Are hobbies frugal?


In today’s post, we’re going to look at how hobbies fit with frugality. Are hobbies frugal, and if not, should you have them anyway?

What are we talking about?

I want to cover quite a few things today:

  1. what is a hobby?
  2. why you need a hobby
  3. what kinds of hobby are there
  4. how does your stage of life affect your attitude to hobbies?
  5. how do the main hobbies fit in?
  6. some ideas for hobbies that might suit you
  7. what to do if your hobby really isn’t frugal
  8. what are my hobbies and how do I feel about them?
  9. are hobbies frugal?

So let’s get started.

What is a hobby?

The best way to look at a hobby is that hobbies are the things you would do with your life if you didn’t have to earn a living.

Which means that once you reach financial independence, you can look at anything that you invest your time in as one of your hobbies.

I’m going to define a hobby as something that is optional but you do anyway, without any obligation from a third-party.

  • It takes up a significant amount of your time, and may or may not cost a significant amount of money.
  • It may even save you money or make you money.
Why have a hobby?

There are ten main reasons why you might want to take up a hobby. Some hobbies will tick several of these boxes, others only one.

Here are some of the benefits that a hobby can provide:

  1. stress-reduction and clearing your mind
  2. creating a “third space” that isn’t work or family – structuring your time – something to look forward to
  3. new social opportunities and making new friends
  4. new experiences
  5. giving you something to talk about when everyone else is talking about work – “making you interesting”
  6. new opportunities for development (through connections as well as skills)
  7. allowing the possibility of new achievements and purpose
    • the setting of medium-term goals and the creation of output, which in turn will boost your self-confidence and self-esteem
    •  everybody is good at something
  8. self-expression and creativity
  9. being in the moment (mindfulness and uni-tasking – flow)
  10. having some fun
Stage of life

Now clearly, how you look at these reasons will depend on what stage of life you are at.

If you are working hard and saving towards independence, stress-busting is going to be very important.

  • You might want to explore hobbies that take the parts of your work that you enjoy, and transfer them to a non-stressful environment, without money pressures or supervision.
  • Hobbies that save money – or even make some money – will also be attractive.

If you’re already financially independent, and have given up work, then you will be more interested in a hobby that you can feel passionate about.

  • You’ll be looking for things that give you a purpose.
  • You’ll be on a fixed income, so knowing that you can afford to pay for the hobby will also be important.
  • And you’ll be looking for hobbies that improve your physical or mental skills.
  • Hobbies that give you a social life will also be attractive.
  • And hobbies that save or make money will still be of interest.
Hobbies or life skills?

When you look at most of the frugal blogs, a few of the hobbies they recommend fall into the category of life skills rather than hobbies.

  • They are well worth doing – and indeed may be absolute necessities – but they aren’t necessarily hobbies.
  • They are maintenance activities.

I’m going to rule the following out right here:

  1. exercise – we all need to exercise anyway.
    • If you want to join a club to do it – or to make sure that you do it – then fine, but I’m not going to call that a hobby.
    • So bye-bye everyday exercises like running and cycling, swimming and the gym.
    • I’ll make a semi-exception for equipment-based “sports” like surfing and even golf, or for more social activities like salsa dancing, table-tennis or hiking.
    • And be careful how much you spend on exercise.
    • It’s easy to get carried away with equipment and memberships.
  2. cooking – we should all be cooking our own food.
    • things like preserving can save money, but it’s not really a hobby
  3. reading – I know that kids today don’t read, but this is too basic for me
    • reading underpins all learning, and you should never stop learning
    • joining a book club may make sure that you read, and provide a social outlet, but I’m still not counting it
  4. things like movie clubs and playing video games with friends don’t count either
Classification of hobbies

We’re going to look at hobbies across several dimensions:

