An Obscure Downside of Frugality: Hobbies

Frugality is great. We achieved financial independence through being frugal and saving a large percentage of our income. Now, I never have to work for anyone else ever again. That’s the best thing about frugality. It can help you gain control of your time and autonomy. There are obvious downsides too. Frugal people don’t spend much on luxuries. We don’t have a luxury car, a big fancy house, or blings to impress our friends. Fortunately, that isn’t a huge problem because we don’t care about those things. A huge part of FIRE is prioritizing your spending. You don’t have to be extremely frugal to retire early. If something is important to us, we don’t mind splurging on it. Unfortunately, there are obscure downsides to frugality as well. Today, I’ll talk about one less obvious downside of frugality – hobbies.

Hobbies

When I was young and not very frugal, I had quite a few hobbies. Let’s flash back a bit and see what some of them are.

  • Snowboarding. I used to hit the slope with a group of friends all the time when I was young. It was a ton of fun to carve my way down the mountain. However, this hobby can get expensive very quickly. These days a lift ticket can cost over $100 and equipment rental around $50. The expense shoots up once you add gas, chains, a good waterproof pants, a stylish jacket, gloves, goggles, helmet, and a cool backpack. Whew! That’s a lot of $$$. Also, I can’t handle the cold as well now that I’m a bit older. I dropped this hobby a long time ago.
  • Ukulele. I used to play and collect the ukulele. At one point, I had 12 of them! Now, I’m down to just 3. That’s barely a collection, as any amateur musician knows. Your instrument collection has a way of growing. Luckily, the ukulele is a relatively affordable instrument. A nice guitar can cost a lot more than a nice ukulele.
  • Whitewater Rafting. This one is a lot of fun, but you need a group of friends to go with. Once we all had kids, it became a lot more difficult to go whitewater rafting. Now that our son is older, I should take him to experience it. We went kayaking a couple of times and he liked it.
  • Video games. I used to play a lot of video games in my 20s. This hobby can get pretty expensive if you don’t watch it. The bigger problem is that it takes up so much time that can be used productively. Once I started blogging and had a kid, I no longer had time for video games.   
  • Travel. We still love to travel so this is still on my list. Usually, we take an international trip once per year and several short road trips within the US. Unfortunately, my parents are older and I need to check on them more often now. So we usually go to Thailand and take a side trip somewhere in Asia.

Being frugal

Now that I’m more frugal, I hesitate to take up any hobby that can cost a lot of money. Snowsport is fun, but I don’t even want to take RB40Jr to try it. He can learn to snowboard on his own later. Collecting anything is out. That hobby costs a ton of money and takes up too much space. We live in a small home and don’t have room for any kind of collection. These days my hobby is basically being frugal.

  • Cooking. I guess this is a hobby. We have to eat so I might as well cook at home. It’s healthier and much more affordable than going out to restaurants.
  • DIY home improvement/repair. Is this a hobby? If I wasn’t frugal, I’d just hire people to work on all these home improvement projects. This summer, I plan to refinish the deck, put a covered pergola over it, sand and paint our bathroom, plant a new tree, and tuckpoint part of our brick foundation. These projects will keep me busy the whole summer. (I might hire someone to repair the mortar. That seems like a lot of work.)
  • Hiking and other light physical activities. Exercise is important so I try to add some physical activities into our days. For example, RB40Jr and I collect LIME scooters around the neighborhood to charge. We get some exercise and I can teach him about investing the income. Now that the weather is getting nicer, we’ll do more hiking on the weekend as well.
  • Gardening. Mrs. RB40 is trying to garden more. This is a pretty good hobby. She gets some exercise and we can enjoy the fruit of her labor. Well, that’s the theory anyway. It seems we are not very good gardeners. Our garden didn’t produce much last year, unlike many other gardens on Instagram and Facebook.
  • Reading. We read a lot of books from the library.

The point is my hobbies aren’t very exciting these days. That’s the obscure downside to frugality. If you’re frugal, your hobbies probably aren’t very exciting. Getting older is probably a factor as well. We don’t need as much excitement as when we were young. Our lives are more even-keeled. One hobby we kept is travel. We enjoy seeing new places and experiencing different cultures. We don’t mind splurging on that.

What about you? Are your hobbies expensive or frugal?

Image credit: Visit Almaty

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Joe started Retire by 40 in 2010 to figure out how to retire early. After 16 years of investing and saving, he achieved financial independence and retired at 38.

