To keep enjoying your hobbies in Singapore, you need to make smart financial decisions.
The idea of a “cheap hobby” will be a myth for many Singaporeans. Sure, buying watches may not cost as much as buying cars - but odds are, you’ll make up for it by buying more watches.
Don’t make the mistake of assuming hobbies are investments either. Most of the time, they aren’t.
All Hobbies Are Equally Expensive
Have you ever been amazed by how much someone spends on stamps, cosmetics, or video games? Or how your hobby - though it might seem cheap on the surface - ends up costing so much?
The reason is simple: our hobbies, regardless of what they are, tend to expand to occupy a certain portion of our income.
Let’s say your hobby is making model planes. When you were earning S$2,500 a month, you spent about $120 a month on this hobby - about five per cent of your income.
A year or so later, you get a raise. You earn S$3,500 a month. Will the hobby still cost you $120 a month? With rare exceptions, the answer is no. You may end up spending the same five per cent (perhaps even a little more) on your hobby. Now you will probably spend S$175 a month on it.
You may have noticed that, in any product line, that the price of specialist products go far beyond the norms. For example, for music lovers, a mid-range, performance level guitar might cost around S$3,500. But there are guitars that will sell for S$15,000 or more - and people are willing to buy them.
If music is your driving passion, you will find that you buy more expensive instruments as you earn more. The same is true for most hobbies. When you earn more, you don’t spend the same amount; you tend to just spend more on (1) buying greater quantities of what you like, or (2) buying more expensive versions of what you like.
This is why almost every hobby seems equally expensive, be it poster collecting or photography.
How Do You Enjoy Your Hobbies Without Going Broke?
Because the spending habits for different hobbies are similar, we have a bit of good news: the methods that work for one tend to work for most of them. Some ways of making your hobbies sustainable are:
- Do not buy more than you can enjoy at one time
- Do not spend on compromises
- Don’t hoard when storage becomes a problem
- Use trade-ins if your hobby permits
- Don’t go overboard trying to drag someone else in
1. Do Not Buy More Than You Can Enjoy at One Time
This is the most common way to make a hobby more expensive than it has to be.
There are bookworms who buy more books than they can read, or gamers who buy more games when haven’t played through 10 per cent of the titles they have.
The key is to slow down and enjoy every purchase. Make full use of what you’ve already bought. Don’t buy things now because you’ll “eventually buy them at some point anyway.” That’s probably true, but you don’t need to disrupt your cash flow because of it.
If your hobby is sound systems, make a pledge to watch two entire TV series before even thinking of buying more stuff. If you like collecting shoes, wear out your newest pair at least 10 different times you buy the next one.
Often, we make our hobbies unnecessarily expensive by purchasing more stuff than we can enjoy at once.
2. Do Not Spend on Compromises
You can compromise and look for cheaper substitutes when it’s a matter of function. When it comes to hobbies, this is just a way to waste money.
For example, if you love to travel and you need S$10,000 to explore Europe, then save up for it. Don’t compromise and take a S$7,000 package tour deal, because it won’t be the same.
You’re not saving S$3,000 on that compromise - you’re just wasting S$7,000.
The reason is simple: the dream of that personal tour will continue to nag at you, and you won’t be satisfied with the package. And if you do get the money later, you will go on the expensive tour anyway. That means the compromise was just a waste of money.
Conventional logic does not apply to hobby items. Hobbies are about emotional needs. You can spend less on a lightbulb or tea kettle and be unaffected, because those are functional items to which you have no emotional preference.
Hobbies are not like that - they stem from highly specific emotional needs. A cheap compromise will not “scratch your itch” at all.
3. Don’t Hoard When Storage Becomes a Problem
Not all hobbies require hoarding. For example, comics and luxury watches do, but not yoga and skydiving.
If you are lucky enough that your hobby is the latter, take full advantage of it. Don’t hoard old hobby items, to the point that you are renting storage space.
In truth, the best things about those items are probably not having them, but the memories they signify. So focus more on recording experiences (e.g. take movies of your skydive), and less on hoarding the actual equipment you used.
If your hobby is the former, consider selling or giving things away to a fellow hobbyist instead of hoarding them. You will know your old hobby items are going to a good home, with someone who will care for them. That’s better than paying out of pocket for them to gather dust in a corner.
Toy collectors, you’re especially guilty of this. Be honest: you know some of those toys lost their value as collector items a long time ago, and you can get rid of them.
Remember, keeping old things around stops you from buying new ones.
4. Use Trade-Ins if Your Hobby Permits
Here’s how a SingSaver.com.sg staff member ended up with a S$12,000 Gibson guitar:
He saved for half a year to buy a S$1,300 guitar. He played it for a year, while saving up another S$1,200. Then he traded in the guitar for S$1,000, and topped up the additional S$1,200 to get a S$2,200 instrument (his first Taylor).
Then he saved up $1,000 over another year, traded in that Taylor, and bought a $3,000 model, and so on. In that way, he got to enjoy a range of high-end instruments while gradually working up to the top.
There are many collection based hobbies, from luxury watches to bags, for which trades are possible. If it seems that the high tiers of your hobby items are unaffordable, or that you are just overspending, this is a good way to mitigate the cost.
5. Don’t Go Overboard Trying to Drag a Friend In
We are at our most generous when trying to entice other people to join our hobby. We have seen wine collectors allow newbies to sample S$200 bottles, and hiking fanatics pay for a friend’s plane ticket to accompany them.
When someone expresses interest in joining our hobby, most of us respond almost as if we are some kind of religious community, in search of a new convert. We like talking about what we love, and having people to share it with is a real kick.
The problem is, we sometimes lose track and it can get pretty darn expensive. So before you start giving away your things or buying gear for a potential new hobbyist, keep things in check.
Place a limit on what exactly you will do for the newbie. And if possible, rope in other members of the hobby community to throw in freebies. You shouldn’t have to be the sole representative of your hobby community.
Use the Right Credit Card to Earn Points From What You Spend
Credit cards can go a long way into helping you save money on your hobby, if you choose the right one. Most hobbies will require some sort of retail spend, so you'll want to get a cashback credit card to enjoy a small discount from it. Try something like the Standard Chartered Unlimited Credit Card, which gives you 1.5% cashback on anything you spend.
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