Making and Doing: The Value of Productive Hobbies

I spent a couple hours this morning performing what ought to have been a simple home-maintenance task. The light fixture on our front porch had gone faulty, and I needed to replace it. I've done enough wiring projects now that the electrical aspect of the job didn't bother me. But the woodworking? That was frustrating.

As I fumbled with the jigsaw (“Drat! Another blade bent!”), I wished again that I practiced woodworking more often. I have several friends who do so, and the skills they've learned help them to save money around the house. My incompetence this morning gave me plenty of time to reflect on the value of productive hobbies.

Productive hobbies
When I was younger, I spent most of my spare time reading comic books and playing video games. There's nothing wrong with a little self-indulgence, but the older I get, the more I appreciate hobbies that provide practical skills. Productive pastimes are not only fulfilling, but they can also help save money. (Sometimes they can even generate a little income!)

Here are a few hobbies and pastimes that can help to save (or make) money:

    • Gardening. Kris and I aren't yet finished with our year-long garden project, but already we know that it has saved us money. (Find out just how much when we post an update this Saturday.) Even if it did cost a little more, it's fantastic to have fresh food just feet from the front door. You don't need a lot of space to start a garden. Consider square-foot gardening or container gardening.

 

    • Photography. Cameras can be a money sink, but photography doesn't have to be expensive. You can have a lot of fun with a cheap point-and-shoot digital camera. With practice, you may even be able to make money selling digital photos online. I know several people who do this (and I've done it myself).

 

 

    • Woodworking. Carpentry is another hobby that can consume a lot of cash. But if you have the space and the time, you can also develop skills that yield big dividends in the long run. If I'd taken the time to learn woodworking, I wouldn't have to pay a contractor to do some of our remodeling projects. (And I wouldn't have cut a four-inch hole this morning when I only needed a three-inch hole.)

 

    • Knitting. As with many hobbies, knitting can be expensive, but there are ways to make it less so. Nell at Octopus Knits has pattern companies and yarn folks giving her product (yarns & patterns) to try. Some of my friends have taken commissioned projects. Kris is learning to knit adorable little stuffed animals; she could sell them for $20 a pop.

 

    • Computer repair. Because I've always been a computer hobbyist, I'm able to troubleshoot computer problems instead of paying somebody to do it for me. Before I turned Mac, I also saved money by building my own machines. In fact, for a couple years, I supplemented my regular salary by helping friends and family with their computer problems.

 

    • Art. Last week, I pointed to the work of lillyella, whose art generates enough income through her Etsy store that she now does it full time. In the past, I've also mentioned Ayla, a teenager who sells her art glass at the local farmers market. Kris has a friend who is learning how to work with stained glass, but just for fun.

 

    • Cooking. My friend Laura has a group of friends that love to cook. They recently organized a cooking evening to provide freezer meals for each of them.  They decided on six menus, assigned the shopping, borrowed a church's kitchen, divided duties like cutting, slicing, dicing, mixing, frying, cleaning, split the costs and each went home with six different items for future use. But even learning to cook for your own family can save you a lot of money.

 

    • Baking. Baking is fun for its own sake, but it can also save you money with gifts. Who wouldn't rather have a couple dozen home-baked cookies than another useless mug? Some people can even turn this skill into a career. My aunt turned a baking hobby into a business, creating cakes and catering weddings. She provided jobs for several other family members, too!

 

    • Canning. Though Kris has always enjoyed canning, this summer has been amazing. She's discovered it's a hobby she truly loves. She derives immense satisfaction from preserving her own food. “It's comforting to walk into the pantry and know that I made all of this,” she said recently. “I know where the food came from, and I know that we'll be eating it all winter.” Though the start-up costs are a little high, they repay a hobbyist in time.

