Friday, March 21, 2008

Hobbies for the frugal

Everyone has at least one hobby. Something they really enjoy doing that doesn't really have a practical and every day purpose. I've met people who like collecting retro video games, people who make beautiful music and people who love putting together elaborate model trains and villages.

The problem is, when money gets a bit tight the hobbies are usually the very first things to go, even before free time and food. Which is a shame. Hobbies define who we are. It adds a little bit of character and color into our lives. Which is exactly what most people need when they find themselves strapped for cash.

But hobbies don't necessarily have to be costly. Sure, a lot of the good ones are. But there are many things that you can do to occupy you body and mind other than mindless toiling under the gun of making an extra dollar.

Here are a couple of small suggestions. But this mind is by all means not a tell all list. There's an infinite number of things you can do to occupy yourself. You just need to be a little creative.

  • Read
    So long as you're not married to any given series of books or costly periodical reading remains one of the cheapest pay for hobbies imaginable. You can find any given book type under the sun at your local library. And if they don't have it, they can order it for you.

    If you must permanently possess a piece of literature you can try any number of used book stores, thrift stores or book sales. Many of these places also carry older magazines. While the pop culture periodicals are probably pretty worthless you can always find those that cannot be made obsolete with time, such as National Geographic.

  • Paint
    Acrylic paint, brushes and unfinished wooden doohickeys are surprisingly cheap at general craft stores. Despite my manly prowess, I've found myself on occasion painting pretty pink jewelry boxes with bumble bees and hearts. You can find a surprising amount of unfinished items, too. Everything from boxes to coat racks to chairs and wooden toys.

  • Gardening / Yard improvement
    When I hear the word "yard work" I cringe. But I have to admit that after I quit my complaining I actually really enjoy getting outside and scotching my pasty white skin beneath the blazing New England sun. After spending a whole winter couped up in a tiny house with debris gathering on the yard it's good to clear some leaves and brush sometimes.

  • Hiking
    If you don't live in the very center of a heavily urbanized area, chances are there's some mighty fine hiking within a half an hour of your home. So long as you have a good pair of boots, a rucksack and a water bottle you're more than capable of getting outside and enjoying some fresh air.

    If you need a little help in finding some local trails, try TrailFinder which is maintained by the American Hiking Society. The resource even provides locations for additional outdoor activities, such as dog hiking, biking, fishing and camping. If you're willing to shell out a hundred bucks or so on a GPS, you can always try Geocaching, too. After the original investment in the GPS device there's no direct cost involved.

  • Bird watching
    Whether you're lazy and prefer to do it on your back porch with a glass of ice tea and a bird feeder or a bit more proactive with a pair of binoculars and hiking boots bird watching won't cost you a time if you're frugal about it.

    And if you're looking for something a bit more elaborate than stale bread in the backyard, unfinished bird feeders are pretty cheap. As are mixed seeds and hummingbird nectar.

  • Some sports
    Hockey is a bad hobby for the frugal fiend because of all the equipment involved to do it safely. Not to mention the cost of using a skating rink. But basketball, soccer, baseball, softball and touch football all just pretty much require a ball and maybe a bat.

  • Stargazing
    In my driveway on a clear night it's hard to make out much in the sky. A couple of the better known constellations, maybe Mars of Venus. There's a fair bit of light pollution, so stargazing is pretty difficult.

    But if I drive 15 minutes down the road to a cemetery in my local state park all of that fades away and suddenly I can see more stars than I ever could have imagined. I did this with the last lunar eclipse. Stargazing itself is always free. It's even better if you can find a pair of binoculars from another era and blow off the dust.
Regardless of what you'd like to do it's always important to keep a hobby while in financial straights. It'll serve as a release valve for all the stress that's sure to come with living on a paycheck to paycheck lifestyle.



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