How to keep your (expensive) figure collection under control

We all have experienced it – “I will buy just this one more and I am done”. Those are the famous words that are usually followed by a pile of boxes figures that it soon becomes a challenge to find space. In other cases, some collectors need to sell part of their collections as to make ends meet due to unexpected life circumstances.

Given this and my own background as a financial professional, I thought to help out in some misconceptions of good practice such as “payment plans” and so on.

Here are my tips in making sure that you control your impulses and not the other way around:

  1. Create a physical limit for the collection
  2. Create an annual budget
  3. Do not pay with an installment plan
  4. Give more value to what you already have
  5. Do not pre-order immediately (ok… unless you are a Hasbro collector: ) )
  6. Have your significant other with a more detached and less emotional attachment to the character to give an opinion about the collectible
  7. When in doubt, do not buy it
  8. Do not make exceptions

1- Create a physical limit for the collection from the beginning

It could be an entire room or just a wall. It is important to create a couple of rules that reinforce each other. It is difficult to where exactly to draw the line when a hobby becomes a non healthy obsession. However, as with porn, we all know when we see it. It is too easy for collecting to become a completionism compulsion for the next buy instead of joyful entertainment. It also helps if you think where your collection will focus on (i.e. scale; quantity; brands).

As with investments, you must have a system of rules before you start. Emotions should not be the only factor to consider, even in “passion goods”

In my case, my wife and I have decided that a 3m wall will be where my collection will be located. This will help reinforce rule #2.

2- Create an annual budget

“Don’t tell me what you value, show me your budget, and I’ll tell you what you value.”

Joe Biden

This subject could be an entire post. I will try to keep it as short as possible.

So to give a proper advice, this will be longer than usual. I will use some fancy language, but stay with me, it is not that boring : )

Budget is about priorities and following the rules you set. The recommendation for any family household to know how much on average is their monthly mandatory expenses (i.e. rent, real estate payments, groceries, education, insurances etc). To be on the safe side for those “rainy days”, you need to have between 6 to 12 months worth of expenses as savings that you can quickly access in a day or two (i.e. checking account). As an example, if a household spends USD 3,000 per month for their mandatory expenses, then it should have at least between USD 18,000 to USD 36,000 that it can access quickly. Thus, this is not to be used to buy a car, a new figure, other superfluous expenses nor invest it for the long term investments.

Then, with the remaining cash make an annual budget that will be revised by the end of every year. Within the year, you can revise for exceptional reasons such as when income is expected to increase or decrease for a period of 12 months or more (i.e. new job; promotion etc). Keep in mind when making a realistic budget for the year that many behavioral studies have shown that we have a bias to think in terms of marginal cost instead of total cost. In our specific case, this means that most decide thinking in the terms of one more collectible instead of taking the decision that if he gets this collectible, it will actually mean 20+ more in total.

Thus, the decision is not if you are going to spend USD 10 or USD 300 in a new collectible, but if you are willing to spend USD 2,000 or USD 10,000 in total. The decision to buy your first collectible will LEAD to buying others.

3- Do not pay with an installment plan

Many people use Payment Plans as a way to help them organise their spending as they are thinking in terms of monthly cash flows that fits their budget. DO NOT DO THIS. You will likely lead you to overspend. Always think in terms of total cost. Also, if you follow rule # 2, it does not matter if you take that cash out of the short term savings account or your salary. Cash is cash. In addition, you increase what is called Counterparty Risk. Meaning the other side defaulting on you (you are paying cash months if not a year before you have the product). Simply answer the questions below:

  1. Does this collectible fit my annual budget?
  2. How many others I will buy because of this collectible?
  3. How many more can I still buy if I buy this figure?

Make an annual budget, so you will know the total cost per year that this will cost you. This might make you think more before jumping into a new collectible. Payment plans will make you overspend and give cash way before you need to.

4- If you can , do not pre-order immediately

This might not apply for everyone as in some geographical locations, pre-orders can run out very quickly. However, if possible (i.e. Hot Toys collector that buys from Sideshow) use this to your advantage. It will not cost you more, it will help you cool off from the hype and, it will give you more insight of the new figures that are going to be announced and better plan which ones you really want.

