By Ryan Kalmoe aka SWOWannabe

If you’re at all like me and the vast majority of collectors, the only zeros in your checking account balance is what it shows after you’ve paid your bills for the month. It can be a very difficult to manage your finances, especially with a family. Every expert will agree, however, that the age-old adage “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” holds true in every regard – if at all possible we should have some sort of entertainment budget each month. The problem is that because it’s more fun to buy baseball cards than pay insurance premiums, it can be all too easy to overspend on our favorite hobby which can lead to stress and other negative consequences in other aspects of our lives. I’m here to share with you several of my strategies and secrets to enjoying the hobby on a budget. You’re certainly welcome to try any and all of them yourself. With a little patience, a little work, and a little luck, you can see your collection grow without seeing your wallet shrink!

Contests

 The first area many people miss out on is the opportunity to win free cards from contests. Contests are held daily in some form throughout the collecting world. Topps frequently holds contests on Twitter, along with several other independent sources. Panini usually has at least one contest a week on their blog. There are contests right here on Sports Card Forum that you can enter. The amount of work required varies, as do the rewards. Topps and Panini, for example, give away memorabilia and autographed cards alongside entire boxes of product. Other contests may have a single card up for grabs, and most commonly here on SCF you can win Card Cash. Check your local card shop, too, as many of them run contests at varying intervals with prizes. My old card shop had a bonus lottery-style drawing at the end of each month for an assortment of packs. My current card shop has Pack Wars on a monthly basis where you can win a wide range of prizes. This month there is an unopened 2012 Black Friday promotional pack, a John Kerry cut autograph, and several other excellent prizes to be won.

Now, entering contests may seem like common sense. However, most people do not enter these contests. Let me reiterate – most people DO NOT ENTER. They dismiss the contest as too much work, or why bother if it is an easy contest because they’ll never win? I can’t guarantee that you will win if you enter. I can guarantee that you will not win if you do not enter. I’ve had varying degrees of success with contests in my short two years of collecting. My best win was a 2012 Elite autograph of Ryan Tannehill with a twist – it was a personal edition of the card unavailable in packs. I’ve since traded the card for baseball cards, since I don’t collect football cards.

This brings me to another point about contests. Just because the prize isn’t up your alley doesn’t mean you shouldn’t enter. I’ll enter contests for football, basketball, hockey, even soccer and golf cards. If you manage to win, someone somewhere will likely want the card and you’ll be able to trade it for something you do collect, or you can sell it to them in an absolute worst-case scenario. You may think it isn’t fair to be ‘stealing’ these sports cards from hobbyists that actually collect that sport. It is a noble thought, but I view myself more as a general sports card collector than just a baseball card collector. Besides, there are plenty of people that collect more than one sport and it never hurts to have more than just your primary sport to expand the number of hobbyists you’re able to trade with.

Contests are the first and easiest way to make your collecting budget go farther. They’re hopefully free to enter, and if you enter enough of them you’re bound to win eventually. Perseverance is key. Don’t get discouraged after a few (or even more than a few) contests that you don’t win. While you mathematically can win them all, it is highly unlikely that you will win even the majority of them. Just be excited when you do win and keep entering!

Free Money

Wait, what? Free money? Yes, if you’re on a cardboard budget there are ways to drum up extra revenue without doing much more than your daily activities. You could apply this to any aspect of your life – groceries, clothing, etc. I choose to use the extra money on baseball cards. Most of the extra revenue comes in the form of gift cards to various locations – Amazon.com, Target, etc. If you’re on a strict $20 a month budget for baseball cards, coming up with an extra $200 a year in gift cards through various programs can really expand your collection in a hurry.

One way to earn these gift cards are through certain reputable sites that essentially pay you to be a consumer. There are two that I use and can attest to their legitimacy. Bing.com and Swagbucks both have rewards programs for using their search engines. You won’t see instant gratification with them, but with a little bit of presence and perseverance, you can very easily earn a $5 Amazon gift card each month from those sites. There is the potential to earn much more, but it depends on the amount of effort you put forth. There are other rewards available on Swagbucks, namely Paypal. Who doesn’t love Paypal? To date I have personally earned over $300 in absolutely 100% free gift cards between these two sites. Some months I put a lot of effort into earning more gift cards while other months I’ve done next to nothing. The sites themselves are fairly self-explanatory as to how to earn their points and how to redeem the points for gift cards. If you’re curious how they can do that, they have sponsors that pay them to target advertisements at consumers like you and I. Instead of keeping that revenue for themselves, they share it amongst their users to attract users in the first place. So it is up to you if you want to line Google’s pockets or your own for using the internet.

