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How To Collect With Little Money

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Recently, the hobby has been trending towards high end products. Autographed cards and game used cards are becoming more and more common, from high end products where every card is a hit to low end retail boxes. This raises prices as they must pay the player to sign or pay to get the game used equipment. Here are some tips for the low end collectors who would rather have 500 base cards of players they love than have 1 decent autograph of a prospect:

1. Buy Retail
Anyone who is in it for the money will avoid retail, but if you just get enjoyment out of getting cards that look nice and have popular players on them, then retail is the best choice for you. Most of the time, the boxes are identical, with the same exact number of cards, the only difference is that there are less autograph, GU, or serial numbered cards inserted. For example, look at Bowman 2013. A hobby box will cost you around $65 to $75, and will come with 240 cards. They will come with one autograph and have better odds on some premium parallels such as 1/1 red ice. Then look at retail boxes. When bought online (note: most retail stores will NOT give you a discount for buying the whole boxes, they will charge you for 24 packs), they will be about $45 to $50. They will have the exact same number of cards, chrome cards, prospect cards, and golds, but they will not all come with autos (and if they do, they will be on paper cards rather than chrome and will be of lesser prospects) and will have a lower chance at other premium cards such as die cuts and ices. For a collector who doesn't care much about autos, you could get the same exact cards for $30 cheaper and still possibly get an auto.

If $45 is too much, you can also buy blasters for $20. They are the exact same thing as retail boxes, only there are 1/3 as many cards. This is obviously a worse deal, but it you only have $20 then it is your only option. It is important to note that if you buy say $5 worth of packs a week, you would be much better off saving up for 2 months and getting a retail box, or 1 month and getting a blaster. This is for 2 reasons. First, it is much cheaper. $45 of packs will be 15 ($2.99 SRP), while a retail box will have 24 packs. The 2nd reason is that people often come into stores when there is a new box and search through every pack and pull out the ones that have autos or die cuts (it is very easy for an experienced pack searcher to find autos). If you insist on getting packs, at least look at the side of the packs. If they are cut in any way, don't buy them. This is almost a sure sign someone cut them to see the cards inside. You go from around a 1 in 30 chance of having an auto/GU card to a 0 chance.

2. Buy Cheaper Products
This should seem obvious, but it isn't. The most clear example of this is Topps Opening Day. This contains mainly cards from series 1 and some series 2 cards, with an opening day logo on it. The numbering is also different. The fact that it was sold cheaper drives resale prices down, but you are still getting the same exact thing, if not something better. With the smaller set size, the cards are of star players and famous rookies. Because it is released a few weeks before opening day (3 months after series 1), if a player was traded after series 1 was made, they will have their new uniform airbrushed on. Topps Series 1 2013 will cost between $40 and $45 and contain 360 cards (which is not a bad deal compared to other products, such as A&G or bowman), while opening day costs around $35 and have the same number of cards. You will not get the same inserts or hits, but you will get the same number of cards for $5 to $10 cheaper.

3. Buy Older Products
In general, older products tend to be cheaper. There are obviously huge exceptions such as vintage cards and prospect cards, but the general trend is that cards loose value over time. Anything from 1988 to 1993 should be very cheap. A 1988 Donruss box will cost less than $10 and have 540 cards. Keep in mind, if you want to sell them you will have trouble, and may end up needing to throw them out. Most places will not even take them as a donation for kids. If you are older, this will be nice for you because you will know the players.

If you want newer products, even waiting 1 year will drop the price significantly. Look at Topps Series 1. The 2013 box costs $40. A 2012 hobby box will cost $35, not much cheaper but still over a 10% drop. Go back a few more years to 2008, where a hobby box costs around $30. It is also important to note that if you go back to 2010 of before, there will be upper deck cards, which tend to be cheaper than Topps.

Another huge advantage of getting older and cheaper cards is that they can be autographed. With some modern products, you can spend $60 and get one autograph and some other cards. You could also buy an older box from 5 years ago for half the price and not get the autograph, but have a bunch of cards that you can get autographed. Even going back 5 years, most players still play and possibly in the minor leagues, which means that tickets are cheaper and that there are more opportunities (30 MLB teams, 90 high A through AAA teams, the leagues where you will primarily find former MLB players). If a player no longer plays (or if you can't make it to a game), you can try mailing it to their house or stadium using the TTM manager. While these cards autographed after the fact will have a much lower value, they will have a higher physical value.

