Financially Smart Collecting vs. Investing in Pokemon

A lot of the discussion we have been having recently on the forum falls under the umbrella of, as the discord would term it, :whatshouldibuy:. Basically, people (often new members) will post a list of items and ask the forum which is a better long-term “investment” decision or which item or class of items will hold its value better. While these individuals are often ridiculed on the forum and on the discord, I believe the issue often lies in a simple misunderstanding about collecting and how to go about it.

I’d like to go over the differences between financially smart collecting and so-called “investing” in Pokemon cards. I think many people are asking about “investing” when in reality they simply want some advice on how to collect cards in a financially sustainable way.

FINANCIALLY SMART COLLECTING

The mindset of financially smart collecting can basically be described as maximizing the value of the items in your collection while minimizing your expenses. The goal is to buy the items that interest you most while paying the least amount of money in order to get them. This will manifest itself differently across each collector, but I’ve been collecting under this mindset for years and I’ll share some of the key things that I’ve learned.

  • Don’t buy sealed product to open. You will almost always be taking a loss on it, even if you do make a profit it will be minimal and the odds will eventually even themselves out over multiple iterations of sealed product. Whether it’s heavy packs, booster boxes, or collection boxes, you are almost always better off buying the single cards. Occasionally I will buy sealed product, but only for the enjoyment value I get from it.
  • Prioritize your goals and focus on them specifically. Is your goal to buy PSA 9 WOTC holos? Maybe don’t go after that new super glittery SWSH card or the PSA 10 version of your favorite Pokemon from SM. You will be surprised how quickly purchases that are not part of your main goals will add up, before you know it you’ve dropped a couple hundred dollars on cards that have not advanced your primary collection goals, while prices for those cards continue to climb. Within this I would also recommend buying the most expensive cards first within your goals.
  • Take advantage of auctions and the occasional deal, but don’t let the cheap mindset overpower you. If you want to get one of the cards in your goals, I guarantee you will eventually have to pay above market value. Remember that the goal here is to collect smart, it’s not to only buy cheap cards. The money you save by following the top two points will more than cover the extension for these cards.

Occasionally within financially smart collecting you’ll need to make a decision on when to buy a graded card you think is due for a price raise, when to take a chance on an ungraded card you think may grade within your goals, or what out of many cards to buy first. But here’s the important part: no matter what decision you make, you will likely not lose a significant amount of money. It is actually quite hard to lose a lot of money in Pokemon no matter what you buy. Cards don’t drop by 50% overnight, and as long as you are being smart with your collecting your collection will at worst sell for 15-20% less than your purchase prices simply due to platform fees and market fluctuations.

INVESTING IN POKEMON

Investing is fundamentally different from collecting. The goal of investing is not to collect the cards you like, it’s to make the most money possible. You are purchasing assets, you aren’t purchasing nostalgia items. Investing in Pokemon is much more specific than financially smart collecting. Here are the basics:

  • Develop exhaustive knowledge of the Pokemon hobby. Knowing the average prices for WOTC cards is not enough, knowing populations for Neo holos is not enough, you must know nearly every card. You can’t simply look at any one item and ask if it is a good investment, you have to look at the entire market and ask what is the best investment. I did a very small example of what this looks like in September with Charizard cards, you can find the article here.
  • Access substantial capital. I would say that $100,000 would be a good start for investing in Pokemon. Maybe you could get in with lower-end trophies at the $10-50k mark, but in order to develop the kind of diverse portfolio that would begin to guarantee solid returns, I think $100k is the starting point. Just because some people have made significant money without this capital in the past doesn’t mean you can do it today. Throwing a couple thousand dollars at cards here and there will not work out for you.
  • Purchase high-end cards. I would almost exclusively limit this to short-print trophies, promos, etc. If it doesn’t have a limited print number, it’s probably not for you. The only exception to this may be 1st edition base, but to be honest there are much better places to put 40k than an 1st ed. PSA 10 Zard if you are investing.
  • Wait. You need to have the financial stability to wait the decades it will take to see significant returns. This is exacerbated by a lack of liquidity in high-end Pokemon.

The hard truth is that investing is vastly out of reach of the average Pokemon collector and the only people who have successfully done so started many years ago and made nearly perfect investment decisions along the way. Frankly, compared to other investment products out there (stocks, real estate, etc) Pokemon is objectively subpar. If you’ve got money and really want to see some returns, go see a financial advisor and put together a stock portfolio.

