How Much Should We Spend on Crowdfunding?

Photo by William White on Unsplash.

The other day I met up with a friend and noticed that she had a new lunchbox. It was beautiful; bamboo exterior, high-quality plastic containers that nestle inside, thoughtful touches like magnetic closures and excellent sealing on the rims of jars. It makes you want to pack your lunch, and no wonder—after all, it was designed for just that purpose.

When I asked my friend where she got it, she said her husband had given it to her as a gift—and he had gotten it by contributing to the Prepd Pack Kickstarter. I looked the company up, and found that the original lunchbox was quite reasonably priced when it only existed as a crowdfunding pre-order/reward; after the crowd successfully funded the lunchbox into existence, the price went up to the point where it definitely qualifies as a luxury item. 

Thinking about this luxury lunchbox—a thing I patently do not need but which is so clever, engineered, and high-quality that I very much want it—makes me think about how we factor crowdfunding purchases into our budgets. How do we decide how much to invest in a beautiful lunchbox or a friend’s new album? I realized there were several ways of approaching crowdfunding, and each one might result in a different type of crowdfunding budget:

As an investment in future cost savings

Buying a high-quality lunchbox can pay itself back through meal-prepping. If you save yourself anywhere from $3 to $10 by bringing a meal instead of buying one, it only takes a few weeks to “undo” the cost of a pretty, appealing lunch set. Crowdfunded products often bill themselves as being able to save you time, money, or hassle/annoyance, all of which definitely have costs (like lost income when you have to spend a ton of extra time on something, or the spa day you need to get over how hassled and annoyed you are).

As a way to pre-empt price hikes

Backers who give enough to “pre-order” a specific product often get a nice discount. I was a huge fan of the concept of the Minaal Daily Bag (a super-engineered carry-on bag that was meant to make travel so easy and professional-looking), but even the pre-order price gave me pause at the time. Now, I wish I’d taken advantage of it, just because I appreciate a great bag and would have used it enough to be worth the splurge at that pre-order price.

These types of regrets make me consider “buying” things via crowdfunding if they are likely to get very popular and more expensive. If the project is the type that is designed to save you money in other ways, crowdfunding now is like saving money twice. (Assuming the product is received, of course. We’ve all heard about the crowdfunding projects that never deliver.)

As support of creative artists

For people who either respect and love the idea of invention, or who are creative types themselves, crowdfunding can be an exercise in patronage. You can read over the lists of projects, find the ones that are rounding 90 percent fulfilled, and know that your contribution might be the one that ensures this person can achieve their dreams. There is a huge rush from seeing impact from your donation dollars—and crowdfunding often includes a perk like a sticker or a button or something that lets you share the triumphant story of creative-artist-versus-the-world.

This is the kind of thing we’ll pay for—though whether people are putting more of their funding dollars towards supporting creatives as opposed to donating to more traditional non-profit organizations is an interesting question.

As support of friends/family

I think that a lot of our crowdfunding support—especially the type that is is less about products/services and more about helping people achieve expensive dreams, like studying abroad or taking unpaid internships—comes down to wanting to show that we care about our friends and family. When one of our friends asks us to contribute to one of their friends who has just lost everything in a house fire, for example, we might contribute because because that person matters to someone who matters to us. Crowdfunding is a way of community-building and sharing resources with people in your social circle—whether they’re facing an unexpected medical bill or helping engineer a beautiful new product.

All of this is to say that the crowdfunding in my life tends to fall into a few different categories: sometimes it is more like a donation to a cause, sometimes it’s more like giving cash to someone who I know really needs it, and other times it’s like putting my money towards the kind of things I want to exist. My crowdfunding expenses are irregular enough that I’m still trying to figure out how to budget for them, so I’m curious if there are Billfolders who include crowdfunding in their budgets—and how they decide which projects or causes to fund.

Laura Marie is a writer and teacher in Ohio. Read more of her work at Messy Mapmaker.

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