Musings over a Knife Collection in a Dull Economy

by E. E. Kane

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My husband collects knives. Once a year, he takes them all out to apply oil and fondly gaze at them. He looks like a kid again, like a small boy counting his marbles or matchbox cars. If I happen to be around, he eagerly invites me to adore them, too.

I hang around to watch, all agog with sagging jaw, but not because I'm impressed by knives. Rather, I'm annually amazed at the amount of money that went into that pile of flashy metal. My husband glances up, sees the gleam in my eye, and says, "Don't even think about it. I'm not selling."

My husband's collection is not worth much, if you don't count memories. He has knives from all over the world, some of which he bought from craftsmen in the poorest countries. His favorites are those made in the USA. When I ask him why he doesn't use that particular knife, because it seems very handy, he looks alarmed and puts it back in its original packaging. Practical use is reserved for the cheapest knives. All the rest he stores carefully, and for all I know, he doesn't think about them for the rest of the year.

I don't understand collections, unless they come in my shoe size, or happen to be free. And now that the economy is tanking, my penny-pinching side takes issue with spending money on pieces of metal that are tucked away in a box, safe from moisture, to be viewed and enjoyed once a year.

That's the knee-jerk reaction most of us are having to tighter budgets and the threat of worse times to come. Save, save, save your money! Stop splurging on frivolities! This is the mantra penny pinchers have repeated for years, before the economy tanked. However, experts say that one reason the economy will not recover quickly is a Catch-22: the public is having a financial anxiety attack. Unfortunately, local small businesses, self-employed moms, craftsmen, and artists will suffer the most.

Maybe we need to rethink what splurging means, because unless you are two dollars away from living on the street, you are going to splurge on something from one payday to the next. In hard times, you might boost your morale with a donut, a magazine, a designer coffee, or the latest techno-gadget, none of which will last very long, improve your life, or pad your savings account. If you are going to splurge to feel better, wouldn't it be better to have something to show for it ten years down the road, besides an expanded waist line?

Splurging does not have to be selfish. My husband is proud of his knife collection, and though he would never sell them, occasionally he gives one away because it makes him feel good. You might feel great after contributing to Ducks Unlimited or the local food pantry, or spending the day making memories with your kids at the zoo.

If we all cut back on unhealthy or frivolous indulgences, we might be able to afford the things that really matter in life. Maybe newspapers, charming mom-and-pop stores, and American craftsmen could survive into the next decade.

Yes, keep paying your bills and saving for retirement, but don't feel guilty about collecting or maintaining a hobby, albeit scaled-down, during a recession. It's even better if that hobby contributes to your local economy, enhances your personal or property value, and provides the healthy comfort you need to help you get through the toughest times. But, um … don't tell my husband I said that.

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