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54 thoughts on “An Obscure Downside of Frugality: Hobbies”

  1. I personally always look at my Dollar Cost Average for my leisure activities. For example, hiking can be incredibly cheap since it is just a walk in the woods, but ultralight backpacking can get really expensive really quick. I try to keep most things under $20 per hour of fun because that is 1/3 of the hourly rate I currently make. I just wish there was a way to buy more free time instead sometimes!

    Reply
  2. Joe! At first, I thought I was reading a 4/1 post! I had to double-check the date!

    Are you sure you’re not leaning more on frugality rather than getting older, having RB40Jr, changing tastes as the reason(s) for some hobbies leaving your life?

    I mean, don’t get me wrong—if what you want is to be frugal (or minimalist, or an environmentalist, etc.) at the cost of a hobby or two—there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s commendable in its own way.

    Ultimately, you have to live a life that is sustainable for you (and your family) internally. You’ve got to enjoy it, find new interests, and explore them over time. Sometimes that costs money. And that’s exactly what all the frugality is for! It’s to cut the crap you don’t care about so you can spend lavishly on what you do. For most people, that’ll include some hobbies.

    Throwing a grand at a yearly snowboarding trip can work within your budget. Minus 2020 (COVID), I’ve gone each year with buddies for many years. Last time we stayed at the Waldorf Astoria in Park City and had a fantastic time. It wasn’t cheap, and it didn’t need to be at the Waldorf. Either way, you’ve got to get those moments in that matter to you. Maybe snowboarding doesn’t actually matter—but whatever does, don’t let it slip by for frugality.

    Perhaps most importantly, if those hobbies that drive you don’t really exist right now, maybe it’s time to look for new ones. Maybe they’ll be frugal, maybe not—but they might add a dash of purpose and fulfillment to life!

    Reply
  3. I FIRE’d March 1, 2020, not knowing a pandemic was upon us. I was told by many I couldn’t retire without a hobby or a plan for something to do. But I don’t golf, or quilt, or woodwork. I decided to retire anyway. I’m glad I didn’t make any plans, as the pandemic would have likely killed the plans anyway.
    I do still snowboard – smaller nonprofit areas – for $40/day or so. I’m just not into long lift lines at big snobby resorts, and in covid times avoiding crowds is safer anyway. I only went three times so far this year, but mid week and at least can still make a few turns and have fun for a few dollars.
    Primarily I walk, and walk, and walk – three hours a day – and listen to podcasts on Mexican history (a professor at UNAM in Mexico City) and now also listen to Bolivian and Argentine history podcasts. So if history is a hobby, maybe I’ve found one. And besides walking shoes and a smartphone it doesn’t cost me a cent.
    Nice post. Frugal definitely does not have to mean boring. I also like the comment on “minimalism”, not frugality.

    Reply
  4. Totally agree Joe! For us it wasn’t so much about frugality but minimalism (or just not buying plastic things). Now I go plogging (jogging and picking up trash), beach clean ups, make trash art, do public speaking and just do what I call climate work. The BEST THING has been hot composting! OMG composting is so much fun. It’s like my Aerobin400 is spitting out black gold. I looked online and organic super compost goes for $29.98 a bag. Mine is better as evidenced by our garden. Everything is growing like crazy and I dropped off two large produce bags for my mom and her neighbor (also my co-worker) because we hot so much. Easily that would be a CSA box worth $30! Do you guys compost? It’s so much fun!

    Reply
    • We tried composting at our old house and it didn’t work. We didn’t generate much compost material back then.
      Also, there are rats in the area. We don’t want to leave any edible stuff out if we can help it.
      If we ever move to a rat-free location, I’d give composting another chance. 😉

      Reply
  5. Interestingly, I have been dying to get back on the slopes. I used to go up more frequently. My ancient snowboard was a little rusted and my winter jackets were quite old so I donated / threw out these items the last time I moved. I’ve been on the fence whether to invest in snowboarding as a hobby again. If you don’t go up more than 6X+ a year, it’s not even worth it. I checked out day passes at Tahoe and found them cost prohibitive.

    Like you, I’ve been reading more and hiking. Hiking only costs boots if you need the traction.

    Reply
  6. My hobbies have certainly changed over the years as a result of frugality, having children, and certainly because of the pandemic. I miss some of my old more expensive hobbies (video games, golf, collecting things), but have found some nice and frugal ways to replace them (hiking, disc golf).

    Reply
  7. The trick for me is switching the word “value” to replace “frugal” – I’m happy to spend if I think I’m getting good value from it. As to hobbies, my main ones are:
    Running – not too expensive (mostly running shoes and occasionally clothes)
    Cycling – once you have the bike, not too expensive
    Blogging – not expensive
    Coffee shops – not too expensive
    Skiing – expensive
    Travel – very expensive

    Reply
  8. I think hobbies by definition will cost some money one way or another.

