How To Start Coin Collecting On A Budget

Coins have always fascinated collectors around the world, but a decent collection can be pricey. This leads many to wonder if a coin collection always requires a sizable investment or if a person could start coin collecting on a budget. 

Coin collecting on a budget often means starting very small. You shouldn’t go for one or two very expensive coins at first, and instead you should try and build your collection up slowly. As your budget increases, you can start collecting rarer and more expensive coins.

Many new coin collectors start out with only a general idea of what they want and a lot of enthusiasm. That mix can lead to wasted money and opportunities. Below, we’ll discuss how to create the right plan for your coin collection on a budget.

Why Having A Plan Matters For Coin Collecting

The easiest way to understand why you need a plan if you want to collect coins is to think of your coin collection as a project. Every project runs smoother if there is an underlying plan that is based on the knowledge, skills and abilities of everyone involved in the project.

If you are working within a budget, keeping control of your expenses and making good choices is vital so that you do not end up with a bunch of valueless coins or, more importantly, a collection that is valueless to you as a collector.

Benefits Of Having A Plan

By mapping out your coin collection, you will: 

  • Define exactly what you want to achieve with your collection, which will help dictate what you are willing to spend money on
  • Identify the amount of money you actually have to spend and how to use that figure to its maximum value potential
  • Pinpoint any limitations that apply to your collection (e.g., coins that are out of reach financially or so rare that you will probably never see one up for sale)
  • Learn where you will most likely find the types of coins you want to collect
  • Begin to assemble knowledge of what to look for and what to beware of as you make collection investments

Not having a plan can lead to bad investments or a collection that you really do not appreciate fully.

Establish Why You Are Collecting Coins

Understanding why you are collecting can go a long way to helping determine your budget as well as eliminating coins that have no meaning to you. If you are only collecting rare coins for resale, for example, you can avoid purchasing any coins that do not meet those criteria.

Likewise, if you are interested in collecting coins that have historical significance but are not necessarily rare or valuable, your options and budget increase

It’s All Relative

In the former example, with a limited budget you may only collect one or two coins a year, maximizing the repurchase value of your collection. With the latter, you can quickly build a collection that has significance to you, even if it is not valuable to most dealers or collectors. 

Understanding why you are collecting also helps you complete the rest of your plan. It lets you rule out aspects of collecting you will never be interested in and allows you to focus on what you need to get the collection you want. For example, if you are not interested in rare, expensive coins, you can only focus on coin resources that specialize in everyday collectors and their desires. 

Choose Your Interest

Do you like early American coins? How about European coins? Would you like to collect ancient coins or coins minted in more modern times? Do you want mint condition coinage or is having your coins show a little wear and tear ok? Will you focus on specific denominations of money or does any collectible coin make the cut? What about gold over silver, or are they equal in value in your mind?

The answers to these questions will help you define what you are interested in investing in. With coin collecting, knowing what you don’t want is as important as knowing what you do want. Both let you save time and money when it comes to visiting coin shows, talking to other collectors, perusing online coin sales and reviewing magazines and catalogs on coin collecting for good deals. 

Generic Coin Collections

It should be noted that there is nothing wrong with having a generic coin collection. In fact, most coin collectors have some iteration of the generic collection. Generic coins, though, tend to stretch budgets thin. By mapping out exactly what you want, you can maximize your budget by narrowing your focus and avoiding purchasing something you do not want. 

Set Your Budget

This might seem an obvious step in your plan, but it’s always tempting to let your collection dictate your budget and not the other way around. By defining exactly how much you are willing to spend, you can control what you look at and ensure that you don’t look at pieces that will exceed your budget. 

You will also have an idea of how much wiggle room you have within your budget. You will know, for example, that spending a little more to get a coin you really want will require you not spending a certain amount on coins in the future. This allows you to map out purchases and set a strategy for when you see a rarer piece that might not be available in the future. 

Sticking to your budget, though, is vital to being able to sensibly build the coin collection you want while not breaking your bank.

Your Budget Can Change Over Time

Maybe what you want to spend is too much in terms of your overall financial resources, so you need to reduce your budget. Maybe a large, non-coin collection related purchase is looming or desirable, which will require you to alter your spending habits. Or maybe what you start out with as a budget can be increased because of other choices you make that put you in a better place financially.

So, how much should you budget for coin collecting? Obviously, that depends on what disposable income you have and how much of that you are comfortable with dedicating to your coin collection. Disposable income is money you can spend as you want after all your financial obligations are met, so even within leisure activities, there are limits to disposable income expenditures.

Be Sensible

If you want to go on vacation and it costs 50% of your disposable income, for example, you know you only have 50% of your disposable income for all other purchases that are solely for enjoyment, including your coin collection.

The percentage you decide to spend is highly subjective and should be weighed against other purchases you want to make for yourself, family and friends. You should never deprive yourself of necessities to fuel a hobby.

Develop A Research Routine

Like any other pursuit, the more you know about coin collecting the more likely you are to identify something you want and the less likely you are to make a mistake. Not all research approaches are the same, though.

For example, if your research method is to quickly peruse a social media platform for user comments on a specific coin you like and then go find it in an online sale, it is likely you will not know all you need to know to avoid a spending mistake or a scam.

Conversely, if your method is to read every piece of information you can find, demand volumes more information and then spend a lot of time thinking about making an investment, you run the risk of losing that investment opportunity.

