, that your family could be really into tennis. You could be out playing every Saturday morning, enjoying the fresh air and exercise, maybe a few games on a weeknight. You'd get years of enjoyment from the sport, probably playing until well into your nineties. You would play doubles with your children. So you hop in the car and head over to the sporting goods store and pick up some top-of-the-line rackets (if you're going to be playing every week for the next sixty to seventy years, you'll definitely get your money's worth out of them) and get fitted for some real tennis shoes too. Pick up a dozen or so cans of balls. Maybe a tennis outfit. You walk out having spent several hundred dollars. And then you play twice. The equipment lingers in your garage, collecting dust, for years. Eventually you donate your expensive equipment to Goodwill.

Which brings me to one of my Frugal Rules to Live By: do not invest a lot of money into new hobbies until you are absolutely sure you are committed to them.

A few years ago, Bart went bike riding with a friend in Austin. The friend was really into biking and had a very nice bike. When Bart returned, he suggested that we consider getting bikes. We'd be a biking family! He tossed around the idea of getting a fairly nice road or mountain bike for a while, but I was wary.

I mean, I liked the idea of being a biking family too. Good exercise, ideal mode of transportation in some areas, and a fun recreational activity. But I was not at all sure we'd get enough use out of them to make it worth having sunk thousands of dollars in to it.

Eventually, after much discussion, we agreed that we would indeed both get a bike, but we should buy some inexpensive ones. We went to Wal-Mart, rode many bikes around the store, and finally each selected one. They cost about $120 each.

We went on the occasional Saturday morning bike ride around our neighborhood and even once down around the lake in Austin. I rode mine to work and back every day for about four months when Bart needed the car to get to work. We went for a nice ride through Boston in the fall. We've definitely gotten some use out of them, but we are in no way a biking family. We simply had and still have no need for expensive, top of the line bikes.

If we had discovered after a year or so that we really loved to bike and were using our bikes weekly and that we absolutely needed nicer bikes, we could have sold ours on Craigslist and then bought nicer bikes.

If you think tennis might be the thing for you, buy some cheap rackets at Goodwill (where the people who thought they would be huge tennis players have now deposited theirs) and try it out for a while. See if you really use it.

And then, if you prove to yourself that you really do have a sustained and serious interest, then it may be the time to spend a little more money. But to start at the high-spending level assures you a low balance in your bank account and a large pile of guilt-inducing junk in your basement.


Bart said...

Does this mean I can't get a new tennis racket? Bah.

Ang said...

I'm just finishing a beginning tennis class at the local community center. The offer loaner rackets for those trying out the sport. It has been a great way to figure out if it's something I will stick with or not without having to spend a lot of money.

Packrat said...

This goes for any new venture. I once "threw away" a couple hundred dollars on insurance course material. (At least I "donated" the money to the State insurance commission and not some fly-by-night outfit.) What was I thinking? I thought it was boring before, what made me think I'd suddenly like it if I took the course and became licensed?

Anyway, I have one of those tennis rackets hanging in the garage...

Katie Rich said...

This made me laugh because I thought about how one week I got really jazzed about provident living and the ability to repair and alter my own clothes (thought likely not create my own clothes). I bought a sewing machine off Criagslist for $20, but without any instruction or skill I never made anything. It is sitting in my closet collecting dust. I am glad I did not buy anything expensive.

Leslie said...

Would unused gym memberships fall into this category as well? I'm currently making a non tax-deductible donation to my local rec center.