    I used to rock climb and that’s an expensive hobby. I enjoy skiing and that’s expensive too. Camping and hiking can get expensive when with all the gear.

    Ultimately you need to find something that you enjoy doing.

    Reply
  9. I’m looking at ways to continue doing the expensive hobbies anyway if I really like them. Perhaps it forces a little earnings in order to do them, then it’s fine. So snowboarding is definitely one that I’d like to do despite FIRE. That and travel will continue anyway, and we just earn on the side to pursue them.

    Many of the other hobbies are quite affordable, gardening (although we do buy a lot of plants), videogames (so many free ones these days and 80% sales – only gets expensive if you want it to.. had friends that just bought every new game, so those $60 games add up..) The only times this becomes an issue is if they want you to play it with them, they work jobs still that have never earned how much we have, and yet I’m the one saying no, lol.

    But there are two hobbies I won’t get into. Golf and cycling. These are full of people that compete with each other by spending money on new equipment. If you didn’t drop $1k on a new trinket each week, then you are a loser. I don’t engage in those social circles and it removes the joy of a hobby. Otherwise, all other hobbies are open =)

    Reply
  10. You are 100% right that hobbies could be very expensive. I was just like you went I was younger and spent a lot of money on travels and ski. These hobbies got even more expensive when our daughter was born. She out grew the gears so quickly. These day, we stopped all the travels due to the pandemic and we are glad that we could save some money.

    Reply
  11. My FIRE just went down the drain. My daughter was born with a condition and I’ll have to spend all my savings on her. Life happens unfortunately.

    Reply
  12. Even if it’s not exciting, a hobby is just supposed to keep you interested to chug along life. It may be a sign that you’re getting older but I like to see it as a sign that you’re getting more wisdom.

    We don’t need the constant hit to dopamine in order to keep our lives interesting. Dopamine is a drug that social media companies love to take advantage of. Nothing wrong with avoiding that!

    Reply
  13. I have TONS of hobbies and cost-wise they’re all over the place. From cycling to guitar, gardening to rock climbing. I will no doubt take up more hobbies as my interests wander and I won’t let money stop me. I saved it, invested it, and it got me to FI. But I’m also not gonna forego my interests, the money is there to explore them.

    Reply
  14. Spot on with this post. I was just thinking about this over the weekend. So many hobbies can run contradictory to frugality, but there’s way to do anything cheaper than the status quo. I’ve given up a few expensive hobbies in exchange for cheaper ones as well. Having kids has kinda taken the focus off my own individual hobbies as my girls are now getting into sports. We do outdoor things as a family hobby and of course travel.

    Reply
  15. i grew up near some of the best skiing in the east but never really learned it. i even worked at a ski resort with free lift tickets that came with the job. lots of my classmates learned when they were young and it was cheap through the school once a week. i don’t think my dad wanted me getting into an expensive sport but it would be nice to just be able to go once or twice a season if friends were getting together. almost any time i spend bigger bucks on a day out it involves a social time.

    i just wrote a post about my frugal cooking hobby. i make duck in a sous vide water oven. i know you can cook as i’ve seen the videos. it’s a real worthwhile hobby to be able to make something great for your family or friends. oh, tried playing golf for a few years. i played for pretty cheap and used clubs you can get for 50-100 bucks. i was tired of paying money just to be terrible at the game. if i end up living near an affordable course in retirement i might take it back up and get a season pass though.

    Reply
    • I enjoy cooking. It’s a lot of fun to try different recipes and it’s great to enjoy the result with the family.
      I don’t know if I’ll ever take up golfing. It just seems kind of pointless to me. 🙂

      Reply
  16. Hello, it’s my first comment here. I’m Lucà, 33, from Brazil.

    I’ve been reading your posts for 6 months or so, and it’s impressive how much our beliefs/lifestyle resemble.

    I decided to comment on this post specifically because I’ve been struggling with this too for the past 2 years.

    Having FI, but not a lot of money to spend on expensive hobbies. (And not finding SO much fun in cooking, DIY, gardening…)

    So I started a hobby/side job (YouTube channel), and that ends up taking so much time, that my other hobbies like video game playing and guitar, are diminished…

    So, just wanted to share that with you…

    Reply
  17. You got me reminiscing about white water rafting – that used to be such a fun time! We had a group of about 20-30 people that would all go (friends and friends of friends) every year for a couple nights of camping and a day of white water rafting. Such a blast!

