This guest post was written by Jenny Saikwa.

Our friends’ weeks and weekends are crammed full of various pursuits – soccer, baseball, gardening, scrapbooking, calligraphy, swimming, dressage, sailing … the list goes on and on. And let’s face it: No matter what the hobby is, it’s going to involve the wallet.

There is a price of entry for virtually every hobby, beyond which the sky is the limit. And after watching the Olympians compete this summer, I started thinking about just how far you can take these pursuits and how much it costs to go there. How do you decide if you’re spending too much?

The intangibles

All in all, the pursuit of a hobby, sport, or interest can be rewarding on so many levels that it seems pointless to weigh the cost against the benefits. The mastery of any skill produces confidence, tenacity, and appreciation. Team-building adds social awareness, cooperation, and respect. Pursuing a sport usually leads to better health, and, for a lucky few, a gold medal.

The hidden costs

But it’s easy for a hobby to spin out of control before you even realize it. For instance, were many of the Olympians’ parents aware when they enrolled their sons and daughters in lessons that they could soon be paying $15,000 a year on average for camp, competitions, airfare, and training?

My friend Katrina loves horseback riding. She expects to pay $1,000 for a horse — at least. But then she has to house and feed it, to the tune of $350 a month. She regularly shells out $200 for various unexpected expenses too, and that’s over and above tack and trailer. And to top it all off, when she became interested in entering her prize stallion in a horse show, she found that competing added another $1,500 annually per horse.

Three months ago, Jonathan bought a used 1977 Canon AE-1 to enjoy taking pictures with his dad. So far, he’s spent $800 purchasing the camera, filters and lenses, paying for film, processing, and frames. This is another passion where costs can skyrocket, but Jonathan is finding ways to keep his expenses down. He budgets about $100 a month for his passion and combs the thrift stores for frames and Craigslist for equipment. Plus, he develops his film at Walmart.

The other surprises

After paying $247.50 for all the soccer paraphernalia for his first season, Tracey’s son, Brody, lost interest and started playing in the grass rather than running on the field because “he didn’t want to go.” When her daughter started ballet lessons, she got stage fright and refused to do anything unless she held her mother’s hand. They had to quit after the third week, and there were no refunds. Eighty-five dollars spent for lessons, tutus, and slippers that will not be used by this little one.

Personally, it’s hard to say that getting to hold your daughter’s hand and letting her know you’re there for her isn’t worth the $85. Still, knowing the benefits and costs of a hobby or sport really just scratches the surface. When you consider what it means to Jonathan to be able to enjoy a common interest with his father or the personal satisfaction of becoming a world-class gymnast, do the sacrifices pale by comparison or scream for restraint?

In pursuit of passion

If you’ve gotten involved in a sport or hobby only to find that the continuing costs are prohibitive, what was your strategy to stop the budget drain? Did you limit yourself to a certain budget from the start or just dive right in? Maybe you decided you had to sacrifice other things because the passion meant so much to you. Either way, hopefully you’re the richer for it.

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