Make Your Hobby Pay Its Way
Hobbies generally end up in the expense category. Depending on the hobby, you may be paying for equipment, supplies, books and magazines, classes, training--the list goes on. Short of turning your hobby into a business, is there any way to get your hobby to pay its own way? Very possibly.
Most hobbies offer you a shot at any number of income streams. And, besides actual income streams, there are also ways to use your hobby to reduce expenses--which any economist will tell you is just as good. (Maybe better, because you have to pay taxes on any income.)
Sell your stuff
The most obvious income stream is to sell stuff you make. This really only works for hobbies where you make stuff, so it works better for potters and jewelry makers than for people whose hobby is mountain climbing or scuba diving.
My wife spins and weaves. Each year the local spinners and weavers guild has a show and sale where members sell what they produce. Some members go beyond the single annual sale. Some set up booths at any number of arts and crafts sales. Some set up booths at the farmers market. Some sell things on consignment through local shops and galleries. Some run web-businesses to sell their creations.
A single annual sale keeps you solidly on the "hobby" end of the continuum. The other options are all steps down the road to, essentially, running a small business. That's fine if you want to run a small business, but can take the fun out of a hobby.
Teach your hobby
The next obvious income stream is to teach the skills of your hobby. Some hobbies are very easy to pick up, and others have practitioners who are so excited by new adopters that they'll teach people how to do it for free. In either of those cases, it may be hard to make any money teaching. But, for many hobbies, there is plenty of opportunity to make a few dollars teaching classes or workshops.
Some hobbies, such as scuba diving and parachuting, are dangerous enough that there are certification processes to make sure that instructors meet certain minimum levels, but in most hobbies anyone can teach.
There are a hundred ways to get paid to teach. Around here it's possible to teach classes under the auspices of the local community college, the YMCA, the park district, and the public schools continuing education programs. Other places to consider are senior centers, youth centers, community centers, and public libraries. If your hobby has a local club, it may very well organize classes for members. Local businesses that cater to your hobby may offer classes as well.
To be successful, a class requires students, which probably means getting the word out to potential students. Fliers at libraries and related businesses are a good idea, as is networking with local hobbyists. Develop relationships with others who teach related classes.
If you've not taught before, it can be quite a bit of work to design a class, and then it often takes some experience teaching before you develop teaching skills to match your hobby skills. Knowing how to do something is not the same as knowing how to teach it.
Besides teaching a class, it may also be possible to tutor someone one-on-one.
Because of the work involved in developing, marketing and teaching a class, it too can turn into a small business, if you let it.
Sell a training DVD
A related option is to create a training DVD. The big attraction of this option is that, once you have the DVD, you can sell it and go on selling it, with minimal extra time and effort.
The equipment to record, edit, and produce such a DVD is cheap and readily available, but of course this option requires not only that you know the skills of your hobby, and how to teach them, but also how to produce a video. Still, even if you need to learn new video-making skills, or bring in another person to help, the attraction of being able to go on selling DVDs makes this an attractive option.
Write articles or books
An obvious possibility is to write articles or books about your hobby. You can sell them to magazine or book publishers, both those that specialize in the area of your hobby, and (possibly) mainstream publishers.
Start by surveying what's already available. Many hobbies have a vast array of specialized book and magazine publishers. Many pay quite well for well-written books and articles, especially ones that cover an area that isn't already covered.
One advantage of non-fiction writing (over fiction) is that you don't have to write a finished work to market it. Create a proposal for an article or a book and shop it around to potential publishers. If no one wants to publish it based on your proposal, come up with some new ideas.
Just as teaching is a separate skill from those of your hobby, so is writing. There are innumerable books and articles on writing books and articles (duh), so check out a few.
Become a local rep
If your hobby require specialized equipment or supplies, you may be able to act as a local representative for a supplier. For certain hobbies, it can make sense to do this simply to get the materials at wholesale prices. It may also be possible to sell to fellow hobbyists in quantities that will bring in some actual cash.
If your hobby is interesting, it may be possible to get people to pay you to speak about your hobby. Many groups have regular meetings and want a speaker at each one--they often have a budget that allows for paying an honorarium to the speaker.
Unless you're a celebrity, you're not going to make a living out of speaker's fees, but even a small fee can go a some ways toward paying the costs of your hobby--which is the whole point.
You can make money--or at least reduce your own expense--if you're willing to lead a group. Many hobbies--kayaking, rock climbing, bird watching, fishing, scuba diving--are more fun some places the others, meaning that participants end up wanting to travel to those places. If you're willing to do the work of organizing the travel, it is often possible to arrange things so that your own trip is subsidized.
Even in cases where no travel is involved, it's often possible to get discounts on supplies, equipment, the use of a location, and so on, if you undertake to arrange an event where the other participants pay to attend.
Barter your products or your skills
Americans are so tied into the money economy that they often don't realize just how much opportunity there is for barter. You may be able to barter items that you make for other things that you want or need. This can work very well with individuals and local businesses; typically not so well with big corporations.
You can also work out barter arrangements with your skills. Help someone make a yoga video in exchange for yoga lessons. Swap massage therapy sessions for rock-climbing lessons.
At gift-giving time, always think to give something that you've made. It's more personal and more thoughtful than buying stuff.
I know lots of people who love the jewelry, quilts, scarves, hats, pottery, paintings, photographs, stuffed toys, and handmade books that people have given them, made with their own two hands.
It's not an income stream, but remember--to an economist, not having to spend money is just as good as getting paid.
All these ways of making your hobby pay its way work synergistically with one another. Writing articles gives you contacts for teaching classes which gives you contacts for leading groups which gives you contacts for bartering services, and so on.
Any one of these activities could easily blow up into a business, if you're not careful. Most of them wouldn't blow up into a big enough business to actually support you, unless you have not only the skills of a hobbyist, but also the skills of a small businessperson. But one of them--or two or three of them--could go a long way towards bringing in enough money that you can enjoy your hobby and not be out-of-pocket for supplies and related costs.