Set Your Goal, Set Your Limits and Go For It

from NUMISMATIC NEWS February 4,2003

We’ve editorialized from time to time over the years about the concept of having a hobby budget. Our readers are probably well aware that a budget is something that is easier said than done.
With routine items, it is easy to budget. You can figure out how much food your family will eat in a year and get a pretty good handle on a budget number. You can do the same for clothes. You can take your last year’s auto mileage and figure that this year’s will be pretty close, unless of course your teenage son or daughter just left for college and the family car will now spend more time in the garage.

However, coins are a different animal. You don’t have to buy coins. They are a luxury good, but for collectors they are also a necessity. To be a collector, you need to buy coins.
However, the opportunities to buy coins come at irregular intervals. Budgets usually run at the same amounts at regular time periods, like $100 per week or $500 per month. Coin purchases don’t usually occur that way.

At the conclusion of the Florida United Numismatists convention we compared notes with a few other collectors about what was found and purchased on the bourse floor. No doubt many of our readers have similar conversations with their hobby friends. One paper money collector used the language about damaging the budget, because of his pur-chases. But in continuing the conversation, it was quite clear that the buys he had made were good ones. Furthermore, they were in keeping with his long-term collector goals and were deserving of congratulations. He was finishing his sets. His budget might have been temporarily busted, but he wasn’t exactly out wasting his money.

Using the task of completing a set is a road map that most collectors use. It is not a budget, but if one follows the rules of putting a set together (buy one example of each date and mintmark or type) and the result is similar to following a budget. Buying that 1909-S VDB cent might well exceed your monthly hobby budget, but once you get if, you’ve got it and the strain is removed. Over time, it averages out.

So our advice probably should be either have a budget or use the collecting of sets as a road map. Either approach will keep you pretty much on the right hobby path. It is the collector that does neither that is most at risk. Having no goals means you never have the satisfaction of reaching a destination. It also means you have nothing to limit your spending.

Most collectors know how much it will cost to acquire each coin in the set they are trying to complete. This is because they study it. They prepare. When they hit the bourse floor or an Internet auction site, they have a plan of of attack. If something comes up that they have needed for years, but have never found, it might be time to bid ahead of the price guides and break the budget a little to achieve the goal. Systematic behavior works the other way as well; you might just encounter a piece that your experience tells you is a bargain and you can snap it up, helping to average out costs to prevailing market levels.

If you simply take a dollar number and never exceed it, you might be complimented on your self-discipline, but it might add up to missed opportunities. On the other hand, having no sense of budgetary limits may lead to getting carried away and paying way too much. Certainly keep a little mad money to throw at a novelty, but don’t let that deflect your hobby behavior from setting goals and achieving them. Impulse purchases can chew up an awful lot of money. Better to have a goal, have price limits and have fun achieving them.