  1. passion
  2. stress-reduction and mindfulness
  3. amount of time they consume
  4. cost / cost-saving / income generated
  5. social aspects
  6. physical and mental stimulation
  7. achievement, creativity and self-esteem
(Potentially) low-cost hobbies
  1. Playing games like cards, backgammon or chess doesn’t cost much.
    • The more difficult the game you choose, the more you will get out of it in terms of mental stimulation.
    • Even simple games can work well on the social side of things.
  2. Looking up your family tree is a popular hobby with older people, and needn’t cost much.
    • This works best if you are doing it on behalf of your extended family, and can report back with your findings.
  3. Metal-detecting can be cheap, once you’ve bought the detector.
    • This won’t score highly on the “makes you interesting” scale, but if it suits you, go for it.
  4. Crafts like sewing and knitting can be inexpensive, and if you are good enough to make things that you are prepared to wear, can save you money.
    • If you ever become good enough to sell things, you can even turn a profit.
  5. Similarly, things like making candles and soap can save money if you use it, and make money if you can use them as gifts, or even sell them.
  6. Beer and wine fall into this category, too.
  7. Moving even further up the scale, you could look into things like jewellery making.
  8. Gardening can be done on a budget, though it’s easy to get carried away on equipment and plants.
    • You can keep the costs down by swapping cuttings and seeds with other gardeners.
    • This scores high on relaxation and mindfulness.
  9. Learning a foreign language can be cheap if you use books and the internet.
    • Not so much if you sign up for expensive courses or one-to-one tuition.
    • This scores well on mental stimulation.
  10. Learning a musical instrument is similar to a foreign language, in that you can spend as much on tuition as you want to.
    • You will need more equipment, though it should last a long time.
    • It scores well on mental stimulation, creativity and achievement, and has the potential to become a passion.
    • It can also be social if you join a musical group.
  11. All of the above also applies to learning to sing.
  12. And some of the above applies to computer programming (and these days, web development).
    • It’s cheap (if you learn from books and the internet, rather than from expensive courses), and in many ways similar to learning a foreign language or musical instrument.
    • If you become good at it, you can earn money-making websites for other people.
  13. There are lots of other things that you can learn for cheap or for free.
    • MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) have exploded over the last few years, and there’s sure to be one on the subject that you are interested in.
  14. Writing is very inexpensive and also very creative.
    • If you don’t feel up to writing stories or poems, you could always start a blog like this one.
    • If you’re really lucky your blog might even make money eventually.
    • You could also look into being a freelance writer, though it’s a very competitive field and the money isn’t great.
See also:  The Paradox of Thrift
More expensive hobbies
  1. Collecting is an expensive hobby, unless you collect something that nobody else wants.
    • If you have a good eye, you can make money from your collection (probably over the long-term), but most people don’t.
  2. Photography can be a life-long passion, but it can also be quite expensive.
    • There used to be opportunities to earn money from your skills, but smartphones and social media have lowered the bar so much on what people consider a good photo that this is no longer the case.
    • We’re all “photographers” now.
  3. Painting is similar to photography in many ways.
    • It can be done on the cheap (eg. by painting digitally), but can also be expensive.
    • It’s hard to beat in terms of self-expression, creativity and achievement, and is great for relaxation and mindfulness.
    • If you are any good, there are more opportunities to make money from painting, as technology hasn’t yet opened it up to the masses.
  4. Pets can be expensive, but also very rewarding in terms of companionship and relaxation / mindfulness.
    • There’s also the opportunity to make money by looking after other people’s animals (dog walking, or looking after dogs / cats / fish while their owners are on holiday).
    • You can even think about breeding your pets.
Justifying expensive hobbies

Don’t take this sub-heading too literally.

  • You don’t need to justify your hobbies – or any of your spending – to anyone.
  • Except maybe to yourself.

So let’s think of this more as managing your expensive hobbies.

The first step is avoiding the hobbies that are hard to manage:

  • hobbies that require spending to participate – this means things like gym and golf club memberships, and green fees
  • hobbies with masses of potential equipment – unless you are confident that you a strong-willed enough to resist
  • consumption based hobbies like beer and wine are dangerous here, as are “gear-head” hobbies like photography and golf

The second step is cost-reduction.

There are a few tips on how I approach my own expensive hobbies below, but in general:

  1. stick to the core experience and don’t get carried away with fripperies
  2. don’t get competitive – you’re doing this for yourself, not to keep up with the Joneses
  3. buy equipment second-hand and use the minimum equipment possible, at the minimum quality level that will get the job done
  4. buy in bulk
  5. use digital over analogue alternatives
  6. take advantage of free resources
  7. avoid hobby magazines and websites, or at least the ones based around ads for “must-have” new gadgets and services
  8. try to enjoy your hobby with like-minded people – social pressure is hard to resist, so look out for people with the same approach to the hobby that you have
My hobbies

I have six main activities that might be called hobbies – they are optional and they take up a significant amount of my time.

I’m very active with three of them at the moment:

  1. football – this is a life-long passion, a religion to me.
    • I’ve been a fan for almost 50 years now, and a season-ticket holder for half that time ((I grew up 230 miles from the ground, so I had to wait a while to move closer ))
    • What’s changed in that time is the cost.
    • Being a season-ticket holder means 20+ home games a season at £50 a ticket and £40+ for travel, food and drink.
    • That’s £1.8K a season – not cheap at all.
    • This is mostly a passion hobby, with a side order of social.
  2. keeping tropical and marine fish
    • I took this up later in life, when I felt I could afford it.
    • fish-keeping costs a lot to get started (tanks, equipment, livestock) and only slightly less to maintain
    • electricity to heat all my tanks is more than £1,000 a year, and fish don’t live as long as people, (or even cats and dogs)
    • but it scores high on achievement, relaxation and mindfulness.
  3. writing – I’ve been writing all my life, so this is another passion hobby.
    • At the moment my focus is this blog, but I’ve also written screenplays, poems, novels and short-stories.
    • Writing is cheap and wonderfully creative.
    • I’m probably spending almost nothing directly on this.
See also:  What is Financial Independence and FIRE?