Finding The Balance

The only way to find a balance between too much information and too little is to create for yourself a research routine that looks at information you know you can trust. Maybe you go to three or four reputable coin magazines and see what their writers have to say on the topic. Perhaps you rely on appraiser opinions over dealers or collectors. 

Whatever routine you create, you shouldn’t deviate from it except in extraordinary circumstances. With that said, your routine should not be so rigid that you cannot change your approach even slightly and subsequently miss out on a great opportunity. Some examples of exceptions you may make are:

  • A rare coin you find at an exceptional price
  • A collection that has value suddenly goes on the market
  • You discover a collection at an odd place (like at an estate sale)
  • A highly reputable collector or dealer puts a special coin on the market

Who Should You Trust?

So, what research materials can you trust? Here is a short list of resources that is by no means all inclusive, but enough to get the fledgling coin collector started:

  • Redbook – Guide to US coins
  • Professional Coin Grading Service 
  • Numismatic Guaranty Corporation
  • Trusted coin dealer websites

There are also several coin-oriented magazines that can help you begin to learn the ins and outs of coin value and collecting.

Use Grading As A Purchase Criterion

All collectible coins are graded. Grading determines the current condition of a coin versus what it was like when it was new and establishes a price based on the difference. The higher the grade of a coin, the more valuable it is. Lower graded coins have a larger differential between mint and current condition, which lowers the value. 

By focusing initially only on coins of a lower grade, you can save money, still buy interesting pieces, reduce your chances of over-spending on a piece and gradually build an interesting and reputable collection.

Set A Tentative Purchase Schedule

Develop a schedule that will let you allocate certain amounts of money to investing in your collection. A schedule lets you know when you can make a purchase. It also allows you to “borrow” from other scheduled purchases and stay within your budget, provided you do not exceed the total scheduled purchases amount.

For example, if you allocate $100 a month for coin purchases, but you see a coin on sale for $500, you know that you can take the money earmarked for coin purchases for the next five months to make that purchase.

You then can’t purchase anything for the next five months, unless you borrow from other months’ purchase allowances. Once you reach $1,200 in purchases, your purchasing of coins is done until your next annual budget cycle. Discipline is key in order to stick to this schedule, but it will ensure you don’t overspend.

Benefits Of A Scheduled Approach

The scheduled approach accomplishes three things:

  • It shows you how much you are paying for coins at any particular time
  • It restricts your ability to sink more money than you can afford into your coin collection
  • It helps teach you fiscal discipline (if you stick to your budget) which will ensure that you can build a viable coin collection without going broke

Define Coin Parameters

Much of this depends on the type of collection you are assembling. There are for most collectors, however, a specific set of criteria that every coin they collect must meet. A coin lacking in these criteria could result in the buyer walking away or only agreeing to a purchase at much less of a price. 

Visual Appeal

A beat-up coin found in a garden in England might have historical significance and even be worth a lot of money, but in terms of its appeal to the average person, it only has historical significance going for it. You should establish your threshold for visual appeal – or “eye appeal” – before you make any purchases, as that lets you set parameters for coins you are willing to consider buying. 


Are you going for coins that have been cleaned and polished? Or do you want coins in the condition in which they were found? If you are only collecting for your own personal reasons, are nicks and scratches okay or do you only want coins that have some resale value? Originality is something all coin collectors care about to varying degrees.

Overall Quality

The quality of a coin can affect its resale value as well as your ability to enjoy having it. Your goal as a new collector should be on coins that have eye appeal but are affordable. As you get into buying more expensive coins, you may want to restrict your purchases to those that are PCGS or NGC certified as those coins tend to hold their value over time.

Learn Your Scams

As with anything that holds value, there are unethical people out there who want to scam you of your money. Coins have been a target of scammers for about as long as coins have been in existence. The good news is that most common scams are well documented, which can help you avoid getting taken advantage of by just remaining aware of them.

Do Your Research

To start, as part of your overall coin collecting plan, research coin scams by tapping into the following:

  • Online searches for coin scams
  • Talking to dealers about scams they have encountered or know about
  • Read coin magazine articles about scams

With each resource, learn the scam and most importantly, how to identify it. This means being able to pick it out regardless of how it is presented to you.

A Word Of Caution

You have undoubtedly heard the phrase “too good to be true.” In coin collecting, that is almost always the case with any piece that has an outrageously low asking price.

You will almost never, for example, find a rare gold coin from the 1800s for less than the market value of the gold in the coin. If you do, you know there is either something wrong with the coin, it’s a fake or the seller does not know what they have on their hands!

Find And Deal With Reputable Dealers

With any type of collecting, reputable, trustworthy dealers are worth their weight in gold. Knowing you can trust someone alleviates stress and lets you make an informed decision based on the merit of the purchase and not whether you might be being taken advantage of. A trusted dealer will give you a fair price and will appraise any coins you want to sell fairly.

The best way to find a reputable dealer is to do your research and talk to other collectors. Find out from other collectors who they have dealt with and make sure you ask the one question that will help you determine if a dealer is trustworthy or not:

Would you do business with them again?”

The Key Question

The answer to this question and the reaction of the person being asked will usually tell you all you need to know about the dealer in question. If you trust the person you are asking and the answer is not a resounding (and quick) “Yes,” then you should think twice about using that dealer.

Final Thoughts

Not only is collecting coins on a budget doable, but it is also easily done if you create a sensible plan beforehand. Key to that is mapping out your plan before you even look at a single coin purchase. If you stick to this plan or at least follow it generally, you will have a viable coin collection, on a budget, in virtually no time.

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