9 Things That Sound Fun but Likely Aren’t Worth the Money

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Though COVID is still hanging around, Americans are once again trying to inhabit that post-pandemic new normal we’ve been hearing about for awhile. This means spending is up and, with the onset of spring fever, people are wanting to get out and do more — or at least enjoy themselves in ways they couldn’t during the winter.

Taking up a new hobby or activity — especially one with a social component — is on the minds of many just like it was last summer, when a survey by Outdoorsy found that nearly 60% of Americans wanted to try something new. Adventurous spirits shouldn’t be dampened, but at the same time, one should know exactly what they’re getting into from a financial standpoint.

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So, we consulted savings experts to explore some common activities that sound like a lot of fun, but could end up costing you more than you’d like to spend. We also looked at ways to trim the cost of these potentially good times, so you can still give them a go and not blow your budget.

Make Your Money Work for You

Poker Night

“Whether playing professionally or with friends, gambling is always going to be a costly hobby,” said Julie Ramhold, consumer analyst for DealNews. “Even if you have the cash to burn, this isn’t the best way to spend it, but that doesn’t mean you have to give up a game you enjoy.”

Rather than dumping money on a game that is sure to cost someone (if not multiple people), organize a game with your friends where you bet other things. 

“It could be as simple as playing with candy or other snacks, or as complicated as offering up services of something you’re good at,” Ramhold said. “Maybe you really excel at cooking — the prize for the big winner could be a dinner party. Or maybe you have all the tools to perform yard work duties or car detailing — you could bet those as well. Whatever your system, as long as you’re having fun, that’s the most important thing.”

Make Your Money Work for You

Drinking With Friends

“Alcohol is a social lubricant and can make a night out a ton of fun with your friends — but unless you’re hitting up a lot of happy hours or a special night at the bar with cheaper drinks, it’s going to add up quickly,” Ramhold said. 

Rather than heading out to the bars, consider hosting a BYOB event at home. 

“Have friends bring the ingredients to make their favorite drink and host a series of at-home mixology courses so you can all learn how to craft the perfect martini or old fashioned,” Ramhold said. “And if your friends are bigger into beer, wine or cider, have everyone bring a bottle of their favorite and host a tasting session with a flight of all the choices. Rank your favorites and share tasting notes, and have snacks on hand to complement the drinks (and soak up the alcohol!).”

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Joining a Gym 

Why go into a stuffy, potentially germ-ridden gym when you can exercise in the great outdoors? This is the philosophy of Jakob Staudal, the founder of HeadlessNomad

“The outdoors is a natural, elaborate gym that you can really enjoy and explore,” Staudal said. “Plus, it’s free! Instead of going to the gym during the spring, summer and fall, I get outdoors and do a more natural workout including hiking, running on the beach, and more. It feels so good, provides a unique setting every day, and costs me nothing.”

Make Your Money Work for You

Note that Staudal didn’t say he adventures outdoors in the winter. During those months, a gym membership could be worth it — or you could just up the ante on your home workout routines. 

Hiking 

Hiking is one of those hobbies that can be ideal for the person looking to love life on a budget, but it can also be a financial drain because of the gear that may be required.

“From shoes to backpacks to comfortable hiking gear, buying quality equipment isn’t cheap,” Ramhold said. “Add to that the fact that you’ll likely have to travel to the trails, plus potentially pay for entry into parks, and the costs really add up.”

If you’re interested in trying out hiking but aren’t ready to go all in on the gear, grab some good athletic shoes and find walking trails nearby. 

“Seek out a park with a pay-what-you-can policy (or outright free) and take the time to do a few sessions every season,” Ramhold said. “Once you have a better grasp of what you enjoy, you may find that you don’t need hardcore hiking and that moderate nature walks are what you’re looking for. Or you may want more of a challenge; in that case, you know that you’ll need real hiking boots as well as other equipment and you can start to build that collection slowly rather than shelling out a ton of cash up front and learning that hiking isn’t what you expected.”

