How I Wasted Over $1,000 Last Year -- and What I Wish I'd Done Instead

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  • I picked up a new hobby and spent way too much money because I failed to think through my purchases properly.
  • Taking my time and setting clear goals from the start could've saved me a lot of hassle.

You don't have to repeat my mistakes.

When I started looking into my family history last year, it was mostly just to assuage my boredom and curiosity. It quickly turned into what I believe will be a lifelong passion. But as I found out, it's not a cheap hobby.

I'll admit, my enthusiasm got the best of me at first and I ended up wasting over $1,000 on things I really didn't need. Now that I've got a little more experience under my belt, it's easy to look back and see what I could've done differently. Here are three of the most important lessons I learned the hard way.

1. Focus on free resources first

Whether you're exploring a new hobby like me or starting a new business, there are probably some free resources that can help you. It might be blog articles online or a book at your local library. You might also be able to solicit help from others on social media or a message board tailored to your interest.

Rather than diving in and draining your bank account right away, see what you can do first without spending any money. I didn't do this and I later realized I should have. As it was, I ended up paying a lot for subscription services that I wasn't ready to use at that phase of my research.

It's OK to be a little stingy with your money at first. Do your research and make sure that what you spend your money on is actually worth the effort. And that brings me to my next tip.

2. Learn from those who have gone before you

If you're trying something brand new, you may not know what tools you need or what books or courses are worth the investment. But chances are, there are other people out there who have been where you are and have the answers you're seeking.

Before you spend any money, check out product reviews, read advice from experts, and try to get a sense for what your immediate goals are before proceeding. Doing this might even lead you to a community of others who enjoy the same hobby and are learning right alongside you. Sometimes, that one-on-one help you can get from another person is more valuable than the generic advice you'd pay for in a book.

3. Allow yourself to start small

When I get excited about something, I tend to dream pretty big. I wanted to track down all my family members going back as far as I could and I identified all sorts of resources that might help me reach that goal. And some of them might be helpful eventually. But I learned that if I want to be sure my work is right, I have to take it one step at a time.

Rather than spending a bunch of money on books and subscriptions that might benefit me someday, I wish I'd set clear, simple goals from the beginning about what I wanted to accomplish. Then, when I met those goals, I could reevaluate and focus on my next, slightly larger goals. That's what I ended up doing, but unfortunately, I spent a lot of money before I figured that out.

It's OK to have a plan for what you might need to buy in the future, but make sure you have clear priorities and don't get too far ahead of yourself. If you need to buy something expensive, budget for it and save for it over time. And who knows? Waiting might even pay off for you. If you don't need something right away, maybe you could wait for a sale or look for a cheaper, used version online.

Sometimes, spending money is unavoidable. But if you follow the three steps above, you can at least feel confident that you're doing all you can to keep your costs to a minimum. Then, check in with yourself every few months to see if you can identify any additional savings opportunities as you pursue your hobbies.

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