Young Numismatists, Expensive
Coins,and Finances

By Michael Parrish

29 October 2006

My Thoughts:

     The following topic is something that has been percolating around in my brain for quite some time. I haven't been certain how, or if, I wanted to talk about the topic. Essentially, what prompted me to speak was a post by a YN on a coin messageboard concerning the upcoming show he would be attending:
I started saving last month, and I plan on getting as much money as I can before the show.
Gonna blow thousands in a matter of minutes.
     Consider that I'm not trying to single Chad out in any way. I have heard similar comments in the past from others and they've led my thoughts along this same route. I'm only pointing to his post as an example.

     So...what's Michael getting at, you ask? Well, I'm in my mid-20s, recently married, a graduate student, and while I have everything I need, I certainly don't have everything I want. In short, my budget is tight due to my choices in life (namely to continue onto higher education rather then just start working). One of the biggest life skills I've had to pick up on over the years has been the ability to budget and to save money. I'm worried that many YNs out there are not learning or being encouraged to learn, the great importance of savings.

     Part of it, I think, is that with boards like this one we get to see lots of great, expensive coins. The implication to many seems to be that if it's cheap, it's not worth collecting. The corollary is that expensive coins are significantly more desirable. Perhaps this is true, perhaps not, but I think that I've seen a large degree of competitiveness that results in YNs spending large sums of money on a hobby, when they don't give the impression that they're also saving proportional sums for their futures.

      Another issue here, which is larger than the scope of this post, is the American (bad) habit of spending money they don't have. This is particularly important when these YNs start getting credit card offers. It's super easy to pick up that great coin on eBay with the bad CC (credit card, not carson city) and say, "Oh, I'll pay that off next month." Problem is, next month, you end up buying a good CC on the bad CC and the debt starts building up.

      As I said earlier, I'm on a tight budget. I still buy coins, but nothing too expensive. I think the most expensive purchase I've made since starting collecting again was $46.00, and that was only for the purposes of reselling at a profit. My point here is that you can still have a great time collecting coins that are dirt cheap. My most entertaining collecting interest right now is building a complete set of circulating Lincoln cents. Cost is minimal, but I think I enjoy it as much as I would building a Morgan dollar set - well, almost as much. But I have to be disciplined about my spending, because if I'm not then we either starve, don't make rent, or get into debt - no good options there!

      I'm worried when I see YNs talking like Chad did, because I think back to when I was 17 and still living at home in high school. Dropping a thousand might have been feasable, as my expenses were minimal and my income was fair between a part-time job and the odd gift. But when I think ahead to today, it becomes blazingly clear to me that if I'd saved that $1000 and turned it into around $1500 today, I would be much more secure that I'd made the right decision. Today, $1500 represents a small fortune to me and my wife, considering our budgets. It's over half of what a semester of tuition costs.

      "So," says the YN, "I'll just sell my collection when I'm older and need the money." Well, perhaps you'll get your money out, perhaps not. Regardless, you'll hate having to sell your beloved coins for something as mundane as needing a couple of pairs of jeans or a front-end alignment. You'd rather put it on a credit card - I know that's what I'd be tempted to do.

      This is getting a little longer than I originally intended, but I would say the bottom line is this: YNs should take as long and hard a look at their future financial situation as they can before dropping a cool G on a coin. Everything will cost more than you think it will. Yes, even more than the number you just corrected your first expectation to. You must - must - balance your desire for short-term gratification (and let's face it, coins are luxury items for almost everyone) versus your future financial freedom (or lack thereof).

      As teenagers who are just beginning to have access to more money that was in the piggy bank of youth, you YNs are now beginning to establish patterns of spending and budgeting which you'll either follow or struggle to change for the rest of your adult lives. I can tell you that I know of no college graduate (myself included) who exited college with no debts. Debt is a miserable, miserable thing to have. You never feel secure in life - financially speaking - until you're debt-free. It can and does destroy people's marriages and lives. Do not forget your savings and future finances in your quest for the next, great coin purchase. Don't let your desire to keep up with more fiscally secure collectors blind you to the necessities of your real life situation. I'm sure even some adult numismatists out there could use this advice.

      That said, have fun with coin collecting...but do it wisely.

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