Genealogy and Personal Finance: How I Rein in My Expensive Hobby

Genealogy and Personal FinanceFamily history research is not cheap. These are just a few of the things I’ve spent money on in order to do family research in my time:

  • Books
  • Copies of documents (some courthouses charge as much as $1.00/copy)
  • membership
  • Ordering records
  • Travel to research
  • Tape and records to record interviews (back in the day)
  • DNA Tests
  • Family history-related events

While my smartphone has made some of this cheaper, have you SEEN the price of your average family history or county heritage book? If I were to buy every genealogy book or DNA test that I wanted, my descendants would find me enumerated among the 2013 residents of the Canton, Georgia Poor House.


How I Pay For My Genealogy Hobby

First, it will help to explain a little bit about my budget in general. I recently paid off $37,000 in debt. I got in debt in the first place because I wasn’t controlling my spending. So there’s no way, no how that I’m going back down that road.

Debt destroyed!
Debt destroyed courtesy of!

Because I’m self-employed and own a digital marketing agency, my finances aren’t set in stone, either, so budgeting can be difficult for me. Fortunately, I was lucky enough to hook up with a financial advisor over at LearnVest who saw through all of my excuses and gave me this plan of action:

1. Add up all of your *for sure* income every month.

2. Then add up all of your expenses. Don’t forget semi-monthly or annual expenses like car insurance, web hosting, cloud backup, vet visits, etc. Figure out your annual total on those semi-monthly expenses, divide it by 12, and then include it in your monthly expenses. Account for all of it.

3. What’s left over? Be sure you are putting what you want into your goals. Make savings accounts for those goals (I use to keep everything nice and separated). I have savings accounts for Retirement, Taxes, Emergency Fund and Home Repairs, and I sock a little into each account every month.

4. What’s left after all THAT is your play money. Divide that by four and give yourself that amount to spend on incidentals each week. For me, I don’t include groceries and eating out in my monthly budget. That way, they fall into my play money and I have to be very conscious to not overspend in those areas, otherwise I run out of money for the week. Pro Tip: I use the iPhone app “My Weekly Budget” to keep track of my weekly spending. It’s simple and to the point – you tell it how much you can spend, you add each of your transactions and it keeps track of how much you have left to spend that week. That’s IT.

So What Does This All Have to Do with the Hyper Expensive Hobby of Genealogy?

I give myself a genealogy line item in my monthly budget. Sometimes I spend it, sometimes I don’t. But if I do go over my budget (like this month, when I ended up ordering a book and a DNA test), I can use my “play money” to do anything else I want.

If I were planning on going to a genealogy conference, I would require myself to save up for it. I could probably dip into my play money or a few months worth of my genealogy budget in order to pay for the expenses.

Tracking every single expense also forces you to become a cheap bastard. Ordering one last family history off of eBay suddenly doesn’t seem like such a good deal when it means you have no more money to buy groceries for the rest of the week.

Fortunately, I’ve been able to use technology to cut down on some of what we might typically think of the “cost of doing business” with genealogy. I’ll have an upcoming guest post on the Brooklyn Ancestry blog detailing some technology finds that you may not have heard of yet.

So how do YOU pay for your genealogy hobby? Let’s discuss in the comments.

Happy detecting!


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