If you’re fortunate enough to have a Smartphone, there are a few Apps that will let you earn free gift cards. They vary depending on the platform you are on, but the three that I use on my Android are Shopkicks, Checkpoints, and Nielsen Mobile Rewards. Shopkicks and Checkpoints are apps that will give you points for walking into certain stores with the option to scan items with your smart phone for additional points. Again, it is targeted advertisement with revenue sharing. If you’re going to Target anyways, why not earn some gift cards while you’re at it? Nielsen Mobile Rewards is another animal altogether. By downloading the program you’re consenting to let Nielsen’s application collect data on your phone usage for use in their research. If you’re not comfortable with that, don’t use the application. I’m a pretty easy-going guy and don’t mind if someone is observing that I occasionally search the internet for a place to eat, use my map a lot because I get lost, and make about 1 phone call a month. Again ,it is up to you, but the program is a lot easier to use since it just runs in the background and each month you get points as long as it remains installed on your phone. I’m closing in on redeeming for a $50 Amazon gift card after roughly a year of use.

There are other rewards programs that can be used, I’m just sharing with you a few that I’ve found and have had success with. I’ve used one of my hotel loyalty programs to earn gift cards and I could use the points I earn for using my credit card each month. The opportunities are out there, and maybe you already do all of these things but choose to use your gift cards on something other than baseball cards. That’s great. If you don’t, consider looking into one or all of these programs and before you know it you’ll be checking out at Target with a blaster of 2013 Allen and Ginter and having the cashier scan a gift card you just redeemed for on your phone. It is a pretty awesome feeling.

Budgeting

This one is by far the hardest. Finding a budget and sticking to it. It may be easy for some collectors and more difficult for others. A kid with an allowance each month is going to have a lot easier time sticking to his budget than an adult who could potentially spend a lot of money on cards but needs to practice self-restraint. Figure out what is a reasonable amount of money each month to spend on cards and stick to that. If you have problems sticking to that, consider either using only cash and setting aside a certain amount each month and when it’s gone it is gone, or setting up a completely separate checking account with a fixed amount allocated to it each month. I use a free online checking account that gets a small direct deposit each month. When it is gone, no more cards until next pay day! Also, it can help if you set a goal for yourself and save a portion of your budget each month. If your goal is to purchase a hobby box of a certain product, plan your budget out several months in advance, allocating a certain amount each month towards that box.

You can also look into selling some of your collection if you’re looking for creative ways to stretch your budget. Don’t buy cards thinking you’re going to turn a profit, that’s counter to the entire spirit of the hobby. However, if you are lucky enough to pull a nice autograph from a star player and don’t have anyone to trade it to, many people prefer to only deal with monetary transactions for cards. Since the money came from cards, it’s only fair to me that I be allowed to put that back into the purchase of more cards. It isn’t a strategy I use often, but if I find I have some higher value cards I have a problem trading, I’ll just sell them to make it easier. Then I can go and purchase something that I may want.

Conclusion

So there you have it. This article is by no means the be all, end all of how to collect on a budget. But if you’re like me and aren’t fortunate enough to be able to afford a case of every new product that comes out, maybe you can utilize some of these tips to pick up an extra blaster here or there, or win a free card from time to time. Often there isn’t a significant time commitment, so you don’t have a whole lot to lose, if anything. So give one or all of the aforementioned suggestions a try!*

*Disclaimer: If you are underaged, do not sign up for or download any of these apps without your parent’s consent!

The Ryan Tannehill Personal Edition autograph I won from a contest off of the Knight’s Lance, Panini America’s official blog.

Part of my entry for the annual Gint-a-Cuffs contest. Alas, I did not win this year. I took second to last. But, you have to enter to win!