Hobby or Money Pit?

How do you spend your free time? It’s a pretty straight forward question you may be asked approximately 100 times if you go to a party with a lot of people you’ve never met before. It’s either that or “what do you do for work?”, which has got to be one of the worst questions out there. 

I want to talk about what you do in your free time. Specifically, I want to ask if it is costing you financial freedom and security. Because, for many of us, a lot of our hobbies and interests can end up costing us more than we may realize. Now, I want to be clear, it is important to do things that you love to do and to seek joy in life as much as possible. But, I think it is worth considering what truly brings us happiness and if it is achievable on a budget.

Let’s take the most popular winter activity out here in Colorado, skiing/snowboarding, as a good example. About this time every year, conversations immediately turn to snowfall totals and if we think this year will be a good year in the mountains. However, for some reason I never hear anyone talking about how much money they’ll spend on skiing this year. Probably because it is an incredibly large number. Most of my coworkers have one of two ski passes this year, either the Ikon Base pass or the Epic Local pass. The Ikon Base pass is currently $800 if you’re over 23, and the Epic Local pass is $739. Wow. Those are essentially unlimited tickets to some of the most popular mountains here in Colorado and across the country, but they are also a months rent for some people or maybe a couple of months of student loan payments, which I know many who are my age have. Let’s say you get the pass, no self respecting skier/snowboarder would hit the mountains with less than the best gear, so you drop another $1000 on skis, boats, snow gear, etc. Then you’ve got to drive back and forth from the mountains 15 times, costing about $80/trip for the 160 miles round trip distance to Breckenridge. For good measure, let’s say you buy lunch up on the mountain on half of your trips, easily another $160 at ~$20/meal. So all in, it’s reasonable to assume that a ski season will cost someone ~$3,100.

I can almost hear everyone right now, “but Tyler, I love skiing and get so much enjoyment out of it!” To which I respond, that’s fantastic! I also love skiing, the difference is that I have decided to take a real hard look at whether or not I love skiing enough to spend $3,100 every year. To begin this exercise, it’s important to go back to the original question of what I like to do in my free time. In no particular order and focused on winter activities:

  1. Enjoy home-cooked meals with friends
  2. Complete home projects, i.e. the workshop build
  3. Playing soccer
  4. Skiing
  5. Hiking
  6. Helping friends with home projects or finances (I’ll admit this is a weird one)
  7. Watching NFL football
  8. Riding my bike
  9. Making fancy coffee drinks (decaf for me since “the incident”)

Now, if I take a look at that list again and examine the costs of those activities (6 months of winter):

  1. Enjoy home-cooked meals with friends – $20/meal about once/month = $120
  2. Complete home projects, i.e. the workshop build – $300/month = $1,800*
  3. Playing soccer – $100/season for 2 seasons = $200
  4. Skiing – $3,100**
  5. Hiking – $10 transportation, plus the added benefit of increased fitness
  6. Helping friends with home projects or finances (I’ll admit this is a weird one) – Free***
  7. Watching NFL football – Free through free trials and the yahoo sports app
  8. Riding my bike – Free, plus the added benefit of increased fitness
  9. Making fancy coffee drinks (decaf for me since “the incident”) – $10/week = $260
    *This is not the true cost, as I learn new skills through the process and increase home value in most cases
    **I’ll revisit this number shortly
    ***Sometimes this one comes with a meal or free beer!

If I take a look at all of those things that I enjoy doing, and then spend my time doing them in order of cheapest to most expensive, I rapidly run out of time before I get close to skiing. I can genuinely enjoy every weekend of my life without needing to spend much money at all, and I encourage you to see if you can do the same. Make a list of everything that you like to do when you have free time and then focus on the things that are free or cheap to do. You may be surprised how quickly your time is taken up before you get a chance to spend money!

I’ll end with a little bit of balance here. I fully believe in optimizing life to save money to live debt free and financially secure, unlike most of America. But I also fully believe in prioritizing the things you like to do. If you spend money it should align with your values. For me, that means that I spend money on house projects. I love to do it, I add comfort and value to our home, and most importantly, I learn something new with every project. I also really enjoy skiing, so I make it a priority to do it on a budget. My ski season looks like this. I’ll get a 4 or 5 day pass at a local mountain for ~$225. I’ll carpool for every single trip, costing ~$20/trip for a total of $100, and there is no way I’m buying lunch at a ski resort, trust me. My gear is all used, bought during the summer during sales or bought from my friends moving on to the next best thing. In 3 years I have spent a total of $600 and I expect that to stay steady for awhile, now that I have gotten past the initial start up costs. For the purposes of this example, let’s say $200/year on gear. That means that my ski season is going to cost ~$525, a huge savings compared to $3,100. 

Examine what you like to do and maybe you’ll find that all of your free time completely fills up before spending a cent. Or maybe you’ll realize that you’ve been doing something because that’s what everyone else does for fun. I know from experience out here in Denver it is easy to get wrapped up in FOMO and want to go mountain biking, skiing, and rock climbing and then do it all again backwards because it wasn’t extreme enough. In the end, make sure that, if you are going to spend money on a hobby, it aligns with your values and you do your best to save money wherever you can by buying used or sharing with friends. 

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