Spending too much money on hobbies and past-times? Attempting to rationalize it with – well, I need to have some fun in life? Check out this article before wasting another dollar.
Lee wrote with an innocent question about photography equipment yesterday. Little did she realize Iíd already been thinking about the broader issues of her dilemma. Hereís an abridged version of her message:
A friend asked me about cameras. He went shopping last weekend and saw lenses that ranged from $200 to $700. He felt that the lower-end lenses would not work for him, but he wasnít prepared to spend $700, so he went home. Now heís reconsidering. Of course the one he liked was $700. He thinks he should go to a camera store for some professional advice. What do you think?
Ah, the lure of photography. About five years ago, I spent a couple thousand dollars on camera equipment. Before I started Get Rich Slowly, I seriously considered trying to become a professional photographer. (A dream perhaps best left unpursued.) I believed that by throwing money at the hobby, I could improve my results.
This year, Iíve discovered the joy of running. On the surface, itís a sport you can pick up with no equipment at all ó you can just run in a pair of sneakers. As with anything else, Iíve discovered there are tons of things to buy: running shoes, special socks, water bottles, logbooks, and high-tech heart-rate monitors.
Which expenses are worth it and which are not?
When you begin pursuing any sport or hobby, it can be difficult to decide where to spend your money. The initial temptation is to buy the best gear now. But Iíve learned from experience that the best gear is worthless if Iím not skilled enough to use it. Before you spend money on a new pastime, consider the following:
Know your goals. What is your aim? What kinds of photographs do you wish to make? Or, if youíre looking to purchase a bike, what is your objective? Do you want to commute five miles back-and-forth to work? Do you want to train to ride one-hundred miles? Are you just looking for something to putter around on with the kids? Be realistic. Be honest. Use your answers to help guide your decision.
Educate yourself. When I was starting out, I didnít like the quality of my photographs, so I did what many people do: I threw money at the problem. I bought expensive filters and lenses. I bought Photoshop. None of these things helped. My images still looked lousy. What did help was spending $150 on a community college photography course. An amateur photographer is going to get a much better return for her money by taking a photography class (or three) than by purchasing a new lens.
Practice, practice, practice. Too often people believe that the equipment is going to increase their skill at something ó golf, photography, whatever ó when actually itís practice that will help them improve. Thereís no sense buying an expensive driver if you canít hit the ball straight off the tee. Once youíve hit a few thousand balls (or snapped a few thousand photos), then you might begin thinking about how new equipment might further improve your strengths.
Donít take advice from a salesperson. Yes, she knows a lot about the subject, but in general, her primary goal is to sell things. She wants you to buy more. Instead, find a friend who can give you advice on the equipment youíre researching. Use Google. If you need advice, get it from somebody who doesnít have a vested interest in your purchase. Once youíve done your research, then ask for a salespersonís help.
Borrow from a friend. Krisí sister thought she might want to learn how to knit. Rather than buying a bunch of equipment, Tiffany borrowed a few of Krisí knitting needles to give it a try. She did take up the hobby, but by borrowing Krisí stuff first, she was able to learn the ropes before shelling out her own money.
Consider used equipment. Check Craigslist or eBay. Find a dealer of used equipment in your town. You can often find high-quality items for cheap if youíre patient and know what youíre looking for. A friend of mine recently saved 33% off a fancy heart-rate monitor simply because he was patient and willing to buy used.
Rent! For many sports and hobbies, renting is a great way to get a taste of the high-end. How often do you scuba dive? Ski? Instead of buying equipment that will mostly sit unused, consider renting when you need it. This not only will save you space, but can actually be less expensive in the long run. Renting is also a good way to try before you buy.
Beware a hobby or sport that is driven by purchasing more stuff. Some hobbies are simply sales pitches in disguise. Iíve written before about my own obsession with the card game Magic: The Gathering, a game specifically designed to get suckers people to spend more money. Kris was once into scrapbooking. She loved it, but she came to realize it was more about buying new Stuff than actually creating memories. Like many scrapbookers, her supplies now sit in the closet, unused.
Fancy equipment is not a panacea. In most hobbies and sports, skill is more important. Donít get me wrong ó good equipment can make your pastimes more pleasurable. But itís difficult to know which equipment is worth the expense until youíve gained some experience.
My photography instructor used to tell us, ďA professional photographer can produce amazing shots from a crappy disposable camera. But a $5,000 camera wonít help a beginner make better photos.Ē This idea isnít just true with photography ó itís true with knitting and biking, and even with running, too.