How to Save Money on Expensive Hobbies

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How collector hobbyists can save money using credit cards

For centuries, hobbyists throughout the world have collected, traded, and cared for valuable items usually with two purposes in mind: preserving history and making a profit. In particular, those interested in coins, stamps, and fine art have established a culture of appreciation, both aesthetically and in terms of monetary value. Although there is room for collectors of all interest levels, most will agree that becoming a collector is not cheap.

Expenses associated with collecting coins, stamps, and art include: travel, storage/display, the actual purchase of items, and more. Whether you’re just starting out or have years of expertise, the following guide will provide tips on how to save money while collecting, like exploring the benefits of rewards credit cards. For collectors, using rewards cards is a great way of cashing in on unavoidable expenses, especially for those with an interest in:

  1. Coin collecting
  2. Stamp collecting
  3. Art collecting

What does it cost to collect for a hobby?

There’s a perception that collecting art, stamps, or coins is only possible for the wealthy. Although some of the most highly-sought items in the world are worth fortunes, there is plenty of room in the space for people with modest budgets.

If you’re interested in becoming a serious collector, consider some of the most common expenses:

  • Travel — coins, stamps, and art all have significant followings, meaning you’ll probably want to attend trade shows, auctions, or visit dealers.
  • Storage — proper care and storage of your coins, stamps, or art will also include framing or display.
  • Insurance, documentation, appraisal — the value of your collectibles is dependent on its appraisal.

Depending on how much of an investment you want to make in your new hobby, you can expect to spend very little or up to thousands of dollars per year. A few trips to trade shows and original piece purchases will add up to a hefty sum alone.

Maybe you’re just in it for the fun, in which case, you won’t have to worry about the more intensive costs like insurance and appraisal. Whatever the case may be, there are ways to get into collecting (or continue building your collection) without breaking the bank.

What are the benefits of collecting coins, stamps, or art as a hobby?

If you are interested in becoming a collector, chances are you have some level of enthusiasm for what you’re collecting. True, there are cost benefits to building a collection and many view them as investments, but most would agree that there is a genuine appreciation for the art and history itself.

For this reason, the benefits of collecting coins, stamps, or art are both monetary and intangible:

  • Building a collection that appreciates in value
  • Expanding your knowledge of history, geography, and art
  • Joining a community of like-minded individuals
  • Traveling to new places domestically and internationally
  • Maintaining mental sharpness in later years

Although the connection to monetary value is a vital part of collecting coins, stamps, or art, there is an undeniable social aspect to it as well. Many collectors find that the pursuit of their next big item can lead to new friendships, favorite destinations, and an overall healthier social life.

The collectors’ market

As is the case with any other market, collectors of coins, stamps, and art will notice fluctuations in the value of their items over time. The good news is that there has been (and likely always will be) a significant number of people invested in these kinds of collectibles.

  • Numismatic News reports that the size of the U.S. rare coins market in 2017 was between $3.4 billion and $3.8 billion. Any way you cut it, that’s a big number.
  • Stamp collectors can track the value of their stamps using a Standard Postage Stamp Catalogue, published annually by Scott Publishing Company. “Scott numbers” are unique to this particular publisher and are widely accepted as the standard for U.S. stamp values.
  • A number of factors affect the market for fine art. As some of the most expensive art in the world is only attainable for very few, the majority of folks interested in collecting art tend to act in accordance with greater economic trends. During the American recession starting in 2008, the art world suffered.

If you want to get into the collectors’ game, keep in mind that there are short-term gains and long-term investments. Differentiating between the two is a skill in mastery that comes with experience.

Coin collecting

Coin collectors vary in age, occupation, and background, but the largest segment of numismatists (coin collectors) are those age 60 and above, according to Gary Adkins, President of the American Numismatic Association. Since the population of coin collectors is so large and diverse, the experience itself is usually very unique to the collector.

For instance, many coin collectors begin their journey at an early age. The first mission might be something as simple as finding U.S. quarters from every state. For an experienced coin collector, rare Roman coins may be the prize. Although the two journeys share a similar origin, they are very different in terms of cost, time, and other invested resources.

