The Frugal Collector: 10 Ways to Curb the Habit

I spent my Labor Day weekend scouring my bookshelves, sorting thousands of books and comics. I tried not to think about how much I'd paid for things, instead dividing them into two piles:

  • Books and comics I intend to read in the future.
  • Books and comics I have no intention of reading.

I was alarmed by how many volumes fell into the latter category. Our living room floor is now flooded with books, most of which are destined for Powell's. As I worked, I began to wonder what had compelled me to collect all this stuff!

Collecting is fun — it can be educational, challenging, and rewarding. But it can also be expensive. Over the past year, I've worked to control my collecting urges, and this has helped my finances. Once I reduced my spending on books and comics, I was able to make huge strides with my debt, strides that would have otherwise been impossible. Along the way, I developed a number of techniques to help me control costs.

Here are ten ways to become a more frugal collector, to strike a balance between fun and finance:

  1. Reduce exposure to hobby news. Unsubscribe from magazines and RSS feeds. Delete bookmarks. Try not to talk about your hobby with other collectors. The more attention you pay to your collection, the more you'll want to spend money on it.
  2. Don't be a completist. Collect what you like and will use, but don't feel compelled to collect everything. For example, Marvel Comics publishes its Essentials series of comics compilations. It's okay for me to purchase Essential Spider-Man — I'll read that repeatedly and enjoy it. But why did I buy Essential Ghost Rider, a book I will never read? I only bought it to have the complete collection. That was a waste of $15.99.
  3. Similarly, don't collect just for the sake of collecting. Collecting can be addictive. When you buy a new Hummel figurine, you feel a bit euphoric. But the momentary pleasure is less than the time before, which was less than the time before that. Collect because you genuinely want an item, not out of habit.
  4. Track expenses. Log how much your hobby costs you. Every time you buy a Beanie Baby, write it down in a dedicated Beanie Baby journal. Keep a running total. Begin to ask yourself: “Would I rather have this Beanie Baby collection or a new MacBook?” (Or whatever.)
  5. Budget. If you have a collecting habit but aren't ready to give it up, consider setting a budget. Instead of compulsively buying every piece of Princess Diana memorabilia you find on eBay, allocate $25 or $50 or $100 per month. A collecting budget is an excellent way to allow yourself to indulge a habit without breaking the bank.
  6. Set a limit. If you now own 20 Wedgwood pieces, you might limit your collection to 25 items at any one time. Whenever you go over this number, sell a piece to make room for the new one. I now have one bookcase for comic books — when it's full, I'll make room for new books by getting rid of something.
  7. Narrow your focus. Is there a subset of your collection that interests you most? When I cut my comics budget, I began to concentrate on newspaper comic strips. They're more entertaining to me, anyhow. And because comic strip compilations are more obscure, the hobby is more challenging. I spend less, but I have more fun.
  8. Instead of changing focus, you might collect something completely different. If your collection costs too much to maintain, switch to something less expensive. Instead of collecting old records, for example, you might pursue sheet music. Or canning jars. Or business cards.
  9. Buy it later. As a collector, I'm often afraid that if I refrain from buying a book, it won't be available later when I'm better able to afford it. That's silly. While it's true that I might pay a little more for some books, most will actually be cheaper down the road when I have my debt eliminated.
  10. Enjoy what you have. Take pleasure from the items you already own. When was the last time you listened to each of the albums in your CD collection? Have you looked through all your baseball cards? Have you cataloged your semi-official Canadian Air Mails?

If you're struggling to shake the urge to collect, you're not alone. At my favorite comic book forum, we've been discussing the clutter and cost of compulsive collecting. The fellow who started the thread has more than $10,000 in unread comics. Another user writes:

Sometimes I really do feel like a drug addict must feel. The problem is that I feel an irrational, unexplainable, compelling need to purchase when things come out that I know I will like. It's bad because even when I don't have the expendable cash, the evil credit card is always there to weaken my will power and to let me rack up more debt from the purchase of non-essential items. […] The main thing I worry about, though, is setting a bad example for my kids regarding how to handle money and budget and save for things and not use credit cards except for emergencies.

I used to feel like this. Sometimes, I still have an overpowering need to buy new comics to add to my collection. But I've learned to use the techniques above to guide my spending, which helps to keep our house free of clutter and my checkbook full of money. Being a frugal collector is actually more enjoyable than buying everything I want!

