Is being a geek an expensive lifestyle?

15th January 2017

Photo on 15-01-2017 at 12.43

As the relative cost of living has relatively increased over the years (in the UK at least – though I assume this is true in most other parts of the world too), it would seem that we all are finding life to be much more expensive – with more of our income being dispensed on essential costs, and less (for some people near nothing) being left for spending on pleasure and enjoyment. For those of us who subscribe to any “geek” lifestyle, is this more of a factor? What I mean to ask is – if you are a “geek”, is that a more expensive lifestyle choice than others? Of course that’s assuming that we can call it a lifestyle or provide a concrete definition for the term ‘geek’ – which is debatable. For the purpose of this blog entry, I will define it as a follower of science fiction and fantasy, comic books, gaming, manga or collectibles associated with these things (but of course somebody could be a ‘geek’ of most things). This topic could be discussed almost endlessly so I will keep it to a minimum but understand there is lots more I could say.

Gaming

The cost of systems and stand-alone games has certainly decreased massively in real terms since the 1980s when home games consoles were first being sold on a mass scale. This has been alongside a relative huge reduction in the cost of production for systems (despite the huge leap in technology), and a huge increase in the cost of producing games that are now comparable to blockbuster films in the size of their budgets. Although the cost of systems has massively fell over the years and the cost of stand alone games has too when considering the budgets they carry, the cost of gaming has increased massively. This is largely due to costs for downloadable content which is usually required to get the full experience of any games you buy, when in previous gaming eras you could purchase any game once and have a full game ready to play without needing to spend further money on it, sometimes with the option of a expansion pack, which would be strictly ‘optional’ and often released a while after. This is all part of the reason I do not play new games often nowadays with a few exceptions (FIFA, Skyrim remastered edition, Arkham Knight etc). If somebody is a PC gamer as opposed to a console gamer, the cost very likely increases further, as a PC gamer will likely build their own high-end PC or buy a high-end PC – both options which could very easily cost in excess of £1,500-£2,000 upwards for a complete setup ($1827.48-$2436.64 / €1716.99-€2289.32). Retro gamers may also face considerable spend in buying old cartridges and systems, particularly for classic games and systems (Mario Kart on SNES for example) although there are now many low-cost emulators for older systems (such as the RetroPie).

Collectibles

This is arguably either very expensive or affordable depending on a) what you are collecting, b) your reasons for collecting, c) how you purchase collectibles, and d) what your limits are.  I will elaborate on each of these points below.

a) What you are collecting

Whether you collect action figures, coins, stamps, artwork, comic books, Lego sets, statues and models, autographs, vinyl records, computer game cartridges or film props – this can all have an effect on how expensive your collecting hobby is likely to be. The specifics can also make a difference – for example a collector who will ONLY buy boxed action figures that are not current will likely spend more than those collecting current ranges or unboxed/used figurines per item. Although it doesn’t need to be explained why, other specifics that would bring up the price on individual items could be age, rarity, condition, widespread demand or interest, and the original production run (how many units of that item were produced). As I mainly collect action figures, I will speak about this.

I have accumulated a large number of action figures over the years. The vast majority of these items are Star Wars items with some other ranges too – including a Shaun of the Dead 12 inch figure (one of my favourites), an Action Man from a range released when I was a child, and a few DC Comics figures. I virtually always buy boxed Star Wars figures or starships (with the occasional exceptions) in the best condition I can find them which has led to a large accumulated cost over the years. But, as I will elaborate in the next section – I collect predominantly because I love the items and like to display them to show visitors a part of myself but I also collect them with a pinch of an investors mind. This is why I am very careful with which items I purchase and look after their packaging very carefully in how I move and display them. Collecting action figures – though costly in the short term could be viewed as a relatively cheap way to secure high-return investments. I will elaborate on this next.

b) What your reasons are for collecting

Collectors tend to either collect for an investment, a hobby, or for general interest in the subject matter. For example, an enthusiastic follower of the history of the First World War may buy military clothing and paraphernalia of that era, a fan of a particular sports team or band may buy signed items from members or players, and a fan of a particular TV show of film series may buy items related to that. The last example is essentially my reason for collection Star Wars action figures. Any of these reasons would not by themselves effect the level of expense. But if one is collecting specifically to complete a collection – ie. if somebody wanted to collect all of the Black Series Star Wars figures, any Darth Vader merchandise, or absolutely any Star Wars merchandise they could find – this would be considerably more expensive than it would be for a collector who was more specific. For example, it may be that a collector only wants to collect a set number of items from a particular range that is current which would mean they have a set spend and goal.