THE MIDDLE GROUND

A lot of people want to believe that there is somehow a middle ground where you can make money on appreciating cards. This is technically possible but is nearly impossible to consistently pull off. I got lucky and made $4k off of one card once, and I’ve been in the hobby for a little over five years. It is not sustainable and is why many flippers and “investors” cannot financially stand to keep any of their “investments.” They’ll buy an expensive card but won’t have the ability to hold it long enough to see a return. Sometimes they’ll dump after a year or two and make a couple hundred bucks, which gets cut down very quickly when you factor inflation and seller fees. It is a not a good model of collecting and you will nearly always be better served by sticking to the financially smart collecting goals.

The best way to collect is not to worry about what will return the most money. The returns on set cards are negligible and inconsistent, which is why everyone says not to invest in them. Actual investing requires a level of capital and knowledge such that I can probably count on one hand the number of people on the forum who can do it properly.

tl;dr Lose the investment fantasy, buy what you like and do it smart, at worst you will have a negligible financial loss.

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speak the truth!

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Can we link this post to every thread that gets started about “what should I buy”?

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First and foremost, I just wanted to say I absolutely love a good majority of your ( @fourthstartcg) informative posts and articles, as they really do shed tons of light on the hobby as a whole and really could better a lot of individuals collecting goals, as they have aided in mine in y time here. So, thanks for the write ups and work!

That being said, the above is a huge, huge aspect of collecting which I found myself in when reestablishing myself into it all around last August/September or so. In coming back, the first key wasnt to buy, but to gain as much knowledge as possible on everything. Being out of it for say 14 or so years now, things have changed drastically, and really developing a good baseline of what I knew prior to going in was one of the biggest helps for me, even though I made a bunch of mishaps along the way. I just now treat those things as learning experiences, and I can say where I am with everything today is a much more comfortable and relaxing point which fits my needs, budget, and lifestyle.

Additonally, i think the biggest help anyone could take from this all is making a decision on what one wants out of coming into the hobby or being in it today which is that middle ground. I had to make loads of “sacrifices” if you will, in order to gain cards i truly desire, but those sacrifices were managed through my means of doing so. For example, I started back up really into Hidden Fates, which might have been my biggest mishap, as I could have instead bought all the cards I wanted from WOTC immediately and saved a ton of money along the way seeing as many of the ones I wanted have now gone up in price since i first saw them even only not so many months ago. But that being said, regardless of my purchasing habits there, once i better learned prices, value, the market, how i wanted to collect, what i could budget weekly/monthly/yearly, and what goals i want to achieve in collecting was when all those answers to the questions “what should i buy” just fell into place for me. So even though i might have started rough, the lesson learned and with everything available on here to read through and study are actually a blessing in disguise, as now my first few goals are being met, and all within reason for how I decided to go about the hobby now. I do splurge for the occasional booster and here and there of modern, but its not as frantic and chaotic as it once was or at least felt to be.

With all that, im sure everyone here and everyone asking these sorts of questions could greatly benefit from this information and from lots and lots of thinking and time invested into the hobby as a whole. Theres a piece of this everyone can take and make their own in ways, so through the proper resources and material coupled with lots of thinking, we could all figure out how to proceed here in this hobby we all love. With that, many will already come to see that traditional “investing” in Pokemon is very, very difficult and chances are, things wont work out in that sense of what we all “think” could happen. While it has worked for others, it may not be the same fate for new comers or even ones that do have the large capital to throw at it as of today. So with that comes the aspect of taking time out to truly dive deep as can be into learning all that one can, and then going from there by choosing what will be right for ones self going further down the road. Everything in life takes time, effort, knowledge, and growth, and this hobby is no different from any other sort of thing out there so when the work is put in, the answers to most of these questions to ones self should surely be seen then with more clarity. :blush:

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Also (since I know I tend to talk a lot, as I love adding input) heres my shorter version if too much to read: I second the first post wholeheartedly, and remember to do your research and answers will follow. lol

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Fantastic post, I think that encompasses all of our collecting journeys! Developing clear goals is very important, but sometimes it takes time to arrive at those goals. Nobody comes into the hobby knowing exactly what they want to collect, and I think that contributes to the overhyped focus on “investment.” If you don’t know what to collect, collect what will go up in value, so to speak. However, the time it takes to arrive at your collection goals and the process that it entails is also important because if you don’t go through that process you’ll never truly know what you like or don’t like.

