Passion or obsession? Collecting can add up to serious dollars

September 16, 2011

You could say that Jay Pomerantz is a fan of the New York Jets.

You might suspect that from the room in his Long Island house, decorated wall-to-wall and floor-to-ceiling with memorabilia from the NFL team – game-worn cleats, bloodied jerseys from the 1960s, old playbooks and even Super Bowl rings. Some of the items are so rare and valuable that the team itself displays some of Pomerantz’s collection in its front office.

He’s spent about $200,000 over 20 years as he’s amassed over 1,000 Jets-related items –

It’s a passion that he estimates takes up to 400 hours a year, and even involves things like picking up former players from the airport. And his wife? “She gave up about 18 years ago,” laughs the 44-year-old, who runs a successful baby accessories business. “If she could close her eyes and make a wish, she’d probably do away with the whole thing. But she’s come to accept it.”

It’s a peculiar human trait, the collecting bug. And it’s not just limited to the Archie comics or baseball cards of your childhood. Adults collect, too — and with adult salaries, such passions can add up to serious dollars.

“Some people get so wrapped up in collectibles, that they think about it all the time,” says Dr. Tom Manheim, a financial therapist in Del Mar, California and author of Money Trouble. “They’re always on the prowl for the next piece. Even if it puts them over budget, it’s about something greater than money.”

If you’re Jay Leno or Jerry Seinfeld collecting vintage cars, or Debbie Reynolds amassing 40 years of movie memorabilia, that’s one thing: money is no object. For the rest of us, living on more modest means, a pricey collection can be a budget killer.

“We all stockpile something,” says Kerry Taylor, a personal-finance expert in Vernon, British Columbia and author of 397 Ways To Save Money. “People get attached to things, and have almost a hunter-gatherer need to have stuff around us. I even heard of a woman who collects Barbie doll heads, which was extremely disturbing to me.”

For Taylor herself, the collecting weakness is jeans; she amassed 30 pairs without even realizing it. When she sat down and ran the numbers, she estimated she had spent around $1,600 on her burgeoning denim collection. That was cash that might have been better directed to other purposes, like retirement savings.

“I was horrified,” says Taylor, who runs a finance blog at “It was a shock to the system, because stuff like that doesn’t help put food on the table. I ended up going through my piles of jeans and donating most of them – which sounds simple, but was actually very difficult.”

The trick is to tell when your personal passion is tipping from an interesting conversation piece, into something more appropriate for A&E’s Hoarders. One giveaway: When it starts negatively affecting your family budget. A few tips for keeping your impulses in check:

Add it up
You may not even realize how much your collection is costing you. Whether it’s a 2005 Chateau Margaux for your wine cellar or a 1952 Willie Mays for your baseball-card collection, adult passions can be an expensive endeavor. “There can be huge costs involved, thousands and thousands of dollars,” says Taylor. “Calculate it all, and then if necessary, shake some sense into yourself.”

Separate worth from worthless
Some collections, like vintage Bordeaux or antiquarian books or rare coins, contain real value. Indeed, their appreciation can even compare favorably to other asset classes like beleaguered stocks. But if your collection has no real value, then you’re a little too close to becoming the lady with 85 cats and the weird-smelling house.

If you have the collecting gene, you may not have a single passion, but four or five. In the interest of your household budget and familial harmony, it’s probably best to pick your favorite and focus on that. It will act as a natural check on your spending impulses, and give your spouse some measure of comfort. Jay Pomerantz also likes other teams, like baseball’s New York Mets, but has decided to focus on his beloved Jets alone. “Find the thing you really love,” he says. “But be careful about it.”


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The impulse to collect shares its roots with all other behaviors whose purpose is to create wealth and security, and is no less quirky, obsessive or miguided than the enormous investment of time and energy that most people put into the money-making behaviors that take over their lives to the exclusion of all the possibilities that stir men’s souls. Yet we accept this enormous limitation on our lives, with scant time set aside for family, community or personal passions as perfectly normal.

Money came into existence to facilitate exchange, and to streamline the conversations of deal-making. A simple two-way barter requires each party to perform 2 de novo valuations, whereas a money exchange requires only a yes-or-no decision on the value of goods offered. In a world with imperfect markets and imperfect communication, this was absolutely necessary, but our vision of money has now progressed from the sublime to the ridiculous. Money now dances the jig while the true underlying value of goods and services goes unnoticed. Small wonder that people would be drawn back to activities where one’s own belief in value controls the dialogue and exchange.

The Art Market fared extremely well through the recent unpleasantness in the markets. As our faith in money and money conversations erodes, expect more wealth to move to this means of exchange.

Posted by earthshiva | Report as abusive

So tell me again why we can’t afford decent health care for all?

Posted by seattlesh | Report as abusive

Interesting article, however, a distinction needs to be made between hoarding and collecting. While hoarding generally involves an indiscriminate accumulation, collecting implies targeted, planned acquisition, not infrequently for the purpose of investment. For those who can afford valuable, expensive objects of desire, collecting is a combination of pleasurable activity and investment strategy. In the last little while, collectibles have outperformed the stock market. Looking at one of the largest online auction houses, Heritage Auctions, which boasts on its website that it has sold $783,831, 417 in the past 12 months to their 665,958 bidder members, or at the activity on one of the specialized, hot wheels online auctions, Toy Car Exchange, one can understand the attraction of collectibles as an investment. Some hot wheels, for example, that originally cost 80 cents, now sell for anywhere from $50 to $200,000.

Posted by bookworm10 | Report as abusive