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Collecting is a popular hobby. Non-fungible tokens (NFTs) of artwork and other forms of media have received heaps of publicity for lofty sale prices, but traditional collectibles like coins are still more common.
Collectors accumulate their favorite items — from sneakers and baseball cards to art and jewelry — for various reasons. MagnifyMoney surveyed more than 1,500 Americans to find out who’s collecting items and learn more about why they do.
Mainly, consumers say they love the product they collect, but potential profit is another strong motivator. Many collectors think their items will be worth something someday, and plenty have made decent money selling some of their things.
Regardless of why people collect, it’s a behavior that drives economic activity, creates robust communities and helps people gather things that help bring some happiness.
How much would you like to invest?
Across all respondents, 61% say they consider themselves to be collectors. Collecting is most popular among Gen Zers ages 18 to 25 (76%) and millennials ages 26 to 41 (72%). Meanwhile, men tend to collect more than women (70% versus 51%).
Collectors are drawn to various items, but coins are the most popular:
The most popular item varies by demographic:
Other highlights include:
Even though NFTs have made headlines as a trendy way to collect unique digital tokens, they still aren’t very common. Just 15% of Americans have ever placed a bid on an NFT, according to a March 2021 MagnifyMoney survey. And our new data shows the same percentage of Americans — 15% — are considering buying an NFT in 2022 (more on this later).
(That previous MagnifyMoney survey found that cryptocurrency, another blockchain-supported technology, is more popular than NFTs.)
An NFT is “non-fungible,” meaning it’s a unique item, and its digital ownership is established through blockchain-supported technology. Ethereum, a popular cryptocurrency, often backs those tokens.
There’s enthusiasm surrounding NFTs, as evidenced by the six-figure price tag on many items. But traditional items are more broadly popular, and collectors are still passionate about them.
“Collecting seems to fill an emotional need, whether it’s the thrill of hunting down an object to complete your collection or just a pleasant way to indulge one’s interests,” says Ismat Mangla, MagnifyMoney executive editor.
Even if a potential profit isn’t the main reason people collect, most collectors believe their items will be worth something someday, with 51% saying they’ll be worth a little and 32% saying they’ll be worth a lot — a total of 83%.
Again, men are more bullish on the potential value of what they collect, with 39% saying they think their collections will be worth a lot, compared with 24% of women.
But Mangla warns collectors to be careful about assigning monetary value to their collections.
“Sure, some collections end up being worth a lot,” Mangla says. “But more often, they aren’t worth much in monetary terms. It’s so hard to predict what’s going to appreciate in value.”
She suggests collectors should focus on items that bring them joy, rather than things that serve solely as financial investments.
Despite this expectation of their collections being worth something, the most common reason collectors accumulate the items they do is that they genuinely love the products (59%) — a percentage that’s consistent across gender, age and household income.
Men are far more likely than women to hope their collections grow in value so they can eventually sell them (40% versus 22%). Meanwhile, younger generations tend to enjoy collecting a complete set of something more than older generations.
While that old box of baseball cards in the attic may not seem like it’s worth much, people have still invested quite a bit of money into their collections. Among all respondents, the average amount of money spent on collectible items in their lifetime is $3,964.
That number is even higher among people who consider themselves collectors ($6,131) and higher yet among collectors who have sold items in the past ($9,121).
Of course, certain collectibles are likely to cost more than others — an antique car, for example, is probably more expensive than all but the rarest comic books.
Unsurprisingly, people with more money tend to spend more on their collections. Here’s the lifetime cost of collecting across different household income brackets:
Gender is an even bigger differentiator, as men have spent substantially more on average than women on collector’s items ($6,560 versus $1,660).
There can be negative spending, too, as 30% of collectors say they’ve lost money by investing in a collectible, which could impact their ability to save.
So what happens when collectors finally make a move to sell? More than a third of collectors (37%) say they’ve sold off some of their collections. Those who have sold items have netted an average value of $5,838 on collectible sales.
More than 4 in 10 (43%) respondents say they’ve never heard of another type of collectible: NFTs. And there’s a significant generational divide. Most baby boomers ages 57 to 76 have never heard of them (65%) — and many Gen Xers ages 42 to 56 (48%) haven’t either.
On the other hand, the percentage of Gen Zers and millennials who haven’t heard of NFTs are much lower (23% and 31%, respectively).
These older generations don’t plan on investing in NFTs either, especially relative to younger generations:
It’s not surprising that younger generations tend to view NFTs as good investments more than older generations: 47% of Gen Zers, 40% of millennials, 26% of Gen Xers and 13% of baby boomers responded that they view NFTs as good investments.
“Because it’s one of a kind, ostensibly, that’s what makes it valuable,” Mangla says. “The value of NFTs is really bestowed by the people who are willing to pay for it.”
Some people have gone into debt to secure assets they find valuable, with 5% of respondents saying they had gone into debt for an NFT and 6% saying they went into debt for another collectible. The same percentages of respondents say they’d consider going into debt for an NFT (5%) or a collectible (6%).
So where do Americans stand overall on collectibles? Most consumers don’t think collectibles are a good investment (56%) — a percentage that’s even higher for NFTs (70%).
There’s a substantial difference in opinion among collectors and non-collectors, though. Self-identified collectors think that collectibles are good investments (58%) and are more bullish on NFTs (38%). In comparison, people who don’t collect anything are much less likely to believe collectibles (23%) or NFTs (18%) are good investments.
Ultimately, a majority of collectors accumulate items because they love what they collect. The value of collections varies widely, depending on the product’s type or quality. Collecting can be a passion project for people, though, and sometimes they can turn a profit by buying and selling items.
MagnifyMoney commissioned Qualtrics to conduct an online survey of 1,537 U.S. consumers, conducted March 10-15, 2022. The survey was administered using a nonprobability-based sample, and quotas were used to ensure the sample base represented the overall population. All responses were reviewed by researchers for quality control.
We defined generations as the following ages in 2022:
While the survey also included consumers from the silent generation (those 77 and older), the sample size was too small to include findings related to that group in the generational breakdowns.