Related: Over the weekend, the Wall Street Journal published a story about a glass collector's legacy.

More about...Frugality

Become A Money Boss And Join 15,000 Others

Subscribe to the GRS Insider (FREE) and we’ll give you a copy of the Money Boss Manifesto (also FREE)

Yes! Sign up and get your free gift
Become A Money Boss And Join 15,000 Others
guest
24 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
John Mort
John Mort
12 years ago

LIBRARY! I will never buy comics again since my library carries most of what I’m interested in, and is willing to add member suggestions to their acquisition list.

Fabulously Broke
Fabulously Broke
12 years ago

I think the best thing I ever did was give up my apartment. It really brought to light how much I collect, and how much STUFF I have that I don’t need, or use on a regular basis. I’ve limited myself to 3 pairs of pants, 5 tops, underwear and minimal books, etc. In contrast, my real wardrobe back in my home city that I go back to only once a project is over (anywhere from 3-8 months), has 100 tops, 100 sweaters, bla bla bla.. and mountains of books and DVDs.

I don’t even miss any of it.

mjh
mjh
12 years ago

two points:

1) as much as I love books, and have enjoyed collecting them over time, I have found them to be a huge millstone at times. Every move of house is a time of great physical and logistic exertion.

2) I came to view culling my bookshelves as way to increase the quality and value of the whole by removing all the deritus and filler.

tuesday
tuesday
12 years ago

I used to be a compulsive book hoarder, but have since had enough backbreaking moving experiences to realize that I don’t want to own all the books in the world. 😉

I recommend bookmooch.com: a simple and effective swapping community where you trade old books/comics/magazines you no longer want for other people’s goodies. Children’s books, cookbooks, fiction etc etc etc, you can find almost anything! 🙂

Melissa A.
Melissa A.
12 years ago

The only thing I really collect are bookmarks, which are usually free or really cheap! They all fit in plastic shoebox. I would like to start a small teapot collection though, and I like old tea tins, but I know better than to buy more than what I can display. I also collect handpainted mugs that I paint at a local paint your own pottery place. The good thing with those is I can get rid of old ugly mugs whenever I paint another mug! I would like to have more DVD boxsets, but for now I tell myself “You… Read more »

Debi
Debi
12 years ago

As far as collecting goes, you can also save money by letting friends and family know you’re interested in collecting something and let them build your collection when they give you gifts (birthday, Christmas, whatever). As a gift-giver, it’s nice to know that you’re able to give something that’ll be appreciated.

John
John
12 years ago

Glad your decluttering went well this weekend. That’s a lot of Marvel trade paperbacks! 😀 I always try to limit my own comic book purchases to when I’m going to comic book conventions, for several reasons: * I only carrying a limited amount of cash with me, so I can only buy so many books. I pretty strictly enforce that limit, too. * I usually end up carrying all of the books around with me in my bookbag (except when I’m working a convention, then they go behind my table), so I can’t buy too many or my back won’t… Read more »

Julie
Julie
12 years ago

My husband and I stopped attending estate sale/auctions so that we wouldn’t mindlessly be adding to our collections. Every once in a while we’ll get an announcement that sounds seductive, but we have been able to rationally discuss the pros and cons of attending the event and usually decide that it really isn’t that important to us in this chapter of our lives to add to our collections. The stuff will always be available when we are ready to start acquiring again. As JD mentioned, it is amazing how much “more” money you have for other goals when you aren’t… Read more »

Matt
Matt
12 years ago

Any tips/hints on getting rid of comic books? I hate buying Nightwing comics at $3 a pop only to sell them for 3 cents a piece on ebay! I’ve never tried Craig’s List.

Also, if you’re like me, you often want to unload single issues and buy the TPB. Is there any bigger waste of money? I hate myself for doing that. Have you ever seen a DIY solution??

RM Brown
RM Brown
12 years ago

Your ten points are terrific. I have often succumbed to the collector’s mentality (anyone want my duplicate 200 GI Joe guys?) and I think you hit the nail on the head. I agree with J. Mort – your local library will carry a lot of the hot or acclaimed trades that will ease the feeling when you need to get out there and pick up something fresh. Once you are out of the loop on current issues / releases it gets a lot easier. And if you have to buy, Amazon gives deep discounts on trades that will save you… Read more »

Chad
Chad
12 years ago

After getting married three months ago, my wife and I had a huge collection of duplicate DVDs. We started selling them on eBay and have made a nice amount in very short time. It’s no longer the collecting of DVDs that interests me, but the selling of them …

Jeff
Jeff
12 years ago

What do you plan to do with the comics you won’t be keeping?

