Is Collecting things a Waste of Time and Money?

by on Dec 12 2012 - 29 Comments

Coins. Beanie Babies. Maps. Dolls. Sports memorabilia. People will collect just about anything. The real question, though, is whether collecting things is just a waste of valuable time and money?

As a kid, I collected many things. Beanie babies, Pokemon cards, pogs, sports cards, etc. I still have many of these collections, in part because they aren’t worth a whole lot and I figure my best shot at selling them for a material amount is just letting them sit in my basement until I’m old and gray and my grandchildren (or great-grandchildren) can sell them. I’ve moved on to collecting different things (more on that later), but overall haven’t put much time, effort, or money towards collecting for quite some time now.

After following some people who recently got into collecting coins and rare books, I can see myself getting into collecting the same sorts of things, but not until later in life. Right now I can’t justify these purchases, and even if I did have the disposable income I would have to ask myself whether it’s worth the time and money. I have three thoughts that I think are relevant in regards to this question:

Collecting can be a source of entertainment

Collecting is, at it’s core, a form of entertainment. Some people mountain climb, some people blog, and some spend their time working on adding to their collections. I have a Twitter follower whose wife has collected over 3,000 Scooby-Doo-related dvds, action figures, and other memorabilia. For her I’m sure it’s similar to someone who is really into sports and follows it closely. The sports fan may read blogs about their favorite team and participate in forums. She, on the other hand, probably spends a decent amount of time trying to find the next Scooby-Doo item to collect. Her husband (my twitter follower), on the other hand, said all he can say is “Zoinks!” ;)

It obviously takes money to collect things and you have to justify each additional purchase for your collection. You can certainly start small by getting little things here and there or collect something that is relatively low-cost (like shot glasses). To really have an impressive collection, though, it requires a decent amount of disposable income. It’s also easy to get caught up in collecting things and spending obscene amounts of money adding additional items. This can happen with any hobby, though, such as a music fan who just has to go to a concert every week.

Collecting can create income and collections can appreciate in value

Many people who collect become so attached to their collections that they never want to sell it, because the sentimental value outweighs any possible monetary gain. If you’ve ever watched the television show Pawn Stars you will notice very quickly if something was inherited or if the individual has collected the item themselves. Usually the people who inherit it are much more likely to sell and take the cash versus someone who has held on to an item for years and years.

Collections can certainly appreciate in value, but the flip side is that collections can also lose value. The thing about collections are that the value is all based off demand, which can change quickly. If the economy is in the dumps there is going to be fewer buyers and an uptick in people looking to sell; conversely items can appreciate if people have additional disposable income, thereby increasing demand.

With so much information available on the internet, I find it hard to believe that buyers and sellers of things like sports memorabilia have much of an edge these days. With that being said,, there are certainly people who buy and sell collectibles full-time, such as the cast of American Pickers. If you are going to buy and sell collectibles you have to really know the true market value of items and have to get many items for a good price, otherwise losses can quickly wipe out the gains.

Collecting is what you make of it

I first thought of the idea for this post because one of my good friends is headed to India in just a few days and I asked him to get me a casino chip if he runs into one. Then I realized that there’s a good chance there are no casinos in India, so I asked him to bring me back some rupees.

I really don’t have that much of a collection of either gaming chips or foreign currency. I could easily go to the bank and get some foreign bank notes, but I like to collect both the casino chips and foreign currency from friends and family who are traveling, or from their home country. For example I have a friend from Japan who was an international student at my high school. He gave me some Yen, which was essentially the first currency in my collection. I was a small group leader at our church for a group of 7th graders, and one of the students was an international student. He gave me some Guatemalan Quetzal that I added to my collection. An additional example is my friend who spent some time in Melbourne and brought back a blackjack chip from a casino there.

For me, it’s fun to collect things that have some meaning or story behind them. For example, the rupees my friend brings back from India will remind me of his time in India and our discussions about the planning of his trip (and I’m sure the interesting stories he will share with me when he returns).

Is collecting a waste of time and money? I think everyone has to answer that question for themselves.

What do you think of collecting? Is it worth the time and effort (both to you personally as well as in general)?
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Photo by Dee Speed