 

 

    • Making music. My friend Michael has a musician friend who plays the piano and has been paid to play at private events. He has another friend with a great voice. This man loves to sing, and he and his friends hire themselves out as a quartet around Valentines Day and to sing Christmas carols during the holidays. (I'm always jealous of my musical friends. I know it's hard work to become proficient, but it looks like such a fun way to stay entertained.)

 

    • Vehicle maintenance. I know little about cars. I wish I knew more. Knowing even basic vehicle maintenance can save you big bucks. I once knew a guy who performed nearly all his own auto work. He could buy a junker car, fix it up, and resell it at a nice profit. He wasn't going to get rich doing this, but he enjoyed the hobby, and it kept him in money for his own vehicle.

 

    • Physical fitness. You'll never get rich running road races, but there's no question that a healthy body can save you money. Find a physical activity you enjoy: biking, running, hiking, dancing, yoga, weightlifting. Play a team sport. Regular exercise can be fun, but it will also save you money in the long run.

 

The possibilities are limitless. There are countless fun and interesting hobbies that can either save you money, or maybe help you earn a little on the side.

Quick tips
You'll notice that none of these hobbies involve collecting. I'm an inveterate collector myself (comics, books, notebooks, movie serials, music of the 1920s, …), so I know first-hand how expensive it can be. Some would argue that it's a form of compulsive spending, and I can't really disagree. Since I've begun focusing on hobbies that involve doing rather than getting, I've spent much less money.

For some hobbies, equipment can be prohibitively expensive. In these cases, you may be able to find used stuff on Freecycle or Craigslist, or you may be able to begin with low-end gear. (This isn't always a good option. If you think you're going to be doing a lot of running, you should buy a quality running shoe from an expert, and not settle for cheap sneakers, for example.)

In many cases, it's possible to jump-start a hobby by taking a course at a community college or community school. I spent a year taking photography classes, for example. The instruction and experience were invaluable, and helped me develop the skills necessary to actually sell a couple photos.

My friend Michael likes woodworking but can't afford (and doesn't have space for) all of the equipment. When he needs to build something, he signs up for a community college woodworking course so that he can use industrial woodworking tools at a reasonable cost.

Further reading
I'm a big fan of productive hobbies, and I'm not the only one! Here are some articles on the subject from around the web:

Don't forget that hobbies are an excellent way to make gifts for less than it costs to buy them. Kris sometimes knits gifts for special occasions. Most years she gives some sort of home-made food to our friends for Christmas. I sometimes give photographs. One of the best birthday gifts I ever received was a batch of homemade chocolate chip cookies.

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Adam Steer, Momentum Wellness
Adam Steer, Momentum Wellness
11 years ago

I am so grateful to my grandfather that he gave me the gift of working with my hands. To this day, I associate the smell of fresh cut wood to him. I don’t have the space I would like at the moment to do a lot of woodworking, but the skills are there when I need them. I think the biggest gift I got in coming from a family where the men are “handy” is that I don’t get intimidated by a household problem. I know that each project is just a matter of breaking it down and understanding it.… Read more »

Jeanne
Jeanne
11 years ago

You forgot sewing! So many ways you can repurpose clothing, mend or embellish clothes to give them new life or make simple gifts. There are so many wonderful sewing blogs out there, but for a great list of links to sewing projects see this link at Sew Mama Sew: http://sewmamasew.com/blog2/?p=291

Cairsten
Cairsten
11 years ago

*laughs!*

… If you really think knitting doesn’t involve collecting, you are not a knitter, and I would like to introduce you to the acronym STABLE — Stash Acquired Beyond Life Expectancy. Ask any non-beginner knitter about just how much yarn they have stashed, and you’ll see. 🙂

Cara
Cara
11 years ago

I agree with Cairsten: knitting can get pricey if you start collecting yarn! I love knitting, cooking, and playing music, but the cheapest hobby for me by far (and one that’s made me some money too) is writing stories. All I need is paper and a pen and I’m good to go!

EscapeVelocity
EscapeVelocity
11 years ago

It’s possible to make money selling to collectors, and you almost have to be one to know what they’re going to buy.