    I think you’re right though on hobbies changing over the years. With the exception of traveling, I’d say that reading, working out, and blogging seem to be the big ones. With the family, I’d say that hiking, playing Mario Kart, and watching movies have been routinely keeping us busy lately.

    Reply
  18. My kids have had ukulele and snowboarding lessons. I grew up without learning how to ski because I was scared and my parents never pushed it. I think they didn’t want to push it because it was expensive. A lot of my friends learned how to ski and I felt a little left out. I guess that was a kids’ version of keeping up with the Jones.

    I don’t have too many hobbies now. I think traveling is too much work with the kids. I find gardening, cooking, and hiking boring. I like collecting Pokemon in Pokemon Go with the kids – they don’t take up much space in my phone. It’s more active than typical video games.

    I need to find more hobbies, because otherwise I just overdose on reading news and things that can be a little unhealthy.

    Reply
    • Let me know if you find a good frugal hobby. 🙂
      Most of my kid’s friends aren’t into snowsports so I don’t think he is missing out. If he asks about it, we’ll sign him up for some lessons.

      Reply
  19. There are lots of solid amateur groups in my area and I have a degree in music performance, so in the Before Times I would sit behind a horn with a bunch of friends several times a week making music. It’s surprisingly frugal; a horn and tuxedo aren’t cheap, but the only ongoing costs involve getting back and forth to rehearsals and concerts. It’s the only reason our household has two cars.

    I miss it terribly. Playing in front of a cell phone to a click track, for later editing into a composite performance, strips away all the enjoyable aspects. But it does sound good when we do it right!

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CMcfeg_pf5c

    Reply
  20. My primary hobby is model railroading, which can be as expensive or cheap as one desires. I do splurge on high quality vs the cheap stuff as it is a better value long run.

    I own a small airplane, but with a small group of other owners to keep costs down. I joke that owning a plane in that manner is cheaper than cable TV, but it is!

    Lately I’ve been into sailing. So far I’ve just bummed rides off of friends but I am considering a reasonably priced sailboat. I am financially independent but still working, but that hobby can be $$$.

    Life is too short to not get enjoyment out of my hard work. Experiences are far more valuable than “stuff.” And many hobbies can result in some wonderful experiences.

    Reply
  21. Frugality doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t have hobbies. I consider myself a fairly frugal person and I have a number of “expensive” hobbies… I just do them on the cheap.

    For example, I love to build things as a hobby — some woodworking, some metal working, some electronics. It’s very possible to spend a lot of money on this hobby, but I don’t. Any tools I need I buy used off craigslist or facebook, and almost all my materials are scrounged.

    So it’s entirely possible to have an expensive hobby, it just takes more work to do it cheaply.

    Take skiing as another example — there’s no reason you have to pay for a lift ticket. You can hike a mountain and ski down it for free. It just takes more work.

    Reply
    • I actually agree with this as I have a few expensive hobbies: photography, skiing and golfing. The key is you have to be smart about them and not act like you are a russian oligarch because the cost could get out of hand very quickly. Of course, this does all assume you have some money. If you are legit broke, then yeah, these are out of reach. However if you are middle class with a decent wage (which I assume most on this blog are), you can make it work if you want to.

      For instance:
      Photography: This had a decent upfront cost but there are a ton of ways to do this very affordable including a monster secondary market where you can easily save a ton of money. Also, by and large, once purchased, it should last a good long while with limited ongoing expenses needed (of course, there are things you will want). Lastly, because of the great secondary market, if you go to upgrade, you can almost always sell your old equipment for something. I combine my love of photography with hiking or camping and it makes for a fairly affordable day out/weekend trip.

      Golf: I purchased some very nice clubs about 20 years ago and they are still going strong. I have had to replace a few wedges and re-grip the clubs every couple years, but by and large they are the same as 20 years ago. Also, I am still a 9-11 handicap so its not like the clubs are holding me back (its a consistency issue from lack of play). Now, tee times can be pricey, but there are a ton of ways to keep your costs down, most of which involves when you play (ie, if you play after 2:00 on a weekend, your cost may be 50% lower; a midweek after work can be an even greater discount). This may be less feasible in more populated areas than my midwestern city, but it still can be done. This is what I did when I first started out in the DC metroplex and played almost every week…it was obviously pre-children, but also a much lower income.

