You Call That a Hobby?
If you’re like me, you’re probably wondering how people can spend hundreds of dollars on a device like the iPad (Stock Quote: AAPL) when they probably don’t need it and a better version will come out next year. This kind of spending is frivolous, to say the least. Yet, even these techies pale in comparison to some of the different kinds of hobbyists and collectors out there.
The hobbies on this list redefine extravagant. These individuals have spent thousands (and in one case millions) to indulge their hobbies. We’ll put aside the obvious question of whether it’s a wise investment to blow your retirement money on a classic car collection and just dive straight into these odd guilty pleasures. Wherever possible, we will include some tips on how to make these hobbies a bit more affordable in case you want to give it a shot yourself.
Photo Credit: Slack pics
Betsy from Germantown, Md., is addicted to ballroom dancing. In one year alone she spent $15,000 on the hobby, and she claims that may actually be low compared to some extreme ballroom dancers. “I knew ladies at the first studio who put second mortgages on their houses to pay for ballroom lessons,” she told us. So how exactly do you spend that much money just to dance? It’s all about the competitions. “Competition costs started around $1,500 and quite commonly went to $5,000, and $15,000 if going cross-country to a ‘name’ competition,” she said. Meanwhile, dancing lessons in Knoxville, Tenn., where she lived, typically cost her $60-150 an hour. And that doesn’t even take into account the price of ballroom dresses, which can run into the thousands.
That said, Betsy has learned a few useful tips for bringing down the cost of this hobby. She recommends shopping for ballroom dresses on eBay and videotaping your dancing lessons when possible so you can get more for your money.
Photo Credit: liza31337
Comic Book Collecting
When it comes to hobbies, few are as intense as comic book collecting. Earlier this year, a Batman comic from 1939 sold for more than $1 million. As if that weren’t insane enough, the first issue of Superman sold for $1.5 million last month, shattering the record. So, who exactly are these people who spend millions on comics?
According to ComicsConnect, the company that auctioned off the Superman comic, many wealthy entrepreneurs today used to be big geeks when they were kids, and now all they want to spend their money on is comic books. “The customer who bought the Superman comic was a big comic book fan. He’s also bought valuable books, but nothing even close to that [price],” said Stephen Fisher, the founder of ComicConnect. When he’s not selling million-dollar comics, Fisher works on building up his own pricey collection. “I’ve been collecting comics since I was about 5 years old,” he told MainStreet. “I’ve bought original comic art for around $100,000 and I own the world’s most valuable movie poster, a 1931 Frankenstein 6-Sheet.” Fisher did not say how much he paid for it, but he did say that today it is worth at least $1 million.
But if you’re like most normal people, and don’t have thousands of dollars to blow on comics, Fisher recommends that you just buy what you can afford and enjoy. “If you buy what you appreciate and hold onto it for a while, you’ll generally do pretty well.”
Photo Credit: Glenn Batuyong
Sometimes the most expensive hobbies are also the strangest. Just take Margo Feiden. She now runs an art gallery in Manhattan, but throughout the 1990s, her biggest passion was camel racing. Her fascination with the unusual sport began even more curiously when she traveled to a remote part of China near the border of Afghanistan “to find a man,” though on this trip she also “met camels for the first time.” Soon after, she made the decision to go to Egypt and befriended a family that owned horses and camels. It was there she rode her first camel, who was named Canasta (like the card game.)
Feiden was drawn to camel racing because she noticed no women were doing it. “I felt I had to join in,” she said. “I never finished close to first, but I never came in absolutely last either.” Each year, she spent thousands of dollars to travel back and forth from New York to the Egyptian Sahara. On average, she went every three months. A year or so into her hobby, she decided to buy Canasta. Though she would not give MainStreet an exact price, Feiden says she sent “several thousand dollars a year to the owner” partly to cover the upkeep costs for the animal. She finally stopped racing after Sept. 11 because she no longer felt comfortable traveling to that part of the world.
Photo Credit: wildxplorer
Making a Web Site
Sure, you can start a blog for free on platforms like Wordpress, but if you want to do it right, building a Web site can cost you an arm and a leg. Lawrence Chernin found this out firsthand when he decided to build his own dating site (Brainiac Dating) because he “thought it would help me find a girlfriend.” Chernin has spent more than $70,000 in the last year and a half to build the site. “Almost all the expense is for ads in Google and Facebook,” he said. Right now, he has thousands of members, but almost no advertisers yet so he makes very little in revenue. Still, he feels very faithful to the site, even with its expenses. “I already have a girlfriend but I am not abandoning the site.”
