When you think about hobbies, what comes to mind?
Perhaps it’s this list of the hobbies of billionaires. Skiing. Watches (not quite sure how that can be a hobby?). Jewelry (ditto). Basically a lot of expensive things, requiring expensive purchases just for fun.
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The other day, as I was baking bread for the family to enjoy, I was reminded of the difference between productive and unproductive hobbies. If you have an unproductive hobby, it can result in time and money wasted. Your money is simply a representation of your time – something you received in exchange to devoting a portion of your life to some kind of work. As Your Money Or Your Life (one of the four books that changed my financial life) would call it, it’s a representation of your life energy.
But what if – instead of costing you money and time – your hobbies made -or saved – you money and time? That’s what I would call a productive hobby, one that can help you supercharge your financial goals and dreams.
Productive Hobbies Defined
There is somewhat of a grey line between a productive and unproductive hobby. After all, you shouldn’t spend money just for the sake of “saving” money – you may not end up saving anything at all.
Quite simply, a productive hobby is one that will either make or save you money. Money is simply a representation of your time, so making or saving money earns you more time.
What might count as a productive hobby? A few things that come to mind for me are:
- Cooking and baking – When it replaces expensive meals out, or expensive store-bought items, cooking and baking can be relaxing and save you money. Take, for example, my homemade cakes (like this amazing Minecraft TNT cake). This is a hobby that both saves money – because making it is much less expensive than buying it – and could possibly make money if I choose to sell the cakes to others.
- Reading – The world is your oyster when reading is your hobby. Whether it’s reading blogs or books, you can learn anything you want to know from books. Looking to learn how to cook? There are books for that (Fannie Farmer is my personal go-to basic cooking skills book). Want to learn about money? Check out The Millionaire Next Door, another one of those four books that changed my financial life. Head down to the library and shop the shelves.
- Gardening – Learning how to garden, whether it’s just a small patch of yard or a few pots outside, all the way up to a huge food-producing machine, can be a very productive hobby. Learn all about growing different types of food, and then start simple and work your way up. I’ve found herbs are a great place to start. They’re hardy, expensive to buy at the store, and many are perennials that come back year after year. Even here in CT most of them live through the winter and come back beautiful the next year
- Furniture Restoration – You can often find neglected looking furniture at flea markets, tag sales, and thrift stores. Turning old pieces of furniture into something new and beautiful can not only save you money as compared with buying a pristine item, but can also potentially make you money on the resale. If you haven’t done this before, start small – get a small item and restore it, sell it, and use your profit to trade up to a more expensive restoration project. This way you’ll find out if you enjoy doing this at a low cost – and if you hate it you can likely sell the item for around what you bought it for.
- Blogging (Or Writing In General) – Now I know what you’re thinking. 95% of bloggers quit within a year. Of those who do make money, most make under $2,500 per year blogging. It takes a huge amount of unpaid time, years of work, and a big learning curve to be a successful blogger. Why would I recommend this? Well the real power in blogging as a hobby isn’t necessarily the income it generates, but the other things that come with it. You learn new skills – website development, marketing, social media, etc. You learn about your subject area – when you’re writing on a topic, you keep on top of the news and happenings much more than when you’re not. And you build relationships with people around the world.
- Is this where I pitch one of the blog hosting companies? Nope. If you’re interested in starting I would actually look for a nearly free way to start off. This will let you see if it’s a hobby you enjoy without spending a ton of money on it.
- Health and Fitness – This will give you back your time in the form of increased energy,
I’m sure there are a lot of awesome productive hobbies I’ve missed – let me know in the comments!
Making Productive Hobbies Unproductive
When talking about productive hobbies, you want to avoid falling into that common trap of spending a lot of money on something – so much so that it negates your savings. Especially if you’re trying something new, you don’t want to overspend on equipment/supplies. You may not end up enjoying the new thing you’re trying – and those supplies will simply sit there collecting dust instead of being productive for you.
I see this all the time with crafting hobbies. A friend wants to take up, say, knitting. She’s never done knitting before but it looks like fun. So she goes out and drops a ton of money at the craft store for needles, a book about knitting, yarn, etc. Then she tries it, gets frustrated with the learning curve, and the supplies sit in a drawer. Next spring cleaning those supplies are either tossed or sold at a tag sale – and that’s where the wise financial folks will score a low-cost way to try a new hobby.
Here are a some common ways I’ve seen to make productive hobbies unproductive:
- Spending a lot of money on brand-new equipment
- Buying a ton of supplies before you’ve determined if it’s a hobby you’ll stick with
- Spending money to purchase things you can get for free
- Wasting time on unproductive parts of your hobby (for example, just watching TV or videos about food rather than actually making it) (Not that I do that) (OK yes I do this – thank you Great British Bake Off)
- Fooling yourself into thinking you can sell a ton of (whatever) at a huge profit and make easy money, and will recover your expenses. Pro tip – there is no easy money. Things that look easy from an outsiders perspective (like, say, making money blogging) are really quite hard.
A Few Closing Thoughts
Hobbies are one of those things that everyone has – things they like to do that have nothing to do with their work. Productive hobbies that either save or make you money can supercharge your path to financial freedom, and help you reach your goals and dreams. I’ve often said that “money” is among my hobbies, by which I mean that I enjoy learning about personal finance, investing, and new ways to save money. It’s certainly a more productive hobby than the five hours per day the average American spends watching TV.
What are your favorite money saving – or money making – hobbies? Let me know in the comments!
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