The Cheapskate’s Guide to Productive Hobbies

It is vital to take time out of the day to relax.  It rejuvenates you, improves your health, and calms your mind so that you can think more clearly. Relaxation, creative activities, and family time can actually be frugal endeavors, and not distractions that take away from your efforts to make ends meet.

When you have a million and one things to do, though, sometimes it’s difficult to force yourself to stop.  This is because stress releases two hormones into your body: adrenaline and cortisol. Excesses of these hormones can cause blood pressure spikes, food cravings that lead to weight gain, and heart disease, to name just a few of the pitfalls.

So, you’ve got to unwind. You need a hobby.

But not these hobbies.

But beware.  Some hobbies end up costing you money with nothing to show for it.  Lots of people spend their time doing things like playing golf or tennis, going to concerts or night clubs, playing pool in a bar, drinking alcohol with friends, or shopping. All of these things have their place, of course, but as a regular part of your daily routine, they can certainly add up in price. If you already stressed about your finances, these hobbies will give you a brief respite, but in the end, just cause your stress to be worse because of all of the money you’ve spent.

Other hobbies kill off a few brain cells as you sit there, passively entertained in an altered state in front of the television or a video game.  These things may not really cost you a lot of money, but in the long run, they will do little to alleviate stress.

Studies have shown that watching television induces low alpha waves in the human brain. Alpha waves are brainwaves between 8 to 12 HZ. and are commonly associated with … brain states associated with suggestibility…Too much time spent in the low Alpha wave state caused by TV can cause unfocused daydreaming and inability to concentrate….Advertisers have known about this for a long time and they know how to take advantage of this passive, suggestible, brain state of the TV viewer. There is no need for an advertiser to use subliminal messages. The brain is already in a receptive state, ready to absorb suggestions, within just a few seconds of the television being turned on. All advertisers have to do is flash a brand across the screen, and then attempt to make the viewer associate the product with something positive. (source)

Passivity actually opens up the door to your brain and allows you to be programmed – mass media uses this as a tool, by promoting ideas (like gun control, acceptance of the “big brother” philosophy, or the politically correct flavor of the month).  It inhibits your critical thinking skills and leaves your brain craving even more time in this low Alpha state.  This is the reason that some people sit blankly in front of the TV for hours every night, until they fall asleep on the couch and then get up to do it all over again.

It’s important to choose your spare time activities in a manner that enhances your brain function, instead of reducing it.  In a world where, for many, entertainment means playing on your iPhone or sharing photos on Facebook, opting for industry for your downtime can be an unusual choice.  But, stepping outside the path of the herd and choosing productive hobbies is a great way to relax.  What’s more, if your brain is engaged in an activity while you view a television program or movie, then you are not as susceptible to messages, either subliminal or blatant.  This means that you don’t actually have to keep the TV turned off at night – you just need to refrain from zoning out in front of it.

Now, I can’t say that I never indulge in a little bit of binge-watching. I do, on a regular basis. The difference is, I don’t just sit there. (Actually, I’m pretty much incapable of simply sitting there watching something.) I take the time that we spend watching a show to accomplish those mindless things that I just don’t enjoy doing, like mending, organizing my sewing basket, repairing broken items, or completing a frenzy of food prep.

A brief lesson from young Ben Franklin

In 1726, 20 year-old Benjamin Franklin sought to cultivate his character.  He listed off the thirteen virtues that he  believed were important to living a good life, one of which was industry.

Franklin wrote of this characteristic,

“Industry: Lose no time; be always employed in something useful; cut off all unnecessary actions.”

He believed that the pursuit of productivity would build character and help the practitioner to lead a more successful and moral life.  In his autobiography Franklin wrote, “I hope, therefore, that some of my descendants may follow the example and reap the benefit.”

Think back to the days before television.  People worked hard all day long, producing food, cutting wood, cooking, hunting, building…it was a full time job to survive and thrive.  In the evenings, by candlelight, they could stop and put their feet up for a while.  Books were not widely available like they are now, so families passed the time by performing stitchery, carving, making furniture, mending things and creating items that made their lives more pleasant and beautiful. Sometimes a family member would read aloud, play an instrument or sing.  Time was of value and not to be wasted, and there was rarely money to spare on an “evening out”.

Opt for activities that enhance your frugality

Nearly 300 years later, we can apply Franklin’s philosophy of industriousness and productivity to our lives today.  When choosing leisure activities, consider opting for a productive hobby.

It should either…

  • Teach something
  • Create something
  • Repair something
  • Improve something

That leaves the door wide open to a broad range of choices.  If you tend to be an overachiever, then you can relax without the guilt of worrying about all the things that you “should” be doing instead of chilling out. As a longtime student of cheapskatery, I’ve found that most people who are effectively frugal have hobbies which are productive and don’t enjoy wasting time, even leisure time.

Productive hobbies not only improve your brain, but they can better your chances for thriving in a post-SHTF world.  The ability to create or repair something will improve your standard of living and provide you with valuable skills for barter should an economic collapse occur.  Time spent teaching your children these skills will, in turn, pass down arts that would otherwise be lost to generations of the future, while helping your child become a critical thinker and problem solver.

Often your hobby can turn into an additional source of income. Many people have been extremely successful setting up starting their own Etsy empires or participating in the craft show circuit.

Some productive hobbies to choose from…

Not only can some of these hobbies be an enjoyable way to pass the time or add to your economic bottom line, but they can provide beautiful, lower-cost options for gift-giving, which is a frugal bonus.

Not only should you, yourself, be indulging in these pasttimes, but you should be passing these skills on to your children. When you do, you are creating not only useful and lovely items, but irreplaceable family memories. Our living room is full of attractive baskets which all hide the supplies for various crafts and hobbies. Of an evening, you can most often find us creating while a movie or music plays in the background.

  1. Reading
  2. Sewing clothing, curtains, and soft furnishings
  3. Knitting, crocheting, and weaving
  4. Carving
  5. Repairing broken items
  6. Mending
  7. Making soap and other personal care items
  8. Building furniture
  9. Making pottery
  10. Cooking and baking
  11. Writing
  12. Drawing and creating art
  13. Playing an Instrument
  14. Singing
  15. Making cards
  16. Making jewelry
  17. Fletching
  18. Gunsmithing
  19. Making ammo
  20. Welding and soldering
  21. Learning a language
  22. Caring for animals
  23. Playing a word, math or strategy game
  24. Marksmanship (archery and firearms)
  25. Exercise
  26. Gardening
  27. Preserving food
  28. Practicing outdoor skills like hiking, camping, and foraging
  29. Hunting and fishing
  30. Automotive repair

What are your productive hobbies?

This list is certainly not comprehensive. If I’ve left off your favorite spare time activity, take a couple of minutes to tell us about it in the comments section. How do you unwind?  What do you like to do in your spare time?

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