Sewing  

“This is a hobby that can really pay off if you enjoy it and have a good supply shop to patronize, whether locally or online; however, startup can be challenging and expensive,” Ramhold said. “While a needle and thread may be fine for simple projects like repairing tears in clothing, you’ll want a sewing machine for bigger projects. Those don’t come cheap and they also don’t last like they used to. In addition to the machine, you’ll need thread as well as notions like bobbins, pins, fabric chalk or pens, shears or scissors set aside specifically for fabric (don’t cut paper or plastic with your fabric shears unless you want them to dull quickly), and of course, fabric.”

Even if you can pick up these items for relatively cheap, sewing is a skill, and it takes a lot of time and investment for most people to get it right.

“Rather than going all in right away, try to find someone you know with a sewing machine you can practice on,” Ramhold said. “Try to sew their scraps together to get the hang of it, or cut up old t-shirts and use them to practice. Once you’ve learned the basics, if you’re still interested in taking it on, try to find a second-hand machine – just make sure it’s a solid brand when you do.

Cross-Stitching

“This may seem like a simple hobby to get started with — after all, you just need embroidery floss, a needle, and cross-stitch fabric, right? Well, kind of,” said Ramhold. 

A super simple project shouldn’t cost much money, but once you get past the ABCs of cross-stitching, money can go real fast. 

“If you just want to make something, consider picking up cheap yarn and a crochet hook — you can shop at Joann or Michaels and get started for around $6 if you opt for value yarn and a standard size hook, such as an H hook (5mm),” Ramhold said. “If you end up loving it, great! You can then expand your collection of hooks and check out other yarn, but if not, you’ve wasted a very small amount of cash to try something new.”

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Playing Golf

“Even if you own a set of clubs (which aren’t cheap) you still have to pay for green fees, cart rentals and golf balls, amongst other things depending on where you play,” Ramhold said. “Want to buy drinks or snacks or have lunch at the country club where you play? You’ll have to shell out cash for each of those (and potentially a club membership as well). Even if you think you’ll just bring your own golf balls, you’re going to lose some, inevitably, whether it’s to the water on the courses or the woods nearby or even some rando picking up your ball instead of theirs.”

Now, if golfing is really your dream, there are ways to trim costs. 

“Consider renting clubs (or borrowing if you know someone), buy golf balls in bulk, and bring your own snacks and drinks with you,” Ramhold said.

Music Festivals

“These can be really exciting, especially if there’s a lineup that includes a bunch of bands you want to see,” Ramhold said. “Unfortunately, they’re super pricey, even if you don’t want special access to VIP areas and such. Factor in merchandise, food and drinks, and you can easily spend a small fortune.”

Rather than shelling out a fortune for a limited time music festival, look to spring for single concerts instead.

“You’ll be able to enjoy seeing bands you truly enjoy and not have to worry about paying for musicians you aren’t interested in,” Ramhold said. “Plus, you can potentially save on tickets, especially if you aren’t picky about where you’re seated. Just be careful when purchasing tickets, as you can be hit with a ton of fees depending on who you purchase from.”

PC Gaming

“If you don’t have a gaming PC already, building one can be a pricey endeavor,” Ramhold said. “However, you can go the route of a budget build (just keep those limitations in mind when purchasing games) and be sure to buy games when they’re on sale. Stores like Steam and GPG routinely offer sales with titles discounted by up to 90% off, so you can definitely stock up during these events for way less.”

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About the Author

Nicole Spector is a writer, editor, and author based in Los Angeles by way of Brooklyn. Her work has appeared in Vogue, the Atlantic, Vice, and The New Yorker. She's a frequent contributor to NBC News and Publishers Weekly. Her 2013 debut novel, "Fifty Shades of Dorian Gray" received laudatory blurbs from the likes of Fred Armisen and Ken Kalfus, and was published in the US, UK, France, and Russia — though nobody knows whatever happened with the Russian edition! She has an affinity for Twitter.

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