Part of the human experience is ending up somewhere other than where we planned to be.  Sometimes this is a positive thing, but in certain situations it is less than ideal.  If we have lived long enough, all of us can point to relationships, vocational opportunities or business deals where we have allocated resources and energy and the result was not what we had hoped.  If we are not careful, this can happen in our sports card endeavors as well.

In order to avoid an unhappy result, it is important for each of us to define what we want out of our sports card experience.  This will be different for each individual and will likely change over time.  With all the discussion currently regarding investing in sports cards, one of the things each of us needs to assess is whether we are more of a card collector or a card investor.  Collectors derive intrinsic joy from simply owning an item, irrespective of the item’s cash value.  Investors are excited when they can sell an object for more than what they paid to acquire it.  Most people are some combination of these two but being self-aware enough to know where you sit on the collector/investor spectrum is a solid starting point to insure a fulfilling hobby experience.

My own sports card journey has seen a shift from collector to investor.  When I reentered the hobby ten years ago, I wanted to collect rookie cards of hall of famers and own them forever.  However, presently if I can make a profit, I will try to cash out in almost every situation.

A second key thing to define on the path to happiness in the sports card hobby is your niche or area of focus.  For a collector or investor new or returning to the hobby a more specific focus is better.  A targeted emphasis benefits the collector because it protects against spending too much too quickly or being overwhelmed by the volume of products on the market today.  For the investor, a smaller inventory helps prevent being burned by missing a price fluctuation, which can be challenging to track as the number of cards in a portfolio increases.

Some possible areas of focus:

  • Team
  • Player
  • Sport
  • Brand
  • Rookies
  • Era
  • Set building

There are people out there even combining the above categories to get even more specialized in their acquisition goals.  Three examples are only going after rookie cards from 1986-87 Fleer Basketball (pictured throughout this article), purchasing only first Panini Prizm cards for popular players across various sports, or acquiring every color refractor of a player from a certain set (aka “making a rainbow”).   My own areas of focus are hall of fame rookie cards in baseball, football and basketball and European soccer cards.  These niches all have a relatively low-cost entry point and line up well with the sports I enjoyed playing in my younger days and still watch on television.  In the future I would like to add buying and selling autographed cards to my focus area.

A final thing to consider is how much to spend on sports cards.  This can vary widely depending on a person’s goals, risk tolerance and financial situation.  Most of us are familiar with YouTubers who are comfortable spending $10,000 or more at a card show and flipping what was purchased for two or three times that amount.  Personally, I am more of a grinder.  The most I have ever spent on a sports card is $35, and 90% of what I own was purchased for less than $5.  Most readers will fall somewhere between these two extremes, but if your sports card investment or collecting decisions are causing you to lose sleep or fail to discharge your other financial responsibilities, it is time to reassess what you are doing.

Ultimately, any of us who have even one extra dollar to spend on a cardboard picture of a man playing a child’s game are extraordinarily fortunate when compared to the challenges experienced by many throughout human history.  With this in mind, it can be healthy to set limits on what you spend on sports cards.  Some tricks to accomplish this are to fund a sports cards only account for online purchases and sales or carry only a predetermined amount of cash to a card shop or show.  When the amount in the account or cash is gone, you are done buying.  Another technique is to tell your spouse, boyfriend or girlfriend how much you are spending on sports cards.  If you are transparent, their reaction will probably tell you everything you need to know.  Foundationally, it is important to define what a responsible amount to spend on sports cards is for you based on your financial situation and then stick to that predetermined amount.  This can be difficult.  All of us can remember times where we got caught up in the moment, spent too much and regretted that decision afterword.

Overall, in sports cards and in life it is critical for all of us to periodically assess our wants and goals in each situation.  Regarding sports cards, starting points in this process are knowing whether you are more of an investor or collector, defining areas of focus, and engaging in disciplined spending habits.  My hope is that as we ask honest questions about who we are and what we desire that we will continue to experience joy and happiness in the glorious hobby of sports cards.

How about you?  Do you consider yourself more of a collector or investor and has this changed over time?  Do you have an area of focus or specialization?  Are there other sports card niches that are not mentioned in the article?  Do you have a sports card budget?  I would love to hear from you!  Please leave comments below.

Dan is married, has a daughter and son, and spends most of his days engaged in financial compliance activities for an insurance company.  He has been known to overuse caffeine and has been collecting and trading sports memorabilia since 1985.

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