I then have three other creative outlets that I pick up and put down intermittently:

  1. photography – for a long time this was a passion, but the decline in public respect for and appreciation of good photography has left me a bit disillusioned.
    • I still carry a camera everywhere ((I don’t mean the one on my smart phone )) but I don’t use it very often.
    • Photography can be as expensive as you want it to be, but the move to digital has massively reduced the cost.
    • Film and development costs used to severely restrict the number of pictures you could afford to take, which in turn slowed down your learning process.
    • I spent a fair bit of money converting to digital, and then replacing the first generation equipment when sensors got better and bodies got smaller.
    • Things have reached a quality level I’m happy with now, and this hobby probably costs me less than £100 a year now.
  2. drawing and painting – I really got into this in the couple of years before I started my blog, but I find it hard to set aside time at the moment.
    • I’ve always been interested in art, and 30 years of photography meant that I had well-developed visual sense.
    • I keep the costs low by mostly using digital rather than physical equipment.
    • It isn’t quite good enough for fine art at the moment, but by the time I’m good enough, it should be.
    • There was a lot of equipment (computers, graphics pads etc.) to buy a few years ago, but I’m probably down to less than £100 a year on this as well now.
  3. music – I play several musical instruments (guitar, piano, drums) very badly, and have done for many years.
    • When I have more time, I want to get into music production, which is relatively simple these days.
    • Once again, there was a lot of equipment to buy at first, but it lasts a long time.
    • I’m not spending any money on music at the moment.

I have a couple of other things to report.

First, I have a couple of cats.

  • They cost upwards of £1,000 a year between them in food and vet’s fees.
  • But as I work from home all day, I get that back several times over.

I also have one more activity that consumes a fair amount of time and a lot of money – eating out.

  • But as that is driven largely by my partner I won’t consider it in detail here.

I also expect to add another “hobby” when my partner finally retires – travelling. ((We take a couple of weeks away at the moment, but I would like to do more ))

These hobbies and activities are seriously expensive – probably a third of my expenses at the moment.

  • This is way more than most experts would recommend – probably 10% at most.
  • But I can fit them into our budget, and I get a lot out of them.

And I do question this once a year, and decide whether to continue.

And I do try to keep the costs down:

  • I don’t buy team jerseys, match programmes, or other football memorabilia.
  • I buy fish food in bulk, and switch to LED lighting as existing fixtures fail.
  • I buy photography and musical equipment second-hand.
  • I paint electronically.
  • I use shared hosting and free WordPress to make this blog.

It also helps that I am retired, and that the most expensive item – eating out – is driven largely by my partner being time-poor.

  • When she retires, we’ll spend less money on eating out, though probably more on travelling.
  • But by then, everything we do will effectively be a hobby.

It’s pretty clear that once you are financially independent (retired), hobbies are a good thing.

  • You have plenty of time, and need mental, physical and social stimulation.
  • Anything that you can fit in and pay for from your budget is fair game.
  • What else are you going to do with your time and money?

The picture is less clear when you are still accumulating wealth.

  • Expensive and / or time-consuming hobbies will slow you down, and you need to be aware of the trade-off that you are making.
  • At the same time, some kind of break from the work / family routine will do you good.
  • So choose one or two things that are different from what you do with the rest of your time, and exercise different parts of your body and mind.

Do you agree? Let me know in the comments either way.

Until next time.

Mike is the owner of 7 Circles, and a private investor living in London. He has been managing his own money for 39 years, with some success.

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4 Responses

  1. Martin says:

    Hi Mike, an interesting article and is something that is never far from my mind. I originally come from a poor family background where my older relatives have a ‘cart horse’ mentality in that they work hard most of their lives and then don’t know what to do with themselves when they reach a stage of financial freedom. Developing interests throughout your life is important but increasingly difficult what with having to manage a pension, navigate the the education of children and hold down a job. I will dust down the piano next week and start playing again!

  2. Stuart says:

    Just a thought… You may wish to combine your writing and eating out interests by applying to be a Mystery Shopper. The Mystery Dining Company offer assignments all over the country at major pub and restaurant chains. Who says there’s no such thing as a free lunch?! I hope this helps.

  3. weenie says:

    It’s funny that I had expensive hobbies when I really couldn’t afford them!

    If I ignore the hobbies which you don’t class as hobbies, then I currently really only have two – home brewing beer (which saves me money) and matched betting (which makes me money). These two I would hope to keep on when I no longer need to work full time.

    I could also class ‘football’ as a hobby – every season, I will invariably run either a predictions or fantasy football, which makes me no money (as I never win) but which I very much enjoy. I used to go to a few matches but frugality has kicked that into touch.

    I have romantic notions about learning to play a musical instrument but much more likely is that I would learn to speak another language.

    Painting was also a hobby that I would love to get back into.

    I know for a fact that hobbies will keep me very busy but I’ll need to watch the cost element of them all.

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Are hobbies frugal?

by Mike Rawson time to read: 9 min