In the past I have mentioned the importance of selecting hobbies, activities really, in such a way that they do not cost you money, rather they should be free or at best actually make you money.

Disclaimer: Yes, I know that my two sports (inline hockey and shinkendo) cost me money and thus are not in accordance with what I preach. These are recent additions though.

I don’t know about you, but pretty much anything I get my brain on eventually turns interesting once I learn enough, so having had a hobby for a long time or thinking that something new is not or less interesting is no excuse for not picking up something different.

If you lack ideas of what to pick as a hobby that has little net cost or is even profitable, here’s a list. Feel free to add your suggestions.

  1. Home renovation. (At the very least you can learn to fix your own house. Possible developments include care taking or fixer uppers. This can be very profitable during real estate bubbles.)
  2. Carpentry. Or cabinet building. Consider elevating one home renovation skills to the point where you can make things as good as or better than machine-made store-bought items.
  3. Watch repair. (This is what I am currently trying to pick up. It seems that many watch and clock repairers are self-made. The books to get are the ones by de Carle or enroll in a correspondence course. Get Bergeon tools either from ofrei.com or eBay.)
  4. Mechanics. Any vehicle is good, but I would suggest starting with things that are generally maintained by owners e.g. two-wheelers. My grandfather used to buy up cheap bicycles, fix them up and sell them again. He had more than a hundred stacked up in his garage.
  5. Fitness. (This will first make you healthy and if you are good at it, you could get certified, usually costing anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousands, and leverage this into teaching classes at a gym/fitness center.).
  6. Computing. (The best geeks are self-taught. It is almost impossible to tell you what to learn exactly these days. In my younger days I became adept enough at *nix to become the administrator for the theory group at my department.)
  7. Gardening. (You almost have a duty to learn this. Oh uh, there I go with my personal values again.)
  8. Cooking. (Same as above. This could be leveraged into catering if you are any good at it, but you should probably not start thinking in terms of gourmet restaurants just yet. Wait until you have won a couple of baking competitions.)
  9. Crafts. (This is for girls right? Wrong! For those, who are too inept at knitting like myself (I taught myself to knit from a webpage and managed to make a scarf about half a foot long before I gave up), how about building steam engines? Some have gotten so good that they now build models for museums. If you are creative and good steampunk seems to be a way to make money.)
  10. Wonk. I used to be a wonk. Then I took at break and now I’m a wonk again in a different field. Pick something you’re interested in and start a blog about it or a web page. If you write well or have something interesting to say (at least one of these qualities are required), you can gain a lot of interesting connections. The world is much smaller than you think.
  11. Teaching. If you’re a masochist, you might consider tutoring. Tutoring seems to fall in two classes of students. The clueless who desperately needs a D or else, and the keeners who want to go from A to A+. You may like it. It pays okay right out of the box and it’s a chance to keep your high school/college skills sharp.
  12. Investing. (And personal finance, obviously). Admittedly, this can lead to losing money as well. The interesting aspect here is that the remuneration depends on the size of your portfolio. You gain ten times the benefit when you are managing $200k compared to when you are managing $20k for the same work. Hence, investing as a hobby is something that pays off eventually.

Things that didn’t make the list

  1. Music. You have to be really good if you expect anyone to pay you for music lessons. Unlike fitness where you could probably be an “expert” in a couple of years, becoming a good musician will take at least half a decade.
  2. Sports. Same thing. You can probably make assistant coach, but coaches seem to have spent at least half a decade or more on the sports before they can break even. Consider whether you’re one of the best players in your town/city. If not, you’re probably not good enough to get paid. Just my two cents.
  3. Collecting. I could have put this on either list. The problem here is that you get paid from assembling collections but mostly from “holding”, that is, waiting. The problem here is that it’s a fast way to lose money buying crap. You need a keen sense of what will sell and what will not sell.
  4. Research. There are very few fields, where you as an amateur can make a viable contribution, simply due to lack of the access to the proper channels. Science works much like a guild in that sense in that if you do not have the proper credentials, you will largely be ignored.

What the items on this list have in common is that they all belong to “rock star”-professions, where most of the money goes to a few people on the top and where differences that are only recognizable to a few experts translate into a large monetary difference.



Jacob comments:

It seems I was wrong or at least incomplete about music. I never thought about playing for others even though I know a couple of people who do this; maybe because they seem to play more for the fun of it than for the money.

If you absolutely must do science, astronomy is an area where amateur effort is still recognized. There are two areas I’m aware of. Comet hunting in which you spend long nights looking for “stars” that move and variable star observation where you spend a few minutes each night per star recording variable stars which change their light output for different reasons. If you want to have a go at the latter, go to AAVSO‘s site to get started. You do not need an expensive telescope for the latter, since you’re just comparing the brightness of your target star relative to a reference star.