5- Give more value to what you already have

– “I find that everybody has a number and it is usually an exact number. So what is yours?”

– “More”

Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps – Exchange between Jacob Moore and Bretton James

Collecting is addicting, there is a physiological reaction in your brain when you buy a new collectible. Thus, it is important to balance the act of simply buying new collectibles with the art of displaying them nicely. We have all seen photos of collections with a multitude of figures, all placed together that you can barely see most of them. The effort seems to be in buying.

Instead of focusing on the next thing, have fun with what you already have. Learn to create a diorama or a simple background or modifications for your pieces. Get inspired in how to better display your collection and spend your time in improving it instead of focusing on the next thing. In the long term, this will create more anxiety than pleasure.

6- Have your significant other with a less emotional attachment to your collection give an opinion about the collectible

This has worked very well for me. My wife supports me in this hobby, but it is not her thing. So she can always give me a logical and cold advice on how good or not a certain figure looks and she reminds me to think about the overall collection and its presentation. She has convinced me to change my mind a few times and I am very grateful for her to make me avoid those impulse buys.

7- When in doubt, do not buy it

To the contrary to many YouTubers recommend, when in doubt, do not buy it. If FOMO comes into your decision, you will end up with too many collectibles and out of space or just looking like a hoarder. Plan ahead where your collection is going in terms of space, type of collectibles and how you are going to display what you have and what you plan to buy.

8- Do not make exceptions

It is easier to keep a rule if you follow it 100% instead 98%.

Make a realistic rule and keep it to it. When you make the first exception (“I will only do this once”), it will get easier to make another exception down the road, and another, and another. Life only gets more complicated, so you will always have a way to rationalize to not respecting your own rules. It will be much less stressful and time consuming in the long run if you keep your promises.

5 interesting surprises from a wife of a Collector

When my husband first introduced me to figures such as the ones in the Black Series and later Hot Toys, I must say that I was quite skeptical about his new collecting hobby. His collection started,  with a 30$ small figure collection, but soon evolved to the bigger the size 300$ Hot Toys. Nevertheless, I tried to approach this new world of collectors with an open mind. Here are 5 of my surprises along the discovery journey of living with someone who is a Hot Toys addicted collector:

  1. The box matters
My preciousss?

My first encounter with a Hot Toy was not with a Hot Toy. It was with its box, while watching some Youtube videos. I realized that most reviewers spent at least a minute talking about every single feature of the box. Box really matters. Really, they do! To be more precise, there are 2 levels of boxes: the brown shipper box and the actual figure box. We shall keep them all, as I soon discovered. However, I was in from a bigger surprise, some people are so obsessed with their figure boxes that in some way, for me, they seem to be as much as box collectors as figure collectors. I mean… figures stay in the boxes.  Therefore, to open it or not to open it,.. seems to be a trickier question than I first thought.

  1. The required level of artistry

Finally done with the box (I still cannot be excited about that), I was in for the biggest surprise, but a positive one: the level of artistry put into a Hot Toys figure and even more impressive to manage to produce it at scale! The advance spiderman suit had been seamed to a level of perfection that only by high-end jackets could seem to achieve, but on a tiny one-sixth scale. This was not some silly toy replica, but rather a perfect feat of balance between art and engineering. It not only moved in every possible way (even the toes!) but also had hand painted veins and freckles on the most impressive head sculpt (a word that I never knew existed before) I have ever seen. Similarly, to my favorite paintings, I surprised myself to discover slowly the sheer quantity of (obsessive) details which were put in such figures. From, the metal thread in Yoda cape allowing him to impressively fly in the wind, to the small impacts on the storm trooper armor: I discovered additional details every time I looked.