Under gardening, even if you don’t grow a lot of food, just not paying for landscaping services saves you a chunk of money.

Unfortunately, my primary hobby is sailing, which has been described as “like standing in a cold shower tearing up $100 bills.” But at least the fuel’s free.

Fish Finder
Fish Finder
11 years ago

I enjoy woodworking and began making my own outdoor furniture about five years ago. Starting with family and friends, I began giving away as presents then selling pieces. Eventually their neighbors and friends began buying from me. It only brings in a few hundred dollars a month during summer & Christmas but it pays for my tools and supplies on things I make for my own house and, of course, for more fishing stuff.
My wife recently bartered one of my garden benches for custom curtains for our den made by a seamstress friend of hers.

Avlor
Avlor
11 years ago

Ah photography, gotta love it. I’ve tried hard not just to be a gear collector and have had a blast with DIY equipment. Sometimes the DIY equipment is a test to see if I really need that piece and will invest in it, and sometimes I like the DIY enough to just only use it instead of forking out the money for “real” gear. I started learning to take photos after being sick of only being able to take my kids to a studio every year or so. I figure my equipment is “paid” for by saving myself the what… Read more »

Tom
Tom
11 years ago

“You’ll never get rich running road races”

Well, there are a couple people who have done it…

elisabeth
elisabeth
11 years ago

I have one collectiong hobby, postcards, that is not very expensive to begin with and can include trading with others or selling off one’s unwanted cards. It’s a hobby that can also help you make great homemade gifts; a framed collection or album of cards from a hometown or from a special interest will in most cases be very appreciated.
One of my other hobbies is working crossword puzzles and double-crostics — which, like exercise is a way to keep oneself healthy, brain healthy at least.

Mel of Hobocamp
Mel of Hobocamp
11 years ago

Yes! your second comment beat me to it! SEWING!
Sewing is a huge past time of mine- I’ve been able to turn it into a business where, thanks to Etsy.com I can have my own shop- make something- in a relaxing way and then sell it!
Great post- hobbies and having a passion are so important to our well-being. In these current times I think we all need a little distraction and if you have a scarf or a photograph afterwards- even better!

Tyler
Tyler
11 years ago

I’m a programmer and I like to spend a little free time making non-commercial websites. It doesn’t directly provide any income, but when I apply for a job I have a huge portfolio of work to show off. This ends up with me having more job options and I think it generally increases my salary in the long run.

I guess what I’m saying is that hobbies can be productive even if they aren’t directly producing anything of value.

Leila
Leila
11 years ago

It was probably hard to try to come up with a complete list, but I agree that sewing is a must on there. If you’d like, read here http://ourmothersdaughters.blogspot.com/ about how I saved our family about $320 with my sewing and thrifting skills in one go. And both are pretty modest!

Also, I’d add to your analysis that helping our children learn these things prepares them better for life than carting them around to sports events! Not that I haven’t done my share of that too 🙂

Connie Brooks
Connie Brooks
11 years ago

I feel like canning and gardening are one of the best possible uses of your time as far as a hobby. I cannot wait until I can do the same myself next year. As for the other things, one thing I really do know is that all hobbies cost money to start up. For me it involves weighing my time and startup costs against the perceived benefit of learning the skill. If it would be cheaper for me to outsource it, I do that. I just don’t have enough time in my life to learn everything that I Want to… Read more »

My Daily Dollars
My Daily Dollars
11 years ago

I like your list, but even more I like your attitude. You’re right, all of those hobbies can become terribly expensive. It’s more important to find frugal ways to enjoy what you love. I’m finally learning that I can just jump in and start a project without a big shopping trip first. For example, I started knitting a new scarf over the weekend, but used an old pattern and some abandoned yarn rather than buying anything new.