Photo Credit: Jennie Faber
Collecting Old Technology
Duncan McCampbell has a deep and abiding love for Minolta manual-focus SLR cameras. He received his first one back in 1985 as a graduation gift from his father and over the years managed to snatch up the few rare models that remained on shelves for a hefty price. In particular, the XM-Motor model really captured his heart.
“It was Minolta’s only attempt at a true Pro camera. Oh, and what an attempt it was. Big, burly and sculpted, it was more electronically advanced than either the Nikon or Canon F series pro cameras at the time, and it cost something like $1,500 in 1985 dollars,” he said. “They were a fantastic commercial failure. I have touched only two of them in my life and I own both of them.” Every time he took a trip to a new foreign city, he would search through shops in the hopes of finding this model. He found one in the Netherlands and another in Tokyo.
All in all, McCampbell says he has spent $35,000 on his Minolta camera collection, including repairs, lenses and other accessories. There are still a few items he wants to find, but for now, he says, “I am not aware of a more comprehensive collection.”
If you’re a fan of dead technology, it is possible to follow in McCampbell’s footsteps in a more affordable fashion. Just check out our slideshow of old gadgets you can buy dirt cheap.
Photo Credit: adkorte
Joe Maddalena collects culture, plain and simple. He bought the last known signature of John F. Kennedy for $38,837 and a letter from Abraham Lincoln for an incredible $748,000 (which he claims is worth millions today). And it’s not just presidential memorabilia. Maddelena also owns Hollywood items like the hourglass from The Wizard of Oz, which he bought for $150,000. In an average year, Maddalena claims to spend about $100,000 on collectors items.
The urge to collect started at a very young age for Maddalena. “My parents were antiques dealers in Rhode Island. While I was traveling with them, I went to my first baseball card convention. There were a bunch of collectors in New England, but not enough shows, so, with money I earned from my paper route, I started the first baseball card show in Rhode Island,” he said. “That grew like crazy and I added comic book conventions to the mix. By the time I was 14, I had over a million baseball cards, thousands of autographs and over 100,000 comic books and original pieces of art.” Today, he is in charge of Profiles in History, the largest auctioneer of Hollywood memorabilia.
Photo Credit: Believe Collective
Tornado chasing, like any pursuit that involves lots of traveling, can be very expensive. On top of that, many storm chasers spend a good amount of money on cameras and other equipment to get footage. Still, this hobby provides a thrill for adventure seekers. As one site points out, there is a small chance that a weather channel might buy some of the footage you capture while chasing the storm, but it’s competitive and you probably won’t make much money from this.
If you’re into strange traveling ideas, you might also consider visiting locations where UFOs have been sighted. It’s less dangerous than tornado chasing… assuming of course that the UFOs don’t come back.
Photo Credit: nebraskasc
Some people will do anything to get the perfect brew. Tony Harrison spends $2,000 or more a year to homebrew his own beer once a month (last year, he spent a little less because of the poor economy). Most of that money goes toward the equipment – bottles, hoses and buckets to manufacture the beer. Harrison once spent $300 to brew “an imperial IPA,” though as he notes, that does yield gallons and gallons of alcohol.
While Harrison’s hobby might seem expensive to some, it’s nothing compared to what it can cost to be a moonshiner. As we’ve reported, moonshine stills can cost anywhere from $12,000 to $250,000. If you are interested in brewing your own drinks, check out this step-by-step guide from Popular Mechanics on how to do it cheaply.
Photo Credit: colbs
Anders Brownsworth has been flying helicopters for more than a decade and during that time he has spent $30,000 on the hobby. “It’s a cash drain, but you can’t beat it,” he said. “The first year I flew I was spending $10,000/year to fly which was basically the cost of getting the license, but I don't fly nearly that much anymore.” Brownsworth says he has spent as much as $750 for a single go-around on a helicopter, but he claims you should be able to fly one for around $200 these days. “The real expense is flying the turbine birds like the Bell 206 Jet Ranger,” he said.
