Friday, 8 August 2014

Should I have a budget?

It's a variation on a question that often comes up at conventions when Roomy and I talk on general "collecting" panels.  Should I plan my spending on my collection?  How?  Why?  Is it necessary to have a budget when you're a collector?
I do feel it's important that, as collectors, we discuss the important aspects of collecting.  Budgeting isn't the most entertaining topic, but it's an important one, perhaps the most important one for collectors and non-collectors alike.
I'm not going to tell you how to budget because it's none of my business how you organize yourself, and different methods work for different people.  As long as your method works there's no right answer.  But I do think it's important that we all have a budget of some kind to help keep us on the straight and narrow collecting path.  Below I've identified five reasons for developing and sticking to a budget that I find particularly important.
1. First things first: the necessities of life must always come before your collection.  You, and the entities who depend on you, must be housed, fed, clothed (if not furry, feathery, or scaly) and medically cared for.  You must have transportation of some kind, the lights must stay on, the phone connected, the heat available, the debts paid.  Only after all the necessities have been paid can you begin to think about spending money on your collection.
Most collectors don't have much trouble with this first one, but we've all known or seen or heard of someone who was drowning in debt, unable to keep their head above water.  Often, it's through no fault of their own, but it's all too easy to overspend and get ourselves into financial trouble, especially when you're as passionate about something as collectors are about their collections.
2. Remember the hidden costs: say you've decided that you'll spend $25 a month on your collection.  You find the Pony of your Dreams for sale on ebay for exactly $25, and you jump at the chance to buy her.  Oops, you've already overspent!  You forgot to count the shipping costs, the difference in exchange rate (if you're buying from another country), perhaps bank fees as well.  Suddenly your $25 pony now costs you $40 and you've already spent half your collection money for next month.
3. Plan ahead, don't shop ahead: if you're budgeting it can be easy(er) to save up a certain amount for an upcoming convention or specific purchase.  When I decided to buy my Brazilian Heart Throb as a reward for a new job, I didn't go out looking for one the next day.  I checked what the current going rate for her was so I knew how much I needed to save up.  I had some money I'd received as a gift, so I put that toward my goal.  I also budgeted a certain amount of each paycheque toward her.  It was only when I knew I had enough money set aside that I began shopping.  It took another two months for me to find one for sale, but I knew that if I looked before I had the money I might buy her and have to live with the debt.  I might ultimately have overspent, as once the pony is paid for it's easy to justify letting that debt be carried along for awhile and spending on other things.
4. Curate your collection: by this I mean simply choose what you're going to collect.  I have/had many collections in my life, but when I decided that I would collect MLP I made the decision that this would be the only thing I would actively pursue.  That way much of my discretionary cash could go toward building my MLP collection.  I could also use most of my display space for MLP.  But that doesn't mean that I buy anything and everything MLP.  I choose which ponies I want.  I don't collect doubles.  More recently, I've chosen to limit my merchandise buying to mainly vintage items.  I still occasionally add to my Breyer Stablemates/LPS/Unicorn collections, but rarely and only when I haven't spent money on my MLP collection recently.  Within the last two years I've also begun collecting Doctor Who dvds and merchandise, and of course that means that MLP doesn't get quite as much money as it used to.  It's all about balance.
5. Have fun!  If collecting has become a chore, if instead of the thrill of the buy you get only buyer's remorse, if your credit card debt can be tabulated in ebay purchases but not covered by your next paycheque, then it's time to re-evaluate.  Collecting should be fun, it shouldn't cause you financial strife.  If your collection stops bringing you joy, if you've overspent or are considering doing so, then it's time to take a break.  You needn't stop altogether, but you also don't need to buy something every day/week/month.  Take the time to enjoy what you have, rearrange your figures, change your display, talk to other collectors, and plan where you want to take your collection from here.

This is just the beginning of the discussion.  If you have any suggestions or comments you'd like to share, I'd be happy to hear them.  I plan to talk more about budgeting in a later post.


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