Kelly
Kelly
11 years ago

My girlfriends and I just started to turn a hobby into a business. I’m scared as all heck, but I feel great about it and I LOVE using my hands. I would only add to remember to communicate expenses, expectation of expenses and forecasts of income, etc with your spouse / significant other at ALL TIMES! They need to be in the loop and you need to listen to their feedback. It’s true that hobbies can be expensive and if you plan to make a venture of them, there can be additional costs. Add in some partners and decision making… Read more »

Manshu
Manshu
11 years ago

I had a friend who used to sell video games on eBay. He used to finish up the video games and unlock ending bonuses and special armor upgrades etc. and then sell off the game on eBay. In most cases he was able to sell at a price which was very close to the new game and for GTA, he even made money!

J.D.
J.D.
11 years ago

I wasn’t really trying to make a complete list. I was just brainstorming hobbies that Kris and I do (or that we know our friends do). I’m sure there are many more!

Kelly
Kelly
11 years ago

PS. Having a little jealousy in my heart over how good your jars look. Is that strange? 🙂 Heh heh.

Jeff C.
Jeff C.
11 years ago

I enjoy messing around with cars both maintaining and detailing them. I’ve saved money over the years by doing both myself. With information off the internet (as well as discounted parts), I’ve replaced timing belts, changed brakes, replaced axles and other things which would have been big money at a mechanic. For example, I had a problem with the AC on a Ford Explorer. Found that the blend door is a common problem and is a ton of labor to fix. Most shops charge about $900. However, a little searching found a simple fix that only needed a paper clip.… Read more »

Live Well Simply
Live Well Simply
11 years ago

Back in ’01 I started a hobby building and tinkering with computers. I’ve since turned it into what I do every day to earn a healthy income! Best hobby I ever decided to start. Photography is another one, though I’ve been a little slower to monetize on that one.

Steve
Steve
11 years ago

I’m not sure it counts as productive, but it is possible to make money playing poker. Over the years I’ve made a small amount of money doing so. In the end it works out to something like 50 cents an hour, but that’s better than -50 cents an hour eh?

Jennifer
Jennifer
11 years ago

This is a great post. It makes me want to steer my children into hobbies that will be productive for years to come, or at least come in handy in the future. My husband has had to teach himself everything when it comes to repairs around the house or yard his parents hired it all out. It would be so valuable to teach children how to fix things, mend things, and just basically do things themselves instead of only paying others.

Mary@Simply Forties
11 years ago

Every hobby I’ve ever had, and I’ve had a bunch, someone has offered to pay me to do it for them. From macrame in the 80’s (lol) to woodworking, to sewing and, most recently, scrapbooking and cooking. I have found that once I start to do it on someone else’s timetable the fun goes away and it becomes work!

jen
jen
11 years ago

Freecycle/goodwill have been a super help at starting up a canning habit w/o going broke buying jars and pots. It turns out, a lot of people have inherited the equipment (which lasts a really long time!) and don’t know/want to know how to use it.

also, target always seems to have canning jars on sale, which i’d never expect.

RTW
RTW
11 years ago

Great list! I’ve been faux-gardening for a while(lettuce in my aerogarden, rosemary and basil in pots) and love having quick, easy access to fresh foods. Especially with the prices of organic, it makes a lot of sense. Can’t wait to get out of an apartment and try your gardening ideas!

Cooking, baking, and working out have also paid back my time investment in spades.

Blogging can also turn into a great source of revenue, as I’m sure you well know. 😉

renaissancetrophywife.wordpress.com

Colleen Walker
Colleen Walker
11 years ago

Another productive hobby is sewing. I have been sewing for years for both fun and profit. I cannot tell you the money I have saved making my own window treatments, custom cushions, duvet covers, table linens etc., for my home decorating needs and wants. Not to mention the satisfaction I feel knowing that I designed and constructed these decor items for our home! I have also saved a great deal of money sewing my Christmas gifts and other gifts through out the years. Thanks Colleen Walker of Angels Harvest Designs http://www.Tish1.etsy.com