Start by laying out the core costs associated with coin collecting:

  1. Travel — Avid numismatists have plenty of opportunities to travel throughout the U.S. for trade shows, auctions, and other events. PCGS (Professional coin Grading Service), often considered the standard in coin grading, hosts trade shows throughout the year. The American Numismatic Association is another great resource for finding events for coin collectors. Whether you’re traveling in-state, regionally, or across the country, you’ll run into typical travel costs: airfare, hotel bookings, etc.
    • How to save: If you’re not already, make use of a travel rewards credit card. Collect points on purchases made for flights and more, then redeem them for free or discounted travel in the future. You have tons of options—airline cards, hotel cards, general rewards, and more. Do some research on what your biggest travel expenses are and choose a credit card that offers the most valuable rewards in that spending category.
  2. Upkeep and storage/display — The United States Mint is a great resource for learning about all the tools you need to maintain a coin collection. The basics include: a magnifying glass, padded jeweler’s tray, plastic ruler, soft cotton gloves, and other items. The Mint also suggests storing coins in their original holders in a cool, dry place.
    • How to save: Most of the supplies you need to keep your coin collection looking its best are relatively inexpensive and can be purchased at any craft store. If you’d like to minimize these expenses even more, consider a rewards credit card that offers cash back or points. Some cards like the Bank of America® Cash Rewards Credit Card offer cash back on purchases at grocery stores. Simply purchase a gift card at a grocery store and use it to pay for your coin-related items. You’ll earn rewards for spending at a grocery store and transfer those savings onto your coin costs!
  3. Coin documentation — If your collection has grown so large it’s difficult to keep tabs on what you actually own, invest in coin documentation software. Popular options like Exact Change and EzCoin offer everything you need to organize your collection and document its value.
    • How to save: Most coin documentation software can be purchased through PayPal. Consider using one of PayPal’s credit cards, which offer cash or points on all PayPal purchases. Other solid options include cards like the Chase Freedom®, which comes with rotating quarterly bonus categories like purchases made with PayPal.
  4. Coin insurance —  If your coin collection has significant value, it’s absolutely worth it to have it insured. To do so, the collection will need to be appraised (which is easier if it’s already well-documented). Appraisal and insurance are well worth it, should you ever need them.
    • How to save: Your collection is only as valuable as your appraisal is reputable. Find a PCGS-authorized dealer near you and realize that the appraisal/insurance is a cost that’s not worth skimping on. It should be noted, though that by properly caring for your coins, you will likely receive a more generous appraisal.

No matter where you live or the amount of money you’re prepared to invest in your coin collection, there are savings to be had. Don’t be afraid to shop around and decline offers on your collection. Maximizing your return is about timing, staying educated on the market, and keeping the collection moving.

Stamp Collecting

Philately, or stamp collecting, is practiced by more than 5 million people in the United States, according to Linn’s Stamp News. If you’re a philatelist, you’re likely aware of the fact that some rare stamps can be worth thousands of dollars or more; but most stamp collectors practice their hobby without breaking the bank.

Stamp collecting can be an investment, but it is more often an exercise in the appreciation of art, government, and postal history. Much like coin collectors, philatelists come from all walks of life with all levels of dedication and investment.

Consider the most common costs for stamp collection to learn how to save money:

  1. Travel — If you’re interested in attending events like StampShow, the AmeriStamp Expo, or Postal History Symposium, you’ll be traveling all across the United States. Visit the American Philatelic Society event calendar for other sponsored events.
    • How to save: Perhaps you don’t travel often and aren’t interested in flying back and forth across the country for your hobby, but you still want to visit a stamp show for the first time. Consider applying for a travel rewards credit card with a nice sign-up bonus. Rewards cards like the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card offer 60,000 bonus points or more after you meet the spending requirements within the first three months. That initial stockpile of travel points will likely be enough to get domestic airfare for one trip, or give you a big discount at least.
  2. Upkeep and storage/display — Most stamp collectors, from novices to dedicated enthusiasts, store their stamps in either stockbooks or stamp albums. Stockbooks are blank, allowing you space to define your own collection and include any secondary decorations or features you’d like. Stamp albums are pre-built with explanatory text and dedicated spots for stamps. Albums are ready to go—you just fill in the blanks.
    • How to save:  Saving on the storage of stamps is simply a matter of shopping around for the right version of the album you’re looking for. You can find less expensive versions by doing your research and perusing stamp auctions for a good deal. Much like buying the stamps themselves, by checking out dealers and antique sales, you can find stamp albums at a discount.
  3. Documentation/appraisal and insurance — Much like with coins, stamps of value need to be appraised and documented for tracking and value proposition. If your collection is growing rapidly, it makes sense to have it appraised more often. If you don’t buy or sell often and your collection is modest, having it appraised every couple of years is sufficient.
    • How to save: Appraisal and insurance is not the area to skimp on. Having a professional stamp appraiser examine your collection should cost only a few hundred dollars at most, and is well worth it if you have invested serious effort and money.

