Money Traps: Hobbies Gone Wild

Ridiculous Drumset

Two drum sets stand before you, both equal in their splendor. They’re both top-of-the-line instruments, made out of the same type of materials, by two reputable manufacturers. Either one is available in a wide range of styles, configurations and colors, and each one — if properly tuned and played — is capable of producing high-quality sound. They are virtually equal in every way, except for one: Set A costs $2,000, while Set B costs $4,500.

Which do you buy?

The answer should seem obvious (“The cheaper set!”), but all too often it’s not. Many people — even intelligent, well disciplined people — lose their brains when it comes to spending money on their hobbies. Having fun is great. but if you let your hobbies run wild, they’re likely to turn into a money trap.

We’ve been talking a lot about money traps lately in this section of God, Money & Me. In general, a money trap is a habit, attitude or activity that slowly sucks funds out of our lives over time. A money trap can be a serious addiction like gambling, drinking or smoking, or even a pervasive point of view, like the comfort of the middle class. Today we’re going to talk about how hobbies — even perfectly good hobbies — can turn into money traps if we let them get out of control.

I gave the example of buying drums because that’s the hobby I know. Spend any time with serious musicians, and you’ll learn that their instruments and gear can get very expensive… and many musicians want to buy new gear every year. But it’s not just musicians that spend a lot on their pastimes; show me a hobby, and I’ll show you someone who spends ridiculous sums of money on it. Golf? Check. Scuba diving? Absolutely. Motorcycles? For sure. Civil War re-enactment? You bet.

You probably don’t have to branch out too far into your social network to find someone who spends a lot of money on hobbies. You know golfers that spend thousands of dollars on clubs and hundreds on green fees. Gun collectors — collectors of any kind, for that matter — are known to spend thousands of dollars on a century-old antique. It can cost tens of thousands of dollars to install a pool in your backyard. And the equipment required  for outdoor adventure activities like kayaking, climbing or skiing can get very expensive, very quickly.

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with having hobbies, and nothing wrong with spending money on them. But we get into trouble when we become so obsessed with our hobbies and the gear that they require that we neglect other aspects of  our financial lives.

Remember, God outlines his Master Plan for your money in scripture, and it goes like this:

  1. Provide for your family.
  2. Tithe to your local church.
  3. Give generously to bless others.
  4. Save to build an inheritance for future generations.
  5. Enjoy what’s leftover in a responsible way.

Hobbies fall into the “Enjoy” category — the one that is the last priority. That’s the category that you can spend money on once you’ve fulfilled all of the other categories. And no matter how wealthy you are or how big your income is, the “Enjoy” category should never represent a large portion of your overall financial life.

So, how do you know if your hobbies have gone wild? Here are some warning signs to look for:

1) You’re broke.

If you make a point to enjoy your hobbies but find yourself running out of money each month, there’s a good chance that you’re spending too much on hobbies. The solution is to put together a solid budget to control your money and determine how much you can spend on hobbies every month — and then stick to that amount.

2) Your giving is suffering.

God requires His people to tithe, and He also intends for us to be generous in giving to the poor and supporting ministries that work in His Kingdom. Both of those things rank above hobbies on life’s priority list. So if you find yourself spending money on hobbies while forsaking your tithing and giving, you’ve got your priorities out of line. Using your money for your own enjoyment before using it to help others is just selfishness, plain and simple.

3) You’re not investing.

Part of being financially responsible means preparing for retirement and your future. In today’s world, the best way to do that is investing, usually in mutual funds. If you’re spending money on your hobbies but  failing to invest for your future, you’re just shortchanging yourself down the road. And no matter what anybody tells you, your guns, guitars, stamps, coins or anything else that you collect are not investments. While some high-cost items retain their value or even appreciate over time, that can change very quickly as collectible markets move. And virtually no collectibles do as well over time as good mutual funds do. You can’t fund your future on the pile of stuff that you’ve accumulated throughout your life.

4) You’re going into debt.

With the exception of purchasing a home, borrowing money is never, ever a good idea. Unfortunately, many hobbies can entail purchases that cost thousands — or tens of thousands — of dollars. If you find yourself borrowing money to fund your hobbies, stop immediately. The fun that you’ll have with the purchase is not worth the bondage it brings in the long term. Hobbies should always be paid for in cash with money that you’ve saved. Don’t ever borrow money to buy a hobby item, even if you think you can afford the payments.

5) You’re buying pro-level gear… and you’re not a pro

This is one of the biggest pitfalls of hobbyists everywhere. You see your heroes — athletes, musicians, celebrities, etc. — use a certain kind of equipment, and you want to use it too. Often, that special stuff costs an exceptional amount of money. Why? Because it’s top-of-the-line equipment designed for use by professionals. It’s expensive because it is made of the finest materials, precision-crafted, and affords the maximum opportunities for success. Professionals are willing to pay these high prices because top-level equipment gives them a competitive advantage, and they’ll make much more money with the item than the spend on the item. But you’re not a professional — you probably never will be — and that top-flight equipment isn’t going to make your skills any better… or make you any money. You simply don’t need to spend the cash for pro-level gear; you can have just as much fun with reasonably priced equipment designed for hobbyists.

So, what’s the truth about your hobbies? If you keep them in their proper context, they can be an incredibly enriching part of your life. Let them get out of control, however, and they turn into money traps.

Next time you go shopping for drums, do yourself a favor and buy Set A.


Photo by Karmal Aboul-Hosn. Used under Creative Commons License.

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