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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.)
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.