Hot! I wish I could be a reenactor but…it’s too expensive!

Ah, money. It’s the bane of pretty much everyone’s existence, so it should come as no surprise that money and the expense of reenacting is the #1 stated cause for potential recruits feeling unable to become reenactors.

Reenacting is, unfortunately, an expensive hobby. Gear and clothing is costly, events often require more than a few gallons of gas to drive to, and proper firearms can bankrupt even those with deep pockets. It varies widely from period to period, but based on some informal polling of friends, I’d say that the average cost for the basics of an impression (i.e. no firearm, no shelter) will run you somewhere between $400-$800, but it can easily be double that.

That said, there are some things you can do to reduce the amount you have to spend to “pay to play”, some things you can do to save money toward getting your start in the hobby, and a few insider tips that may reduce your costs at the beginning.

1. Most groups have loaner gear. It may not fit right, it may not look good, it may not be the best quality, but it will do for your first couple events. If you’re particularly large or small, this may be more of a problem, but if you’re of average build, many units will have enough spare equipment and clothing between its various members to “kit you out” for an event. The one exception is shoes. If you have found a unit that you want to join and they have enough other gear to loan you, spend your money on getting a good pair of shoes. Get good ones and you will save money later by not having to replace them as soon.

2. Choose a cheap impression. Many earlier period impressions (18th century and earlier) are cheaper because you can sew your own clothes. Patterns are readily available for what you will need, and other unit members will likely step up to help you out. Fabric still costs money, but you will save on labour by sewing your own clothes. For those folks looking to do later periods such as WWII, look around at various suppliers to see what impressions tend to be cheaper. Package deals (like this one) are also a good way to save cash for those interested in later eras.

3. Save up money in small increments. I started reenacting when I was twelve years old. At the time, I got $40 a month in allowance. I saved up my allowance for the better part of a year and sent in an order to a sutler for some basic items. My advice is to use a similar approach. Figure out how much money you can spare per month and set up a SmartyPig account to auto-deduct that amount into a special savings account that’s just for reenacting. If you are convinced you can’t spare anything, try this experiment: set up the account to deduct $1 a day (or $7 a week). That works out to $365 a year, just from a dollar a day. I use this method whenever I have convinced myself that I can’t afford something. It works quite well, and you don’t feel the pinch from day to day.

I hope that some of this advice is helpful to those of you who feel that monetary concerns are holding you back from joining the hobby. If you have further concerns or have other advice, please feel free to leave a comment!

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  1. Loaner gear AND picking a cheap impression are huge ones! I recently started a Russian sniper impression. The entire get up outfit cost me only 50 bucks! A reenactor I knew wanted to get rid of the stuff. These are the things you have to look out for. I still have a few more things to buy for the outfits, but still, 50 bucks is really cheap.

    I got off easy with the rifle I needed. A reenactor gave it to me in exchange for a few other reenacting pieces and I think 200 dollars. There are ways around these things!

    • Yes. If you’re starting from nothing, a Soviet impression can be done for less than $350, including a Mosin-Nagant.

      Your comment brings to light just how important it is to make contacts with reenactors before you make any purchases. Other members may be getting rid of old gear, or may know folks who are, and it’s a good way to pick up gear on the cheap.

  2. Another thing that I’ve found really eats up reenacting funds: having to replace poorly made / inaccurate garments. If you get it right the first time, it can at least a decade. (Especially those 18th century stays.)

    • Yep. That’s why it’s crucial to find a good unit first, then to get your gear together. They’ll help you to do it right the first time.

  3. Not only can earlier periods be less expensive because you can make your own garb/clothing but in many cases you can use Goodwill or the like to obtain things like table cloths, occasionally uncut usable fabric, drapery panels or even clothing that can be altered to work for your desired period. Try local thrift shops and the like as well. Do your research as well as you can- most of the reenactors I’ve run into are only too happy to help you educate yourself- they know you’ll be coming “out to play”!