Bekka
Bekka
11 years ago

This post reminds me of something a friend did for Christmas a few years ago. She refused to accept Christmas gifts that weren’t made by the giver (she also made every gift she gave that year). It was her best Christmas ever, she did not receive any junk that she would just throw away later, and the gift givers loved the idea as well. If you are already a hobbyist, it’s a great idea for your gifts this holiday season. It saves money, hassle (shopping after November.. ick!) and the person receiving the gift will feel like you really put… Read more »

leigh
leigh
11 years ago

i will contend that buying junker cars strictly to fix and sell them doesn’t usually end up being profitable when you consider the time invested. we have instead bought decent cars that needed some work- fixed, drove for a year, and then sold with no net cost to own. we’ve got one up for sale now that people are passing up for cheaper cars that pour out oil. our profit for removing the engine and installing new oil seals all around will be next to nil given people’s interest in price over quality. last car we ever buy exclusively to… Read more »

Richard
Richard
11 years ago

Fishing is my one money-losing hobby. I know that I don’t catch enough fish each year to recoup the cost of the lures, gas or the cost of the license. It’s fun for me though, and my 2 year old loves to come, so it’s worth it.

My computer obsession/hobby turned into a major and now into a reasonably fun and profitable career.

I do like doing gardening and canning. I’m not sure if we’ve actually saved money on it, but I think it’s probably close.

Kathryn
Kathryn
11 years ago

I once heard a quote “find what you like to do best and then get someone to pay you for doing it.” I think this goes for any true hobby. Even sailing or fishing. There are plenty of people that don’t do these things that want the experience of doing them. The key to making money off of your hobbies it to find the right way to market those hobbies so that others will pay!

Susy
Susy
11 years ago

Mr Chiots had a hobby for a while and turned it into a full-time business. This year it’s suppoting both of us.

I’m also an avid edible gardener & canner (are thos red & yellow balls canned cherry tomatoes?). It’s so much healthier to grow & preserve your own food. Kris may be interested in the book, “Preserving without Freezing or Canning” saves money because you don’t have use the energy for canning. I use a few of their methods (old european preservation methods).

m
m
11 years ago

I get wool often from charity shops which is cheaper. There is nothing more lovely than giving a knitted baby blanket made by hand and love !

Joe
Joe
11 years ago

Wow, I had no idea frugal hobbies were such a popular topic!

10 Cheap Hobbies for Fun and Relaxation.

http://simpledebtfreefinance.com/10-cheap-hobbies-for-fun-and-relaxation/

It seems we agree on many, though I will have to wait until next season to try gardening.
Great post!

Melissa A.
Melissa A.
11 years ago

One good thing about knitting is that you can probably make the item yourself for less that it would cost to buy the item handknit in a shop. Obviously machine knit items are cheap, but that’s because they are probably made in sweatshops.

I’m knitting all my Christmas gifts this year. The good thing is that I have my shopping already done, I just have to make everything.

jim
jim
11 years ago

Productive hobbies, that’s a clever name! All my hobbies are sports/skills related, so I never really have much to “show” for it…

TosaJen
TosaJen
11 years ago

My main “productive hobby” right now is singing, but I’m so far in the hole $$ with it that I doubt I’ll ever dig out. I should someday calculate how many $75-$150 wedding/funeral soloist fees I’d have to collect to break even.

Robyn
Robyn
11 years ago

Yes! And I love how empowering these activities are – engages your mind, increases skills, are useful, can be applied to other skills – I’m a crafter/knitter/sewer and although I occasionally have to buy new yarn or materials, I find it fun to see what I can make with my stash – or what’s left over from previous projects. I like to see how far I can go without purchasing anything new.
I also compost indoors using a vermicomposting system. These are some bags I’ve made for this:
http://www.etsy.com/view_listing.php?listing_id=13819803

Wm
Wm
11 years ago

With music, there is at least one additional, potential income earning avenue — teaching lessons.

