"Goals are dreams with deadlines" -- Diana Scharf

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Sacrificing a Hobby to Save Money

Image credit: rocket400 / 123RF Stock Photo

One of the things I love most about Mr. W is that he has a variety of talents and hobbies.  When he was twelve, he helped his father build a two-story addition on their house.  While he can wield a hammer, he’s also a whiz in the kitchen and can whip up a three-course meal in no time.  He’s obsessed with CrossFit, but he’s also a skilled swing dancer.  You get the idea.  All in all, he’s a pretty well-rounded guy. 

When we were in graduate school, Mr. W suggested that we take ballroom dance lessons together.  After hearing him mention this several times, I contacted a nearby ballroom dance franchise to inquire about the cost.  I had sticker shock: the cost for a set of beginner lessons was about $750.  That was a lot of money, especially considering our financial circumstances at the time.  We were both graduate assistants, which meant that we received tuition remission and living stipends of $12,000-$15,000 per year.  Our assistantships paid enough for us to get by, but we did not have much left over.  However, I had been babysitting and coaching to earn some money on the side and had built up a nice little nest egg.  I could sign us up for the beginner series and still have a good amount in savings.  I decided to surprise Mr. W with dance lessons for Christmas.  We aren’t usually this extravagant with gifts, so this was a special treat.  For the next few months, we had a blast learning to foxtrot, swing, waltz, rumba and tango.  We loved having a hobby that we both enjoyed and could do together.    Neither of us would have fared well on Dancing With the Stars, but we had made significant progress. 

The end of our dance lessons coincided with the end of graduate school.  For the next few years, we only danced once or twice a year, at weddings or other social functions.  We thoroughly enjoyed dancing, but the cost prohibited us from taking any more lessons at that time.   

Last summer, we signed up for another series of dance lessons.   The cost was significantly higher than the beginner lessons (and I’m serious when I say “significantly”).  However, we had become much more financially stable since our graduate student days.  The timing was also perfect: by resuming our lessons in the summer, we were able to brush up on our dance skills before our wedding.  Our lessons provided an outlet from wedding-related stresses.  Dance was an instant pick-me-up regardless of what else was on our mind(s).  We spaced out our lessons so that we were able to continue dancing for a few months after the wedding.  We both thought it was important to have a hobby we could do together, especially in our earliest days as a married couple. 

When we finished our most recent set of lessons, Mr. W and I had a heart-to-heart discussion about continuing dance.  There was no question that we loved it and looked forward to each lesson.  However, we just couldn’t reconcile the high cost with our big-picture goals.  In the next few years, these plans include buying a house and starting a family.   We estimate that we should save about 25% of our take-home income on an annual basis to be able to achieve our big-picture goals.  We’ve set up our household budget so that we are saving at this 25% level.  If we were to continue taking dance lessons, it would cost us several thousand dollars annually, which we have not included in our budget.  Yes, we could trim several thousand from our budget to make room for dance lessons.  However, it would require us to drastically reduce our budget in areas like travel (ie, trips to see my family) and fitness, both of which are important priorities to us. 

We made the decision not to continue dance lessons until some point in the very distant future.  The good thing about ballroom dance is that it’s an activity that we can do at any age.  As long as we are both mobile, there is no expiration date.  In fact, most of the students at our former dance studio were retirees or empty-nesters.  By contrast, our other priorities are much more time-sensitive.  Our budget and our spending should reflect this distinction.  If we want to achieve our big-picture goals in the foreseeable future, we need to sacrifice or delay certain hobbies.    

We attended a wedding last weekend, and were reminded of how much we love to dance.  I had a few brief twinges of regret that we had stopped our ballroom lessons.  I was even tempted to suggest that we reconsider our decision.  But I remembered a theme that resounds throughout personal finance: With careful planning, you might be able to have it all.  But, you can’t have it all right now. 

Have you sacrificed or delayed a hobby in order to save money?  What goals do you prioritize in your budget?


  1. Goodness! My now husband and I did the same thing! He surprised me with lessons when we first started dating because I was so nervous in front of people and then we took another series when were engaged. The costs really were staggering... but we loved it so much and that time together without technology or distractions was priceless! We just couldn't continue the expense as we found out we were expecting soon after our wedding. Then I found the perfect miracle. Recreational dance lessons at our local university. Anyone can take them (students to senior citizens) and they are so reasonable... ours are $75 per couple, for an 8 week class (8 2-hour lessons). Ballroom, swing, cajun, latin, etc... Yes, it is taught in a group setting, but its still so fun and is the best date night. Instead of going to a dinner or movie, we just eat at home, have a family member or babysitter watch our baby girl, then escape from it all for 2 hours of quality time. Maybe you don't have to sacrifice anything at all if you get creative!

  2. we are in the exact same position. we are saving about 25% of our take home pay in order to account for starting a family and saving up for a house. We don't take dance lessons, but we've cut back on several things we enjoy to save up for these important things.

  3. JW_UmbrellaTreasuryJuly 25, 2013 at 5:47 PM

    Erin, this is too funny! We too valued the time away from technology and other distractions. We couldn't believe how much happier and light-hearted we felt after each lesson.
    I love your solution of finding ballroom classes at a local university. I'm off to look into that and see if our local schools offer anything similar. We're totally fine with learning in a group setting vs. private lessons. In some ways, that can be even better since we'll have the opportunity to dance with other people.
    And congrats on your little one! It's great that you guys are able to continue your date nights after becoming parents : )

  4. JW_UmbrellaTreasuryJuly 25, 2013 at 5:53 PM

    Yep, I think we're in really similar points in our lives. I sometimes feel frustrated that we're making the decision to cut back on things now in order to plan for our future goals. Sometimes these goals can seem so far away compared to the present. But then, I look at the numbers I crunched and realize that we really do need to be diligent with our spending if we want to reach all these goals.

  5. My wife and I definitely go to the movies a lot less than we used to. I've also always wanted to take up golf but always been put off by the ongoing costs. I definitely agree that it's important to prioritize and know when something is getting in the way of your true goals. With that said, I have to think that you guys can find a way to continue dancing on your own without having to shell out large amounts of money. There have to be tons of instructional videos online. Maybe it's not the same quality, but it would at least let you keep at it.

  6. I didn't know ballroom dancing was that expensive. Sometimes if it's something you guys love doing, it's worth the money...but those lessons are A LOT of money. I was thinking along the same lines as Matt...maybe you can watch videos online. Or maybe some colleges have that as a class where the price is more affordable. My goal is to save money for a downpayment...but living in the NYC area...it's tough, real tough!

  7. I really like your sentiment about having it all someday, that's day's just not now. It's something I constantly struggle with since I want to have fun but also make sure that I have enough money for retirement. In a perfect world, I would like to travel without worrying about costs. B and I haven't cut out travel completely, but I'm always looking at prices and trying to score deals and it just gets tiring.