Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Hobby and the Personal Finance Problem

Or should it be Personal Finance and the Hobby Problem?  It's something I've been thinking about since reading this post: HOP: Sound the Frugalhorn, which led to this one:  More Addictive?.  This brought to light two very different ways of looking at the interaction of money and hobby dollars.  Based on my occupation and my passion for both Warhammer and financial literacy (I’m a nerd, but you knew that), I thought I would weigh in on the subject.  

Maybe work on what you have already?
Responsible budgeting means keeping things in proper perspective.  I use a portion of my income to purchase small pieces of plastic that have been turned into vaguely humanoid shapes.  This is a ridiculous thing to do.  Really, there’s no way to argue with that.  But I do it.  I love it.  It makes me happy and what’s life without joy?  There’s no reason anyone shouldn't enjoy a hobby like this, as long as you’re putting the right dollars towards it.  What do I mean by that?  I mean discretionary income that has not been designated for more important needs or wants.

Let me break it down all the way for you if no one ever has.  Everyone who earns wages starts off with what we call “gross income” which is all the money you earn.  From that, we subtract taxes, which gives us “disposable income.”  Obviously, we have certain basic necessities which we require to live, such as food, shelter, and clothing, and once we subtract these expenses, we get down to “discretionary income.”  It is from this pot that we draw the money for our hobby.

Please keep in mind that Warhammer should not be the first dollars to come out of this pot either.  You’ll notice that there are a lot of things that fall into the discretionary category, and if you blow the whole thing on Space Marines, you’re going to leave yourself woefully short in other areas.  Some of those areas are extremely important.
Before you put even one dollar towards any plastic, there are some basic questions that you need to ask yourself.  Now, “Have I put money towards my retirement,” is way less interesting than, “Look at those new Vanguard Vets.  Do want.”  I understand that.  I am guilty of that all the time.  But these kinds of questions are necessary and if you have to take a deep breath and remember them, do so before any large purchase.
At a minimum, you need to make a plan for how much you’re going to spend on the different areas of discretionary income.  List them.  You play Warhammer, for goodness sake.  You should be good at making lists.  Rank them in order of precedence.  Then look at your wages, break down your other expenses, and allocate funds.  

Actually an image of a customer?
Start your allocation with things like 1) putting money into an emergency savings account so when “LIFE” happens to you, you’re prepared and 2) aggressively paying off your debts so more of your money stays yours.  If these things aren't taken care of, put off your next purchases until they are.  I’m sorry but your army may have to suffer for a while.  Maybe you won’t have the latest and greatest competitive build or the fresh off the line shiny sculpt, but you’ll become a better player using what you have anyway and you’ll be acting like a responsible adult.  

After that, you gain a little more freedom.  New questions arise.  What comes next on your list?  What do you truly value?  Do you own a home?  Do you want to?  Have you thought about retirement or kids or college?  What are you putting towards each one that is relevant to you?  “But,” I hear you cry, “That doesn't leave much leftover for my current Pre-Heresy, all Forge World, custom Mk. IV World Eaters.”  That means you have some decisions to make.  The pie you’re pulling from is only so big.  You’re going to have to pick and choose what you put money towards first.  When the money is gone, you’re done.  And you know which ones I’m going to tell you are most important.
So ask yourself this:  “What does my list look like?”  For me, I am carrying no debt and I have an emergency fund, so I am into the second set of questions.  I want to own a home.  I want to save for retirement early because I know what a huge difference ten extra years of compounding interest can make.  I have my degree, but am considering an MSF in the near future.  I also want to purchase a new car in the next few years.  Oh, and I really want a Zombie Dragon and the Master of Marches for a conversion plus some new paints.

The down payment occupies a large chunk of discretionary income, as does my retirement saving allocation.  Both of these are automated, so I don’t miss the money.  These things way outstrip my other wants in terms of priority, so that money is budgeted before even looking at more categories.  The remaining chunk of money is divvied up amongst saving for the car, the master’s program, Warhammer, and things like nights out and a future vacation.  I sacrifice some nights out to put more money towards hobby and a nicer car, but higher education is expensive.  Like, crazy expensive.  Thankfully, I have another way to pay for most of it, but it still eats another large chunk of my available funds, since I don’t want to take on a lot of debt to pay it off.  That means, my usual hobby allowance isn't big, but that’s a function of where it falls on my priorities.  By saving and shopping around, I am able stretch my dollars and make big purchases when I have the money.  I still get my fix, but not at the expense of other important things.

Ultimately, you are free to live your life how you want.  If you want to run up a huge credit debt to buy a whole company of Ultramarines, you can do so.  And with only one click!  Money is only a thing meant to be turned into different things.  However, if you do a budget, build a spending plan, and set yourself a limit (that you stick to), you should find yourself in a better long term financial situation and under a lot less stress.

Let’s end on six quick tips:
        1.  If you don’t have the money in your budget this month for all the stuff you want, save it.  If you are only able to allocate $75/month to fun money and you want a Wraithknight, you’re going to have to wait and save a month’s funds.  If you don’t, you’ll be short elsewhere.
        2.  If you can’t be trusted with a credit card, leave it at home.  I have had clients that froze theirs.  Not the accounts, but the actual cards in blocks of ice.
        3.  If you are having impulse control issues, make a list that prioritizes hobby purchases.  Stick to your list.  As new, shiny things come out, reorder your list rather than impulse buying all the new stuff.
        4.  If you know a big release is coming up, and you know you’re going to want to have all the new toys, save up for it.  If more than one big release hits in a row, prioritize.
        5.  Avoid browsing on random days.  Plan out your monthly purchase, go to the store, buy, and leave.  If you play at the store and have impulse issues, leave your cash and cards at home on game days.

        6.  Probably one of the most helpful financial practices:  Automate your savings.  Set up automatic transfers to take place on specific days after you get paid, sending money to savings and retirement accounts designated for specific goals, rather than waiting to move the money manually.  People tend to spend the money otherwise and have less left over.
Feel free to leave other tips or questions in the comments.

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