Investing in hobbies can be money well spent — just don’t take on debt

Personal finance

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People often start the year by revisiting their budgets with a resolution to save money and cut back on discretionary spending. Yet, experts say hobbies shouldn’t be the first category to go.

Americans on average spent $3,458 on entertainment in 2022, according to the most recent Consumer Expenditures report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. This broad category covers a range of expenses that people consider hobbies, as well as concert tickets and pets.

Costs can vary widely depending on the hobby involved. For instance, after the initial purchase of supplies, gardening runs an average of $70 per person per year, according to Bigger Garden, while Stitch Golf puts the annual costs of golfing at about $2,000 to $2,500.

Spending on activities that bring you joy should not be left in the rearview mirror, experts say. If done wisely, cash spent on your hobbies is money well spent.

“I tell my clients all the time how important self-care is,” said Rebecca Weiler, a licensed mental health counselor in New York City. “It helps people to live longer, it helps people enjoy life more, it gives people something to look forward to.”

How much should you spend on a hobby?

A lot of times, startup costs for hobbies and interests are very expensive, said Weiler. Yet, there are often beginner-friendly alternatives you should take note of before you make bigger purchases.

Research the new sport or creative outlet you’re interested in and find out the basic tools you may need.

Take pickleball, for example: The total cost to play the sport will depend on the type of paddle you choose, athletic shoes and attire, balls, court rental and tournament fees. You can find entry-level paddles between $15 and $50, while higher-end models go upward of $100.

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There may be free or low-cost options you could explore, such as free trials, a reduced introductory fee or even a payment plan. You can also borrow gear from friends while you try out the new hobby or consider rental options. Some libraries also offer access to hobby-related items such as gardening tools, sports equipment and musical instruments.

Start small. “Audit a class versus signing up for a class,” said Weiler. See if the activity is truly something you enjoy before you are financially committed to it.

Don’t finance a new hobby on debt

If you do enjoy the hobby, find a way to make it financially sustainable. “Create an effective, realistic budget that will allow you to start a hobby that makes you happy,” said J.R. George, senior vice president at Trustco Bank.

However, if the hobby requires you to take out debt, tread with caution. While credit cards and loans can be tools to help you reach certain milestones, it may not be in your best interest to take on debt to pay for a new hobby or creative outlet.

“It almost becomes a forced hobby. You feel like you are absolutely forced to do it,” said George.

For example, George has seen some banking clients fall into this pitfall when they take up boating.

You trap yourself in a mindset of “I have this boat, I have to use it,” or “Now I have to do the hobby because I’ve incurred an expense for it,” he added.

Does money spent on hobbies buy happiness?

Another reason to preserve your hobby budget: Such spending may buy happiness.

Several studies have found that people are happier when they spend money on experiences rather than material goods, while researchers at the University of Cambridge found that individuals who spent more on products that match their personality reported higher levels of satisfaction.

“Somebody working really hard at their job who knows they have something to look forward to outside of that will be a better employee,” said Wailer.

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