4. Buy individual cards
If there is a specific player or team that you mainly collect, buy cards only of them. Each card will cost more than random cards in packs (tip - try finding a physical store, you will remove shipping costs and possibly receive a discount or free cards or packs. Dealers also love people new to the hobby and will be willing to give you advice and possibly trade with you), but every single card will be ones you want. For example, look at Topps Tribute, where you get 30 cards for $250. There is a huge focus on hits in the boxes, but you can get a card that would usually cost over 10 dollars (assuming each card has the same value, which is not true) for $1. In general, you can also get serial numbered cards, which usually come in anywhere from 1 of 2 to 1 of 20 packs, for only a few times more than the average card. If you like the feeling of knowing your card is 1 of 2013 (topps is known for numbering parallels to the year), this is a great deal.

5. Get free (or cheap) cards
You may not realize it, but there are many chances to get cards for low prices or even for nothing. There are many ways, but here are some common ways:

- Ebay or Craigslist
Many people sell off entire collections or lots of premium cards for much less than they are worth to get rid of them. Watch out for people who claim they are getting rid of their collection and selling 100 cards for around $5 to $10, they will almost certainly give you all 1988-1994 cards which have little worth.
- Teams/Manufacturers
Teams often are sent cards or make their own and would be more than willing to send some out for free. Check out the fan pack section and the fan pack part of the TTM manager for teams that do so. 1 example is the Tampa Yankees, who send out an old team set of around 25 cards and all you need to do is email them. Manufacturers also sometimes run contests to promote their products and sometimes give out whole boxes of cards. Many products also come with wrapper redemptions.
- Card stores
Many online stores will throw in extra packs on purchases, and hobby stores will do the same. Don't expect to get anything if you buy a few packs, but if you go in and buy an entire box, there is a decent chance they will throw in something (such as the Panini fathers day packs, although those are likely long gone). You shouldn't try to bug them to get extra cards, but if you are planning on making a fairly large purchase, ask if the box you are getting comes with anything extra. Some have box toppers built in that you do not get by buying packs, and they may offer a few cards. With the competitive market, they would rather loose $5 on throwing in a couple of packs, but that is better for them than you buying online. They may also have some items on clearance, check those out too
- Yard Sales
Many people see cards they don't want and throw them in yard sales. You will often find old, worthless, overpriced cards, but you never know what you are going to get. Many people, especially parents getting rid of their kid's cards, will not realize the value and sell modern cards at the prices you would expect seeing on old cards. If you know a lot about the cards they are selling, you may be able to find short prints, parallels, inserts, or misprints for the same price as regular cards.
- People getting rid of cards
Some people just decide they no longer want their cards and don't want to spend time selling them. There might be people in your area getting rid of them. You can also check out the link below for a thread here on SCF where people sometimes offer cards for the price of shipping:

The overall strategy is to avoid pricey products and go for things where each card is sold for less than 10 cents. There is certainly a market for higher end products and people may talk you out of getting that retail box, but if you are in it for the base cards and not for the autos or GU cards, cheaper is better.


  1. mrveggieman's Avatar
    Great article. I use a lot of your tips and have a collection that I am proud of and enjoy very much.
  2. yankeesfan1324's Avatar
    Thank you! A 10 cent BV card that has a personal value to you is better than a 100$ BV card that you don't have any connection to
  3. publiknme's Avatar
    ..........last Thanksgiving I saw an ad, some guy wanted to sell his collection. I think his wife wanted it out of the garage. Anyway, I ended up buying the whole thing for about $150. It was about 50,000 cards. I'm
    still sorting Their wasn't really any vintage stuff. Most from 1981-1993 or so. A lot of complete sets from 1986-1989. But, a lot of it I didn't have and my collection went from 25,000 cards to 75,000.

    I like seeing the different things he collected. His autographed cards that I ended up getting and didn't know about. Candy Maldonado, Joe Niekro,Geoff Zahn, and there was a Barry Bonds autographed card.

    I also noticed that a complete base set cost about $55 or so when it comes out. If you wait like 4 years
    you can get that set for like $35-$40 including shipping on ebay.........happy collecting

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