Collecting sports cards used to be simple. Every year, a handful of sets made their way to store shelves. Inserts were simple things like stickers or other one-per-pack premiums. Defining and chasing rookie cards wasn't a complicated process. Autographs were things you got at the park or arena, not in packs. Jersey were clothes and nothing more. They came with gum.
You get the point.
If you collect modern cards, you probably also know that days like these are, for the most part, gone. And that's not a judgement call. It's fact. And while the options available to collectors today are far more numerous, the hobby can also be daunting. Not only to new and returning collectors, but long-time hobbyists as well.
It's easy to lose your way amidst an ever accumulating stack of monster boxes and cluttered desks. The challenging of getting everything becomes too daunting. For some, there comes a breaking point where it becomes too much and they walk away. But it doesn't have to be this way. Unless sports cards are a significant part of your income, collecting should be fun. If it's not, something's wrong.
Whether you're new to the hobby, a returning collector or a veteran, here are ten easy steps to building a better sports card collection.
1. Find a Focus
Forget trying to get everything. You can't do it. So rather than ripping boxes and cases of every new product and tossing everything aside, find a focus for your sports card collection. Pick a theme or two and run with it. The options are endless and can be catered to your personal tastes. Some choose to build sets while others go after their favorite team. There are player collectors, autograph collectors and rookie card collectors. Many collectors are loyal to a specific brand. Others prospect with visions of future returns. There is no wrong focus.
And don't be afraid to change your focus. As new sets come out, you may find you like a particular style of card. Or, you may choose to move on if your favorite player is traded or a set loses its appeal.
By getting a focus, you give yourself direction. It gives purpose to your collection. Without one, you'll likely find yourself throwing money around at random cards. And with today's prices, a lot of money can disappear very quickly.
2. Set a Budget (and Stick to It)
Next to finding a focus, setting a budget is probably the most important part of building your collection. It's easy to get carried away. Too easy. Deals pop up, rare cards surface, new sets come out -- all these vie for your extra cash. And if you're not careful and disciplined, you may find yourself eating more Kraft Dinner than you usually like.
Cards should always come from the money that's leftover after all the bills are paid. It sounds like a simple concept, but for many it's a tough proposition to keep.
Once you've decided how much you've got to spend on cards each month, stick to it. You might even want to create a simple spreadsheet or tally of your expenses.
Look for ways to make you money go further. By shopping on eBay, you can often set your own price easily and without hassle. You can often negotiate at your local shop, but online auctions are a convenient way to hunt for bargains.
And if some great deals pop up all at once? Pass some of them over. Or sell some of your collection. List on eBay. Set up at a local card show. Look at some other online sites. It has never been easier for collectors to turn their unwanted and extra cards into cash that you can then use to build your collection.
3. Make a Wantlist
Once you've got your focus, compile a list of what you're looking for and type it out. Writing it on a napkin works, but there's a good chance your 5-year-old will come along and wipe the peanut butter and jelly off his face with it.
To take your wantlist a step further, upload it with something like Google Docs or onto Dropbox so it's with you anywhere you go. This is very handy when you stumble upon a shop while away on business or you hit up your local show.
Just remember to update your wantlist as soon as it changes. It's easy to forget to cross something off once you've filed it away in a binder or box.
4. Target the Whale
Whatever your focus and no matter your budget, there's probably something rare and/or pricey that you've always wanted. Right now, it might be out of reach. But that doesn't mean you can't plan for it. Set aside a little bit of your card budget every month for a "Whale Fund" so that the next time one pops up, you'll be ready. Even if you're on an Opening Day budget, you can still own some Exquisite pieces.
A big part of the thrill of collecting is the chase. It's great to have several inexpensive and easy-to-find pieces in your sites, but landing that cornerstone piece is one of the biggest rushes collectors can have.
5. Make It a Family Affair
Anything you can do with your family makes it that much more enjoyable. If the hobby is going to grow and thrive, it needs new collectors. Chances are, if your kids see that you're interested in something, they're likely to become interested as well. That might mean some compromises. Your daughter may not like baseball, but My Little Pony or Star Wars might be right up her alley. You might pledge your allegiance to the Yankees and your son might think Mr. Met is funny. Still, collecting cards is best shared.
And don't think that it's just your kids you might want to get involved. You might even want to look for ways of getting your spouse or partner on board. My wife has always tolerated my collecting but she's never shown any interest. That was until we opened a box of Game of Thrones together. Like your kids, look for alternate options that might get them interested in busting packs with you.
6. Try Something New
Yes, I know I said finding a focus was one of the most important things you could do with your collection. But you still need to try new things. That doesn't meant break a box of every new product. Rather, try some packs here and there. Trade for some cards from a sport you enjoy, but don't usually collect. Bounce back from a depressing episode of The Walking Dead with some cards from the show.
Expanding your collecting horizons without going wild, can help your collection evolve. You may find you prefer a new brand. Or it may help solidify your current collecting direction.
7. Get Social
While there may not be as many collectors as there once was, it's hardly a ghost town either. Collecting is so much more enjoyable if you have someone to talk about it with. Even if you failed at getting your family on board, there's no excuse for not being social with the hobby. Join a forum, get on Twitter, start a blog. If you're a sports card hermit, things will get very boring.
When many of my friends stopped collecting, I found a huge community online. Not only did it make collecting easier, it rejuvenated me and got me more excited about collecting than ever.
With the expansion of social media, getting connected has never been easier.
8. Start Trading
Now that you're connected with other collectors, you can leverage those relationships into getting some of the cards you want. By being social, you can also usually find someone who is looking for your extra cards.
Trading is one of the purest forms of collecting. For many, the evolution of the hobby has taken it back to where it began. There are literally thousands of collectors online who swap cards. Some demand structured deals where every penny of "book value" is accounted for. Others are happy to send their friends things they need without any strings attached. Most are somewhere in between.
No matter how you trade, it's a fun, easy way to clear some clutter and knock things off of your wantlists.
9. Clear Off Your Desk and Get Organized
It's depressing when you go to work and you find your desk covered with papers and other clutter. Likewise, it's tough to get excited about collecting when you're surrounded by stacks and stacks of unorganized cards.
So take a Saturday, stock up on supplies, plug in a movie and start getting organized. There is no right or wrong way to do it, just as long as the end result means everything has a place and you've got some piece of mind. That said, a couple of monster boxes and boxes of nine-pocket pages go a long way to getting things stored properly.
And don't forget, once you're organized, don't the the piles creep up on you. It'll be the same problem all over again. Take a few minutes every week and make sure everything finds a place.
10. Find a Local Shop
For card collectors, the local hobby shop is, ideally, the place where everybody knows your name. In a perfect world, it's a place where you can go talk about the hobby, debate the standings and buy some cards. A dwindling number of quality card stores makes that a lot tougher. But they're out there. And it's important you find one, even if it means a bit of a drive.
For some, this might mean heading to the next town over. That's fine. Just don't go as often as you might if they were on the block.
Shopping online is easy, convenient and, in most cases, offers both the best selection and prices. But you can't put a price tag on the card shop experience. It's the perfect way to try out new stuff a little bit at a time, socialize with other collectors and hunt for whales.
And if the closest shop isn't any good? Keep on driving until you find one. Get the family together and make a road trip out of it.
Building a better sports card collection is a lot of work. But the underlying theme is making it fun and enjoyable. For most of us, it's a hobby. If collecting is causing you stress, step back and look at why. All these ideas are easy and should bring back the fun.
Related Topics: How To: General