How to afford an expensive hobby

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In our go-go-go lives, being busy can sometimes feel like a badge of honour. There’s always work to get caught up on or a to-do list to make and it can be tough to justify a bit of downtime. But making time for ourselves outside of work, and even outside of family and social obligations, can not only help you unwind—it’s healthy too. Whether you’re into gardening, training for your next 10 km, or cross stitching 90s R&B lyrics, hobbies can help ease anxiety and manage stress. The problem is, once we make time for our hobbies, how do we make room in our budgets? We chatted with five Atlantic Canadians who are dedicated to their hobbies to find out how they make it work. Meet Luke, Ellie, Matt, Mel, and Tyler.

Tell us about your hobby.

Luke: My hobby is surfing. I live on the coast in Nova Scotia and try to get in the water as much as possible—even in the winter.

Ellie: I’m a horseback rider. Hunter/jumper by training and while I often ride with a coach, I don’t compete.

Matt: I collect, build, and paint miniature game pieces for Warhammer—a tabletop battle game.

Mel: My hobby is paper quilling! I enjoy it for a lot of the same reasons I imagine people enjoy something like knitting—it keeps my hands busy and I don’t have to think about it too hard. My day job involves a lot of intangible work—I don’t always have a thing to measure my progress at the end of my day. But with paper quilling, I can see the physical results from my efforts in the form of tiny coils of paper. There’s something very satisfying about that.

Tyler: My hobby is bee keeping. I care for and harvest honey from a small hive in my backyard.

Paper Quilling

How much do you spend on your hobby each year?

Luke: It varies! I have a few different surfboards which range in price from $800–2,000. Living in Atlantic Canada, you need to make sure you have the right gear to stay warm. I buy a new wetsuit, gloves, and boots every few years, which can cost between $300–1,000, depending on the thickness of the wetsuit. In years past, most of my traveling has revolved around surfing.

Ellie: Many, many dollars. In the thousands, and shockingly, I’ve actually cut down quite a bit on my spending and investment in the sport. I don’t own a horse and the barn where I’m riding isn’t super winterized, so even seasonally costs differ. It’s quite possibly the most expensive hobby of all time. I’ve heard people say that if you want to make a fortune in horses, you better start with two fortunes.

Matt: Too much—around $2,000. That breaks down into models costing between $50–100 per box, paint, which can be between $5–20, brushes which start around $7, and any entry into paid events.  

Mel: That depends. The paper itself isn’t that expensive and getting the tools your need to get started is pretty low cost, as well. It can add up when you start buying other fancy tools, fancy paper, and canvas. I’d say probably a few hundred dollars, maybe. 

Tyler: After the initial equipment cost, it’s about $150 a year. If the bees don’t survive the winter it’s double that.

How do you make room for your hobby in your budget?

Luke: If I want to buy a new board or wetsuit, I try to sell some of my older gear to help supplement the cost. I try to spread out when I buy boards and when I buy wetsuits—buying both in the same year is way too expensive.

Ellie: There are ways to help offset costs. When I was younger, exchanging hard labour for lessons was pretty typical. And I’ve been lucky to form some pretty great relationships as part of the sport, which can sometimes lead to riding opportunities on younger horses in training or as tune-ups for ponies.

Matt: I look at upcoming expenses for the month and break down what I’ll have available after that. I keep a set amount that can fluctuate for entertainment, which is what my hobby falls under.

Mel: I’m a young professional with no children. I have a loose budget, but really, if I want something, I can usually afford to buy it (within reason). Buying strips of paper isn’t all that expensive and if I’m buying something in larger quantity, it’s usually because I’ve been commissioned to make something or it’s going to be a gift.

Tyler: Compared to most hobbies, bee keeping is relatively inexpensive. You also have the opportunity to sell bee products, such as honey and wax. Large scale bee keepers will often rent their hives out for this purpose or for pollination.

Warhammer Painting

Have you ever purchased a big-ticket item for your hobby?

Luke: I’ve saved up and travelled to Indonesia several times for surfing. It’s a long, expensive flight, but worth it for the incredible waves.

Ellie: Sure have. While I’ve never purchased a horse, which often isn’t even your biggest expense in the sport, I’ve leased horses, I pay for lessons and clinics and coaches, I’ve bought saddles, bridles, boots, helmets, and so much other stuff. It’s a sport filled with charming things and outfits. I’ve also gone on a couple of holidays that centred on riding and improving my skills in Europe. 

Matt: The most expensive thing I’ve done for my hobby was flying to Gibraltar to participate in an international Warhammer tournament.

Mel: Not really. My hobby doesn’t require any overly expensive tools.

Tyler: The biggest item I have purchased is a honey extractor, a piece of equipment that spins honey out of the frames.

Have you made any financial sacrifices or lifestyle changes to keep-up with your hobby?

Luke: Big-time. Last year my partner and I purchased a piece of land on the coast and built a home. Moving from downtown Halifax was a big lifestyle change and having access to a surf break was definitely an influencing factor. It feels pretty amazing to be able to jump in the ocean for a surf after work—it’s one of the best decisions we’ve ever made!

Ellie: I suppose so, but it’s been a part of my life for so long, that it doesn’t really feel like they’re sacrifices, financially, anyway. If I don’t travel as much or buy that extra something, it’s always been a no-brainer. It’s not even a thought process anymore, just ingrained in my life. I think what I actually sacrifice is time. It’s not about the money, it’s about all the other things like time with friends and family that I give up to spend time with horses.

Matt: Not really. I only have a few pastimes and I treat them as outlets for my mental health. It’s how I relax and socialize.

Mel: Nope!

Tyler: No major sacrifices. I think of beekeeping as a luxury—I wouldn’t allow it to affect my lifestyle.


Any tips or tricks for affording your hobby?

Luke: For me, it’s about just making sure I stick to buying what I need—it’s easy to get carried away when it comes to surfing. I never buy a new board unless an older one is broken or worn out.

Ellie: Honestly, horseback riding is straight up just expensive. Lots of people have to stop riding for a chunk of time because of financial constraints. And I’m not even considering showing fees, vet and care bills, buying the animal itself, and about a jillion other expenses that come along with it. 

Matt: I don’t always buy from the original source. Kijiji, eBay, downloading books, and buying from other countries like China or the Ukraine helps mitigate the larger costs.

Mel: If you have the time and patience for it, you can save a bit of money by ordering stuff online. Usually from China. Fair warning, it can sometimes take well over a month for this stuff to arrive. But again, time and patience can pay off. Not every craft store sells the stuff I need for paper quilling, so sometimes this is the only solution.

Tyler: Look for local groups and clubs—many beekeeper clubs will have equipment that can be shared. For example, our local group has a honey extractor that’s used by all members.