Shanel Yang
Shanel Yang
11 years ago

How about writing? It’s definitely cheap and can be done almost anywhere. And, if you do it well enough, you could conceivably become a billionaire a la J.K. Rowling! ; )

Johnny
Johnny
11 years ago

You forgot cartooning. In the past 2 years I made $4000 selling my cartoons to a few papers.

Willetta Jackson
Willetta Jackson
11 years ago

Candlemaking is a great way to make or save money too. I have a friend that makes her own bath salts. There are so many ways to make extra money and save money. Candles are great because you can use them in a variety a ways. For instance, gifts, home decor, light, fragrance, and relaxation.

Betty’s Only
http://www.financialsuccessismine.blogspot.com
http://www.bettysonly.blogspot.com

Jackie
Jackie
11 years ago

I love to make digital scrapbooks and I love organizing photos for people. I wish I knew how to change for this. Any ideas??

kick_push
kick_push
11 years ago

for the past month and a half madden 2009 was my hobby.. great time killer and money saver.. kept my mind busy.. but not really productive

for the past two weeks i’ve been a gym rat.. my goal is to lose 15 pounds.. hopefully this will be a life long thing.. i want to stay as active as possible

i promised myself.. less gaming.. more exercise

Slowfit
Slowfit
11 years ago

Maybe we’re missing the point. Sure, you might make money selling something you make, but then it becomes a job. I’m fortunate to have enough paid work that making small change in my spare time doesn’t matter. Readers will differ on that. But, if a hobby is relaxing, provides a counterpoint to your work and daily life, it’s productive in itself. You don’t need to sell your knitting to get something out of the making process. Hobbies are often frugal in that they structure your time in an often active and shopping-free way.

Azrael1o
Azrael1o
11 years ago

I know you talk a lot about gardening and I have been doing the basics myself. This year I had a horrible crop and was wondering if there are any good gardening blogs for beginners (maybe another blog called “Get Gardening Slowly”??) Don’t worry I will still continue to read GRS everyday!

Sarah
Sarah
11 years ago

Saw an interview with Warren Buffet’s biographer, apparently he enjoys collecting money! I don’t think you can argue with that collection!

m
m
11 years ago

Great post. I love hobbies like the ones listed here, many of which involve working with one’s hands and creating a useful or at least decorative product. Any chance for a follow up or two on a few of these in the future? For ex., I’ve always wanted to learn about a home based food business (such as selling baked goods to shops, at farmers’ markets, to individuals, etc.) but have had trouble w/finding regulations on this for my area and w/knowing where to begin to find such info. (or maybe you’ve done s.t. like that in the past already?)… Read more »

PDXgirl
PDXgirl
11 years ago

A few people have already mentioned sewing I thought I’d add a few things to it: 1) sewing can be moderately expensive. I made a pretty wrap dress out of a fairly pricey Anne Klein knit that cost $45, it was my most expensive garment. 2) It can also be very frugal! I made a wool shift from a simple pattern for a grand total of $16 (including the pattern that I’ve used three times since then) and is a nearly perfect knock off of a $140 Banana Republic dress. I’ve thought about sewing things to sell on Etsy, simple… Read more »

Michelle
Michelle
11 years ago

A lot of old-timers still have oodles of woodworking equipment, so if you stalk estate and garage sales, you might get lucky. (When our neighbor died, his kids sold his entire woodshop worth of tools for a couple hundred to get it out of their hair. I almost fainted when I heard this.) The extra doodads can add up, but the decorative work is where it starts to get really creative.

The Digerati Life
The Digerati Life
11 years ago

I love these ideas. I wish I had more time to devote to additional hobbies, but that hasn’t been the case in recent years. My father had a whole slew of hobbies while we were growing up, and it was always great fun to see what he would come up with — it ranged from building model planes and war “scenes” with small painted figures, to ornate puzzles that he would frame as wall art. Great times.

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