For what it’s worth, I think knowledge is the most important thing you can develop in the hobby. The more you learn, the better decisions you will be able to make, both collection-wise and financially.

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Awesome right up! I love the “investors” who also try to share their sense of business to their views on youtube as well. I saw one person tell the viewer to apply for credit cards in order to gain fast capital… “Only when the tide goes out do you discover who’s been swimming naked”.

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@fourthstartcg Absolutely, and thank you!

To add a little further, I agree on the aspect of goals taking time to be met for sure, and also agree with how it could even take time to develop said goals in mind much more concretely into context. But loosely setting a generalized goal coupled with research and time is completely key in order to see positive growth within ones own collecting aspects which i think is a huge, huge point to be stressed. Using myself as an example, i started with “I want to collect again” which led to “I miss all my old cards from gen 2, and would love to collect gen 2”. That tied into more research, what was doable, asking myself tons and tons of questions like “what am i willing to spend?”, “am I looking for a return, or am I looking to just enjoy it”, “where do I buy these cards now” “do I want them graded or in a binder” and so on and so forth. With that, the aspect of time to meet said goals began to fade for me, as I didnt really look much towards “when” they could be met, rather just small estimations of how and the “what ifs” in these situations which just so happened to end sooner than expected. So in taking these goals from a mild thought, they solidified over time for me by using the knowledge gained instead of acting on the impulsively of my immediate instincts, which did as you stated aid into the “investment” aspect of things as i originally equated the cards with value and money, over what my actual desires were when that thought, time, and research began to run its course.

So overall, couldnt agree me more here with everything and I hope others can take a lot from this and move forward with a better sense of things, while also remembering (as i always do) to have fun in the process, because at the end of the day, if were not doing this all while being able to get joy out of it all, thats where it just becomes all for nothing. :blush:

And maybe we might see less what should we buy threads haha.

I feel like I also heard this before on youtube! Care to share who said that?

Yeah ill send you a message lol. Don’t really want to call them out, I think they just happen to be blind to it all. Starting their business in 2017 or so has it’s downsides. Including telling people to go into debt to invest in Pokemon lol.

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The op hit the nail on the head. Investing in pokemon is a long term speculative endeavor that rewards patience, after accounting for ebay fees + paypal fees (not including inflation and opportunity cost) you need a minimum of 15% increase in price to make a profit.

Sure some cards have tripled in price (most gym cards) but theyre highly hyped and speculative. I completed a psa 10 holo set for 5k, often i was the only one buying them. The hype will die down and prices will stabilise at significantly lower prices. Point of this is: pokemon is built on hype and buying into it will be a bad result in the short to medium term.

The scariest thing about pokemon right now is the amount of “investors”, a large european fb group had a poll a month ago regarding investing/collecting and a staggering 65% (around this number) said theyre in pokemon for investing. This many investor won’t end well when the music stops, granted this is a small a sample pool but i feel is a good representation of the current state.

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Thank you for taking the time to write this up. Very much on point.

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Dont expect Pokemon products to be a “get rich quick” route, lots of patience needed.

If you need to get rich (or poor) quick, come join us at WSB, hehe

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Thank you for this @fourthstartcg, it has been irritating me and I am glad the clarification is here for newcomers.

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Honestly can summon the post in:

Collect first for the enjoyment

Added Value comes second, I wouldn’t call it an “investment” exactly…

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WSB is one of my biggest guilty pleasures, but to be successful there is to pretty much do the opposite of what anyone says haha

Wait people are advocating going into debt to collect?

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Hes talking about Rudy who leveraged money from credit cards transferred the debt to avoid the huge interest and would pay the transfer fees. It’s not something the average person could do as Rudy had two credit cards with 20k spending limit just to pull it off, and I wouldn’t say he advocates doing it. He talks about it as a strategy which relies on the market increasing more than his transfer interest as he pays off the debt with no interest. Basically, the same thing could be done with a loan, but I’d have to look into the numbers to see which is the better option.

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Indeed, Ill PM you as well. I couldn’t believe it… and throughout the comments they are standing by and defending their stance. Even laughing at those who say they are wrong!

The gist of the argument was to open credit lines to increase your “capital”, buy said products like booster boxes, then pay them off in the future with the profits from selling the box or packs. All is fun and game in a big bull market… until it’s not!

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PM me that as well. Apparently I haven’t seen this.

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