  1. Demanding purchaser

However, while I was impressed by the level of quality, not everyone was so. Reading comments at FB collector groups, I never met such demanding purchasers as Hot Toys collectors. Hearing the reviews, every part of the figure is carefully analyzed and reviewed. Not just the film accuracy but even the pre-launch prototypes versus the commercialized figures are meticulously compared and commented! The level of education and expectation of the Hot Toys collector is truly above anything I knew before. Certainly, no makeup addict I know would go into comparing the RGB of the ad of a lipstick launch compared to the RGB of the actual lipstick!

  1. Posing complexity

But we should not be talking about figures collection without figure posing and that again was more complex than it seemed. I thought everything would simply be standing straight. However, I soon discovered the beautiful subtilities of movement offered a world of possibilities. In fact, striking the perfect pose requires reaching a perfect balance of human realistic anatomic movement, but also engaging superhuman qualities. The collection could change often, not only in terms of heads of expressions, but also in terms of meaning or focus just by changing the position of some figures. A bit like an art curator in a museum, we found ourselves discussing the position and placement of even the tiniest aspects of the figure could truly impact the aesthetic of the entire collection. Most importantly, as curators, to choose carefully which to add to the collection. But I am digressing here, this can be a subject for another article.

  1. Meaning of a collection

Why does my husband collect? Is a question which popped into my worried wife’s mind. Were we facing a middle life crisis? Was this a substitute to vital unmet needs? When overthinking mode level 20,000 was reached, I decided to simply pop the question. To this, I received the most beautiful and surprising answer: to have in my hands a physical piece of my childhood fantasies. Isn’t this the best hobby a wife could hope for?

Are Hot Toys, Funkos and other collectibles really a great investment?

I have been reading in a few social networks, people talking about Hot Toys, Funkos, or Action figures in general as “investments”. As a professional in finance and a fellow collector, I can add my 2 cents for this conversation, without this becoming an academic paper : ) I will make an analogy with another exotic asset… wines and the super wines. Yes, wines, not wineries, which are definitely a type of investment.

First, a formal and less strict definition:

“A good definition of an investment is that it is deferred consumption. Any net outlay of cash made with the prospect of receiving future benefits might be considered an investment. So, investments can range from planting a tree to buying stocks to acquiring a college education.”

CAIA Association

In plain English. You would delay eating an apple today as to have more than one apple in a certain point in the future. So, benefits are that the asset becomes more valuable and/or that it produces something of value. As for deferred consumption, wine fits well because if you drink it… well no more investment : ) What about action figures in which the act to consume is taking it out of the box? Let us think about it. The only way for something to be considered an investment instead of an expense is if it produces a stream of revenue or due to scarcity, thus higher resale value than when you bought it. Even if the cost to operate it is higher than the value, it will be a bad investment, but still an investment. In addition, being expensive is not a requirement for anything to be considered an investment. There can be something expensive, well engineered, a beautiful piece of art, but be an awfully bad “investment” and vice-versa.

Thus, the capability to produce a stream of revenue and/or scarcity are enough to define the drivers of value for something to be considered an investment.

n this characteristic, the super wines hold well (it is not considered institutional-type investment, but this is out of the scope of this piece.). If a wine is considered extraordinary from a certain vintage and that it is exceedingly difficult for its producer to recreate it… well, you have scarcity. Same things for paintings (not printed, but man made and one off). There is limited supply and if demand increases for it… you have a boom in price.

This seems not to be the case of action figures in which the companies can produce the item at the same quality or even higher in the future due to technological developments. So less demand for your collectibles. The producers can finish scarcity at any time. This is the case for action figures. Just see recently the case of the Hot Toys – Iron Man Mark 47.

As for demand, you need to be sure that current and future collectors for your brand/figure are going to be in higher numbers than when you buy any figure. This is difficult to predict as it depends on many variables. Historical evidence shows that they will simply shift for the newer models instead of old ones in the long term.

Having said all that, it seems that there are opportunities to buy and sell for a profit in 1-5 years’ time frame since the launch of some products without being a flipper that takes the opportunity of actual collectors (looking at you Hasbro with the SW Black Series!). I will expand this another time.

Fellow collectors, collect! Just do not do it with the intent to sell it for a profit in the long term. It will very likely not happen.