I’m in the same boat – I have a few series I want to keep, but most of my books I can happily let go. They’re not particularly valuable (e.g. random X-Men-type books), but it seems criminal to throw them away. Any good recommendations for selling/donating unwanted comics?

Dustin
Dustin
12 years ago

Would you ever consider a contest on this site where the winner would win some of your PF books (assuming you have some)?

Dani in NC
Dani in NC
12 years ago

Your first point is spot-on. Whenever I spend an extended amount of time reading about one of my interests (knitting, boardgames, sci-fi), I start to feel like I am the only one not running out and buying every new item that is released. It reminds me of that teen peer pressure surrounding sex — “everybody’s doing it” :-). Luckily, my fear of spending is stronger than my desire to collect.

Mike
Mike
12 years ago

great article. I collect records, which can get very expensive at time, but there’s also a huge thrill in finding a great album that is really rare, for really cheap. I love digging though milk crates at garage sales and walking away with a huge score for very little cash. Here’s a rule I use to keep the expense down that might apply to some other kinds of collecting: –For every one expensive record I buy, I’ll buy ten cheap ones– I almost always find that one of those cheap records is better than the expensive one, and it makes… Read more »

Daiko
Daiko
12 years ago

Not spending is like not thinking about elephants. Once the thought starts, it becomes a scab to pick at: “I’m not going to spend, I’m not going to spend” eventually wears a person down. So unsubscribing is key: it reduces the number of times you start thinking about the elephant. Remember to delete all your saved searches on eBay; ask Amazon not to email you anymore; stop visiting sites (both real and Web) that focus on your collecting urges; and eliminate other sources of the temptation. I did all this in July with my book buying habit, and aside from… Read more »

DecaturHeel
DecaturHeel
12 years ago

I culled a bunch of crappy old comics out of my collection and have been giving them away to trick-or-treaters each year. I figure it’s a way to introduce kids to comics, and it’s the sort of thing they don’t normally get, so they seem excited. I still have a few years’ worth to give away, and my wife is pleased to have less space taken up by them. I also have been into newspaper strip reprints and have been buying used collections on eBay. And for Christmas gifts I shop for comics-themed stuff at stores at http://www.Cafepress.com or http://www.hoganshops.com

Chris
Chris
12 years ago

I’ve been going for the black and white phonebook reprints from Marvel and DC. Takes up a lot less space than the originals and a lot of fun to reminisce. One thing that you said that really stuck with me is the fact that you CAN wait to buy that issue later – and probably cheaper than cover price. I fight with that every month. Also, never flip through the monthly Diamond order catalog, you will loose your mind and your money – lots of temptation there! Thanks for a great post.

Simpleton
Simpleton
12 years ago

Steven Wright said “I have the world’s biggest collection of seashells. I keep it scattered along the beaches of the world.”

I have a huge comic collection that I keep in stores and libraries throughout the city.

Hanna
Hanna
12 years ago

Hi, I just came by to your blog and read this list. It is great advice, thank you! Other tips would be to move and pack everything you own, that really makes you wanna clear things out and give to good will.

Or just do as you’ve done. Lay everything on the floor and just put back what you love. I did this recently and I feel much lighter afterwards. 🙂

Justice~!
Justice~!
12 years ago

“But why did I buy Essential Ghost Rider,”

You bought Essential Ghost Rider because Ghost Rider is one of the coolest Marvel Comics characters *EVER*!!! Read that book and be *amazed*!

Jenn
Jenn
12 years ago

I still love having some of my favourite collections around and working on them here and there, but something that’s helped me a lot is to simply do my shopping in thrift stores – it’s cheaper, the things I want almost inevitably show up in the long run, it’s more fun having to wait, and in the end, when I need to get rid of things, it’s a lot less difficult when you haven’t spent much on them in the first place. I do set myself a monetary limit, just to be safe, but I rarely need it, and I’m… Read more »

jk2001
jk2001
12 years ago

I used to lend out books, but switched to giving them away. This was a more rewarding pursuit, and I started to give more stuff away, faster. Try it – it’s fun, and beats buying stuff. You can give stuff away bit by bit for years.

Jimmy
Jimmy
11 years ago

One thing I like to collect that doesn’t cost me much money: CASH!

shares