Break down the budget
Before you dive into a new hobby or double down on an old favorite, stop and review your financial situation. If you haven’t already, create a budget that outlines all your income and expenses. Consider using a money management program to track and categorize spending.
Within your budget, don’t neglect to include a portion for savings: keep some cash flowing into your 401(k) or an IRA for retirement, as well as into an emergency fund. If you have debts, make sure to have a solid plan for paying those down, rather than adding to them with an expensive pastime.
You’ll want to keep careful notes of all costs related to your hobby to get a real sense of how much it requires each month. Think about any equipment, materials or fees, and don’t forget to factor in associated costs, like food, lodging and transportation.
Try before you buy
If your budget permits a hobby, try it out before going all-in. Say you’ve decided to hit the links: postpone the private club membership and top-of-the-line clubs until you’re sure it’s the right fit. Check pro shops, second-hand stores and online forums for deals on used items, and research public courses in the area.
Keep initial costs down by renting equipment for a trial period. Outdoor stores are a treasure trove for adventurers, offering something for every season, from ski and snowboarding equipment to kayaks and camping gear. An added benefit: you don’t need to figure out how to store all the paraphernalia in the off-season.
For hobbies that require honing some skills, look into classes at local community colleges or parks and recreation departments. They’ll often include the use of equipment with instruction. If you have your heart set on something like metalsmithing, pottery or woodworking, you’ll have the run of the equipment without needing to invest in outfitting your own shop or studio space.
Get a side gig… better yet, make it your hobby
To fund a hobby, consider making some extra cash especially for the purpose. Add some shifts to your normal schedule or see if you can score a few hours working the tasting room where you normally indulge.
Make some inquiries about bartering your time for hobby time. For instance, volunteer to clean up an artist studio in exchange for paints and canvas, or maybe a fledgling microbrewer will trade hops for help on the bottling line.
If friends are clamoring for your handcrafted jewelry, shop it around to local boutiques for a chance at some counter space. Even if you earn just enough for materials, you’ve already eased your financial burden.
Keep an eye on the budget
Each month, set aside how much you can afford for your hobby. If you don’t spend it all, save it for the next month, especially when the hobby is seasonal. For instance, those who live for carving up the slopes may need to build their hobby savings in the off season in anticipation of regular treks to the mountains come winter.
As you’re monitoring your hobby funds, keep an eye on your overall budget. Should living expenses increase or an unexpected bill come due, it may be necessary to scale back on the hobby temporarily until you can balance your budget again.
Plan, prioritize and pursue
We all know that all work and no play is, well, no fun. But neither is running up debt in order to get out, let loose and follow a passion. Fortunately, even for those living on a tight budget, it’s possible to pursue a hobby without jeopardizing financial goals. It just takes some careful planning and prioritizing.