So where is the best place to fly a helicopter? “It’s definitely California because of the mountains and the fact that it is legal to fly under the Golden Gate bridge.” Don’t believe it? Just watch this video.
Photo Credit: The Official CTBTO Photostream
Flying Toy Helicopters
Flying toy helicopters can be almost as addictive as flying the real thing. Last Christmas, Vincent from New York City was given a “cheap but cool” remote control helicopter that was worth about $30. Vincent was amused by the toy, but he isn’t the kind of person to start throwing away money on a frivolous hobby like that. However, it turned out two of his friends were. “Two of my friends were so amused by this cheap little chopper that they went out and bought these expensive choppers for hundreds of dollars which eventually resulted in an almost full-blown addiction,” he said. Each of Vincent’s friends now own four or five helicopters, which cost several hundred dollars per unit. “But the problem is not just buying the choppers, the problem is the money they spend on the repairs.”
According to Vincent, they’ve each spent about $4,000 on toy helicopters so far. “If you ask me, their hobby is ridiculous. These are grown men,” he said.
If you are a grown man and do like the sound of that, you might want to check out this new toy that works with the iPhone.
Photo Credit: robotpolisher
Skydiving may be the most expensive hobby when you divide what you pay by how long the activity lasts. On average, a single tandem jump costs about $150-250, and lasts for less than a minute. Some places will offer package deals of 7-10 jumps for about $1,500, which is a better rate, but still pricey. However, if you are really serious about this hobby, the best thing to do is become certified. It might take some time, but in the long run, it will save you money. We found one program that charges $1,500. And after you’re certified, jumps can cost less than $20 each. Plus, I’d assume it’s a great conversation starter at parties. I wouldn’t really know though – I don’t skydive or go to parties.
Photo Credit: DuReMi
Jay Leno (hold your boos, Conan fans) is known for his extensive car collection. He owns several cars from the beginning of the 1900s, including a 1906 Steam Rocket. He recently told The New York Times that he didn’t intend to become a car collector, he just started buying cars and realized he couldn’t bear to sell any of the ones he acquired. It’s unclear how much he has spent in total on all of his cars, but there’s no doubt it’s now in the millions. As The London Times points out, several of the cars he owns are worth more than $100,000 each. In a way, it’s hard to call this a hobby since the cars seem to function as Jay’s surrogate children.
Photo Credit: Alan Light
These ornate bejeweled eggs originated in Russia and some are worth more than a house (or mansion). Last century, the Forbes family collected nine Faberge Imperial Easter Eggs which had belonged to Tsar Alexander III of Russia. It is unclear how much the Forbes family spent on the eggs, but a few years ago, the set of nine was auctioned off to a Russian tycoon for somewhere between $80 and $120 million. That’s a nice little nest egg right there.
Photo Credit: greenacre8
It’s amazing that something worth 42 cents (excuse me, 44 now), could be worth tens of thousands of dollars some day. But for some hardcore stamp collectors, their collection could be more valuable than their house. One man in the U.K. collected stamps for 60 years, amounting a collection worth a reported 80,000 pounds (or about $120,000). Unfortunately, the collection proved to be too valuable, and earlier this year thieves broke into his house and stole it.
Photo Credit: Adam UXB Smith
We might be jumping the gun a bit to call this a “hobby,” since the device hasn’t actually come out yet. But one company is releasing the first ever commercial jet pack for $90,000, and they claim people have already pre-ordered it. That sounds like the ultimate mid-life crisis purchase to me. Sign me up anway.
Photo Credit: jurvetson
For those who don’t know, Geocaching is a “high-tech treasure hunt” where players use GPS systems to find hidden objects in the world. If you think it sounds silly, keep in mind that there are more than a million geocaches going on right now, according to Geocaching.com. This hobby used to be more expensive when GPS systems were new to the market, but now that these devices are more common (and even exist on some smart phones) this fun activity has become more affordable. Of course, if you want to be really frugal, you could just do this the old fashioned way and have a treasure hunt in your backyard without using GPS. But doesn’t that sound a lot less interesting?
Photo Credit: Jimmy Joe
The hobbies mentioned above may be expensive, but most of them won't hurt you (just your wallet.) Vices on the other hand can be just as expensive, and much more costly for your health. Read our report on the true cost of vices. If you cut some of these out of your life, you may just be able to afford one of the fun hobbies here.
Photo Credit: neoliminal