As your stamp collection grows, the expenses you’ll incur may also grow. The more time you invest in perfecting your album, the more likely it is that you’ll want to travel to a show or well-known dealer in another city. Although it’s certainly possible to invest a hefty amount into philately, keep in mind that it’s not required to enjoy the hobby.

Art Collecting

Collecting art is often thought of as a hobby and profession for only those with immense wealth. With some compromise, educated shopping, and genuine appreciation for the work itself, you’ll find that the rewards of art collecting can be had on any budget. Like every other hobby discussed thus far, art collecting is practiced by millions worldwide through endless mediums.

Those who collect art can either choose to collect pieces that they personally love, or buy and sell as a means of making profit. Collectors can do both, but you’ll find that most gravitate toward one or the other. The first step in becoming an art collector is deciding what kind of art you’d like to collect and how that impacts your goals as a collector.

Whether you’re a recent art school graduate or have purchased pieces from galleries around the world, there are ways to offset the cost of collecting art.

  1. Buying art — Know that there is art to be found everywhere—galleries, auctions, antique stores, online stores. Beverly Solomon, Creative Director of Beverly Solomon Design, says, “Galleries come and go. They have been hit hard by online art sales. On occasion you can get great buys as galleries want to sell off inventory before they shut down.” In short, look around.
    • How to save: If you find a work you like, don’t be afraid to build a rapport with the artist or curator of the gallery. Ask them if you can work out a payment plan; chances are, if the gallery is closing or looking to get rid of a collection, they will be more willing to work with you. If the piece has a big price tag, pay for it with a credit card that comes with an introductory APR period. Cards like the Chase Freedom Unlimited® will let you pay off a purchase over the course of 15 months, without interest (16.49% – 25.24% variable APR thereafter) .
  2. Storage/display — After-purchase costs of owning art can often be as substantial as the price of the work itself. There are framing costs, installation fees, and monthly storage fees to consider. Depending on where you live, it can be more or less beneficial to store your art in a private space. If you’re a Manhattan art dealer, chances are you’ll be paying a huge premium.
    • How to save:  Saving on storage is a matter of finding the right location for your art and networking with those in the art community. You may be able to share gallery space or put your pieces on loan with a gallery that really wants them, even if it’s for a very brief time. Pay for extraneous expenses like shipping, installation, and insurance using a rewards credit card and get bonus points.
  3. Appraisal — Art appraisal is the key to unlocking the true value of your collection. There are a number of reputable associations with authorized dealers you can visit; consider having your collection appraised annually if you plan on selling any time soon. Art appraisal is a somewhat subjective business, so sticking to one of the standards is advised—American Society of Appraisers, The Appraisers Association of America, International Society of Appraisers.
    • How to save: Saving on art appraisal is a matter of saving on travel expenses. If you have a valuable work of art and you want it appraised by the most reputable appraiser in the country, you’ll have to ship it. Doing so may be expensive, but it’s an excellent leverage piece when selling the item to potential buyers.

Another thing to consider when collecting art is the idea of stepping outside the art medium you gravitate to. Many who collect paintings ignore fantastic deals on sculpture and photography simply because it’s not what they normally look for. Getting a beautiful sculpture at a discount and selling it immediately to fund your true passion for paintings is an example of what it means to be an art collector.