c) How you purchase collectibles

How you purchase your collectibles can also make a huge difference to the price. I always try to find collectibles at least slightly below market value, especially if they are fairly recent items. I generally buy my action figures at comic book stores, toy shops, or occasionally on eBay. I have also purchased a couple of items in the past from Charity shops (in the US this may be more closely referred to as a “thrift store”). For collectors at my level, generally buying low-medium cost items with the likely aim of selling parts of the collection in the future, this is generally how purchasing is made. But for high-end/high-value item collectors their main concern will not be finding a “bargain” or a “fair price” – so they may likely attend specialist auctions or conventions to find these items.

d) Knowing what your limits are

I have struggled with this one before. Many times I have had to talk myself out of spending X amount of money on an item and I have seen documentary subjects and heard of obsessive fans and collectors whose hobbies take over their lives, often crippling them financially. In one Star Wars Fan Culture documentary there was a great example of an obsessive fan who despite his impressive collection (which would lead people to assume he must have lots of money to afford it), it was implied that he had hardly any money for he and his family to survive, spent any money he did have on any Star Wars merchandise and was clearly at the point where being a fan is destructive. I like to think I would never be at this stage and believe this is the question many collectors must face – does wanting/needing this item warrant making myself broke until payday? .

Fan merchandise

Similarly to collectibles (it could be argued that I should have included the two together), the purchasing of fan merchandise could prove expensive depending on the items purchased and how often one buys them, and at what price. For the sake of this post, I will exclude action figures, collectible cards, This need not be very expensive but the truth is branded merchandise is often more expensive – for example a Star Wars, Pokemon or Dr Who branded stationery, lunch boxes, mugs, clothing and homewares would likely cost a lot more than a plain and non-branded equivalent (though not always). However these items are also likely to be found very cheaply or at cut price/on sale not long after they are initially produced and can be found in more places. Therefore I believe the relative expense of buying fan merchandise largely depends on the volume of purchase.

Events and conventions

This is where being a fan or “geek” can get very expensive. I attended Star Wars Celebration when it took place in London in July 2016. The actual cost of admission was not particularly expensive for the basic one-day ticket I purchased (I think it was around £30, which translates to roughly $36.04 / €33.96). The four-day and VIP tickets were considerably much more in cost. But this obviously does not include the cost of any collectibles, merchandise, guest photos or autographs purchased. Technically one could attend without buying any of this stuff but then that makes the whole experience pretty pointless. I also attended MCM Comic Con in London in May 2014 where the experience was similar (although the admission price was much less at £10 / $12.01 / €11.32). For those who attend in cosplay, this would add further cost for their costumes (either off-the-peg or for materials if self made).

Comic books and books

If you are a fan of manga, comic books, or fantasy and science fiction novels and that is your main area of “geek culture” that you subscribe to then it should be very easy to enjoy it without spending great deals of money. I have found that discount book stores, Charity bookstores, Amazon, independent comic book shops, and libraries are great places to find the books and graphic novels/comic books that I enjoy reading for very low cost. Here I am excluding those who buy comic books to add to a collection, as the points about this largely are almost the same as for collectors for other items.

Conclusion

In conclusion I believe that being a “geek” could very easily be an expensive lifestyle for anybody, especially so if your financial circumstances are very limited. But this is perhaps true of any lifestyle or set of purchasing decisions we make. If one purchases a season ticket for their favourite sports team that is an expensive decision to make compared to purchasing a ticket for one game. But I do believe that the “geek” lifestyle need not be expensive for anybody and as with any other “lifestyle” it is a matter of us living within their means and not being too proud to hunt for a good bargain or deal on what you want. Also (as I had to teach myself) we don’t need to buy everything we like the look of.

I know this could have been elaborated a lot more but please leave any further comments or additional points below. If you have any suggestions for content please mention them.

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