      Skiing: This is the one where its difficult to really cut too many corners. Buying the products at the end of the season or even last year’s models will go a great way to reducing your upfront costs. Now, there is not a ton that can be done about lift tickets as those are just expensive, unless you do want to hike up the hill. However, if you go a lot, then a season pass may be worth it, and if your hill is associated with one of the conglomerates, you get lift tickets at a variety of places. Also, I know my grocery store and Costco/Bjs/Sams Club sell gift cards to local resorts; if you buy those you may save a few bucks. Also, you need to be in the right location because it is much easier to do this “affordably” in Portland or Denver than say, Dallas. This one is probably the hardest to do affordably, but it can be done.

      Reply
    • That’s a refreshing perspective. It sounds like a lot more effort to do expensive hobbies on the cheap. 🙂
      Buiding things is a great hobby, though. You learn a lot of useful skills.

      Reply
  22. I agree that hobbies change as we grow older and also our friends change. I started working out only in the last 12 years year but now I am so addicted to it and often regret not starting sooner. I consider it as my frugal hobby although I spent a lot last year building a home gym which I might not use with gyms reopening.

    Travel is my guilty pleasure. I have doubled my travel estimate for this year and booked 3 international trips already. I am a little worried if some countries will not accept certain vaccines but hoping that is all resolved soon.

    Reply
    • I think a home gym is great. It’s more frugal in the long run because you don’t have to go to the gym outside.
      Oh, wow. Have a great time with your travel. This year is still pretty tough. I think 2022 should be a lot better.

      Reply
  23. I think being frugal is important, but once you’re “ahead of the curve” I think people should start having more fun. At the moment, my wife and I are a little ahead of the curve, so we’re looking to loosen the purse strings a little. One way to do that is to embrace hobbies and other (sometimes) expensive things that add value to your life.

    Reply
    • We’re ahead of the curve and loosen up a bit recently. However, I don’t know about hobbies. It’s a habit now.
      I’m not sure what new hobby I can pick up. I’d love to do more paddling – kayaking and SUP, but the weather isn’t quite right yet.
      Those activities would be great in a warmer climate.

      Reply
  24. It depends. If you have a hobby that produces something — and that ‘something’ is appreciated and cherished by friends and family, then it can be given for Christmas and birthdays. I’m thinking specifically of hobbies like quilting (which I do), knitting, crochet, rugmaking, etc. Even cooking or working on your property can produce food gifts. (The Frugalwoods are poster children for this.) But you must keep your budget in mind. I could easily drop a few hundred dollars on fabric without even thinking about it.

    I would say that scanning thrift shops and garage sales could also be a hobby — but you’re right. You have to limit yourself to what’s really needed, unless you’re reselling. (And THAT’s another way for a hobby to pay for itself.)

    One of my best frugal hobbies, though, is collecting Bigfoot sightings. Husband and I also enjoy reading about and searching for lost treasure out here in the West.

    Reply
    • Mrs. RB40 does origami. That’s pretty frugal and the artwork is quite nice.
      Thanks for your input. I avoid thrift shops and garage sales because we have no space for anything.
      Collecting Bigfoot sighting is a great frugal hobby. 🙂

      Reply
  25. One caveat – it’s a lot harder to learn to snowboard (or ski) as a grownup. I really wish I had learned as a kid, rather than when I was 30 (snowboarding) and 50 (skiing). So if Jr is interested, you should try to get him out on the slopes while he’s still young, when falling doesn’t hurt so much and getting back up is easy! ?

    Reply
    • Hello, it’s my first comment here. I’m Lucà, 33, from Brazil.

      I’ve been reading your posts for 6 months or so, and it’s impressive how much our beliefs/lifestyle resemble.

      I decided to comment on this post specifically because I’ve been struggling with this too for the past 2 years.

      Having FI, but not a lot of money to spend on expensive hobbies. (And not finding SO much fun in cooking, DIY, gardening…)

      So I started a hobby/side job (YouTube channel), and that ends up taking so much time, that my other hobbies like video game playing and guitar, are diminished…

      So, just wanted to share that with you…

      Reply
    • I learned to snowboard when I was in my early 20s. It wasn’t too bad because I already knew how to skateboard.
      But you’re right. Falling doesn’t hurt that much when you’re little. A low center of gravity is a big advantage.
      He’s not interested right now. Mrs. RB40 really hates being cold so I have a hard time dragging them to the resorts.
      Which is okay for now.

      Reply
      • Super surprised that no one mentioned FISHING! I live in SC and we fish salt water and fresh waters…lifelong skill, easy to learn, great license to obtain at any age, in or out of state.
        Perfect compliment to Photography Hobby.

        Reply

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