Hobbies on a budget

Are your favourite hobbies taking a hit while you count your pennies? It may be tempting to write them off as luxuries, but our favourite pastimes are worth our time and money. They feed our creativity, offer physical activity and mental stimulation, provide stress relief and, if we’re honest, we enjoy them too much to give them up.

However, you don’t have to spend a lot to reap the benefits. Whether you’re into sports, cooking, crafts or the arts, here are some budget-friendly ways to make the most of your favourite hobbies.

Set up a budget — and a separate account. Your hobbies are important, so why not make them a line item in your budget? Set limits so you don’t overspend and track your funds so you can save up for big ticket items. If your hobby crosses into other categories like gifts, entertainment or groceries, allot your cash accordingly.

Another helpful tactic: set up a separate bank account for “fun money” and transfer in a sum on a weekly or monthly basis.

Take stock of what you have. Impulse buys can put a serious dent in your wallet — especially when you unknowingly purchase something you don’t need. Before you hit to the stores and shows, go through what you already have and make a list of your tools, materials and unfinished projects. Make sure to jot down anything you need to finish a project or help you improve your technique.

Reuse. Previous generations didn’t have the luxury of running to the store every time they needed materials. Instead, they collected and creatively reused what they had. Chances are there are many things around your home and yard you can use. For instance, save the wood from a fallen branch to make Christmas tree ornaments or use good quality clothing to make a crazy quilt. Broken dishes can become a mosaic — and papers, postcards and stickers can add to your scrapbooking stash.

Swap and share. Even the most careful hobbyists end up with extra materials, unneeded items and abandoned projects. Why not trade them for something you can use? Organize a swap meet with your friends, or share your items through free services like Freecycle.org. (You can put in a request for items too.)

Buy used. Whether it’s sports equipment, a musical instrument or a particular tool you’re looking for, there are plenty of good quality used items for sale. Check at your favourite stores for items on consignment, shop used stores and check the classifieds (both online and in print). Do a little background research first so you’ll know how to spot quality and dodge any safety concerns.

Use quality items. True, they may cost more at the outset, but good quality tools and materials are a worthwhile investment. They’re easier to use, more pleasurable to work with and they’ll hold up better over time. Not only will you be more likely to finish your project, but you’ll also be more satisfied and your hard work will last longer too.

Take care of your tools. No one wants to replace tools due to carelessness or neglect. Find out how to properly care for and store your tools. For example, humid basements are the worst place to store machinery, and see-through containers may not protect materials from fading.

Just like your home and car, regular maintenance saves you money in the long run. For instance, make sure your sewing machine is oiled regularly and gets a good servicing now and then, and that the blades on your saw get replaced promptly to avoid harming you or your work.

Catch a free demonstration or workshop. If you don’t mind the sales pitch, you can learn a few techniques or try out the latest products for free by attending demos at your favourite stores. Of course, many demonstrations aren’t about products — you can also try out a new fitness class (like belly dancing or yoga) or pick up tips you can use at home, like cooking techniques.

Drop in for a UFO class. Need some motivation to tackle those UnFinished Objects? See if your local store or guild has a UFO class. For a small fee, you can bring in your work for some expert help and try out the tools the store has on hand. In addition, many stores offer special discounts for class members.

Create for a cause. It’s a win-win situation: the charity supplies the materials, you contribute the labour. You can get out for a day and meet new people — like joining a build with Habitat for Humanity — or work at home at your own pace creating items like blankets and mittens. For example, head to your nearest yarn shop that supports Project Linus and sign up for a bag of yarn to make a blanket for a needy child.

Join (or start) a group. Everyone has expertise and ideas to share, so why not join in? In addition to local guilds, many professional organizations, recreation centres and churches have groups tailored to specific interests.

Can’t find a group in your area? Start your own games club or book club, swap cooking lessons with the neighbours or get together with fellow crafters for a weekly stitch and — well, you get the idea.

Connect online. There are online groups and communities for just about any interest where you can swap tips, locate local shops and specialty goods and find plenty of inspiration — not to mention free patterns and ideas. Check in social networking sites big and small, and look for niche communities (like Ravelry.com for knitters).

Blogs and e-zines are another source of free inspiration and ideas. For example, improve your composition skills by following photography blogs or find great gourmet recipes through food blogs.

Sign up for deals. You watch the fliers, you clip the coupons and you’re on the newsletter mailing list, but did you know many shops have expanded their marketing strategies to include e-newsletters, email offers and social media as well? “Like” their page on Facebook, and see what tips and other freebees (like free patterns) they offer on their website or blog.

Earn some cash. Turn your hobby into a money-making venture by selling your goods or starting your own business. Websites like Etsy.com and eBay make it easier to get your handmade items out to a wider customer base. (For more information, see Turn talents into cash.)

Know when to let go. Is an old project or abandoned hobby weighing you down? Don’t let guilt cause you to spend more time and money on something you no longer find enjoyable. Avoid the lure of the “sunk cost” — write it off as a spending mistake and find your UFO a new home by swapping it, donating it or selling it.

How do you save money on your favourite hobbies? Add to this list in the comments.