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Golfers line up their putts on the 18th green of the Pebble Beach Golf Links during a practice round of the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am in Pebble Beach, Calif., Monday Feb. 3, 2003. The 18th hole features two changes since last year's tournament, a new tree at left that was transplanted from the first hole and there is a new bunker off the fairway. First round play begins Thursday. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg) (ERIC RISBERG)
Golfers line up their putts on the 18th green of the Pebble Beach Golf Links during a practice round of the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am in Pebble Beach, Calif., Monday Feb. 3, 2003. The 18th hole features two changes since last year's tournament, a new tree at left that was transplanted from the first hole and there is a new bunker off the fairway. First round play begins Thursday. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg) (ERIC RISBERG)

Preet Banerjee

Enjoy a hobby - without straining your bank account Add to ...

Hobbies are supposed to be relaxing, a way to distract yourself from day-to-day stresses and activate a different part of the mind. But they also have a way of bleeding bank accounts. And when people think they have money to burn, which is different from whether they actually have money to burn, that bleeding can turn into a gush.

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Why do people feel compelled to spend big money on hobbies? Some do it under the “work hard, play hard” mentality. Others do it because they simply believe that bigger is better. And when it comes to sports, people often link “winning” with the level of enjoyment they get out of the activity and throw lots of money at top-of-the-line equipment and accessories.

For example, I like to golf, but I wouldn't call myself a golfer. I’m more of an aerator of lawns. The way I see it, I don’t need a $400 Tiger Woods Nike driver made out of unobtainium to beat the heck out of the tee box. I do just fine with my no-name clubs.

But I’ve hit the greens for networking reasons with some players who look like they have stepped right off of the greens at the Masters. In the quest to look like and play like a pro, they have filled their bags to the brim with the latest clubs and gadgets, like special golf course GPS units or laser-based range finders. When they took that first swing, though, the jig was up: It turned out that the thousands of dollars they spent on tarting up their golf bag did nothing to improve their handicap.

Sometimes it’s not how much money you spend on your hobbies, but how you spend it that’s the real waste. Auto racing used to be a serious pastime of mine, and the track was littered with drivers who poured thousands of dollars into performance parts to end up only a few 10ths of a second per lap faster. Sometimes they were even slower. If they had instead spent a small fraction of those expenses on professional race driver training, they might have seen an actual improvement in their performance.

Less-athletic hobbyists can also fall victim to poor financial trade-offs in the quest to be the best. Take stamp collecting – it takes a lot of dough to amass a decent collection. But if you let go of the idea of being at the top of your hobby field, and just enjoy the act itself, it can bring as much pleasure at a much lower cost. A lifelong stamp collector told me that the true joy of collecting comes from the community, through sharing of knowledge and a common love.

The fact is that having a hobby need not be a strain on your bank account – period. The investment of time, which, remember, is free, is all that is needed to ignite the passion that comes with a favourite pastime.

So try to resist the temptation to pour irrational sums of money into your hobby, especially when picking up a new one. Focus instead on that initial investment of time – once you have a sense of how much pleasure you’re actually going to get out of the activity, and how serious a participant you intend to become, you can think about how you want to spend your money.

In the end, your bank account can probably only withstand one serious hobby. If you dump a lot of money into every new activity you try, you will have less to spend on your passion when you do find it.

Thinking of taking up golf? Think twice before buying the best equipment: A big investment can turn into a big waste if you end up not sticking with it.

TOP-OF-THE-LINE GEAR

Driver: $450 Fairway wood: $280 Set of irons: $1,050 Wedge: $140 Putter: $300 Bag: $200 Golf shoes: $230 Course-appropriate outfit: $400 Gloves: $30 Balls, tees, and miscellaneous: $60 Total: $3,140 before setting foot onto a course

ENTRY-LEVEL GEAR AND TRAINING

Complete starter set of clubs, including bag: $250 Two days of golf school: $500* Lower-end golf shoes: $100 Gloves: $30 Balls, tees, and miscellaneous: $25 Unlimited season pass to nine-hole course, driving range, chipping and putting greens: $1,000* Total: $1,905 and you could play all day, the entire season

All prices before taxes.

*Golf school and training academy membership rates source: Deer Creek Academy in Ontario.

Preet Banerjee, B.Sc, FMA, DMS, FCSI, is a W Network Money Expert, and blogs at wheredoesallmymoneygo.com. You can also follow him on twitter at @PreetBanerjee

Follow on Twitter: @preetbanerjee

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