Compared to many other popular leisure activities genealogy can be relatively inexpensive. The real issue is which of the items you charge to your genealogical account. Most of our tools of the trade are multi-purpose items. For example, you computer is an indispensable genealogical tool, but few of us have a computer dedicated solely to genealogy. I have higher than ordinary expenses due almost exclusively to my involvement in presenting at conferences around the country. Some of the major expenses for genealogy, such as annual subscription prices to online genealogy databases, are really quite small compared to spending money on a pleasure boat or an ATV. Despite this relatively low overhead cost, I frequently get feedback from genealogists about the high cost of online services or software. I can only assume that many genealogists are dependent solely on charity or social security and have no other income. But on the other hand, if that is really the case, then it is no wonder they have taken up genealogy because any other pastime, such as spending the day at the nearest casino, would be outrageously expensive.
The biggest investment in genealogy is most certainly the time spent by the adherents. The next most expensive item would be the amount of money spent in traveling to foreign locations. I would imagine that the genealogists who are traveling to RootsTech this week and next from places such as Australia, are spending a whole lot more on that one trip than I spend in an entire year of travel.
Now before I get too much further on this subject, you have to understand that I am a fanatical (i.e. (filled with or expressing excessive zeal) genealogist by any definition of the word. So, whatever I spend on genealogy, whether it be time or money, is just an expense of my fanaticism. I also have few other expensive outside interests. I do not play golf. I do not usually attend any sporting events. I have no suburban toys such as a boat or ATV. So you can begin to see the picture. My only major outside interest is photography and taking pictures, after the initial expense of the camera and lenses, is very inexpensive due to digital images rather than film.
it is likely that your perception of the cost of doing genealogy is largely a function of your economic and social background. Some people I know think nothing about spending hundreds of dollars a month on eating in expensive restaurants but immediately plead poor when confronted with the nominal cost of a genealogical database program. I have seen the cost of one meal at a fancy restaurant cost more than the annual cost of a subscription to Ancestry.com. Unfortunately, I know very, very few people who would be considered wealthy by U.S. standards, who are interested in genealogy. There seems to be an inverse relationship between income and genealogical interest. I also know people who would literally have to go without food to afford the purchase of a software program for their computer. But even given the gentile poverty of many of our ranks, it is interesting to note that annual flat-screen TV sales for 2012 ran about 200 million units, or enough to buy a new TV for almost every family in the United States in one year. One of these flat screen TVs costs more than the annual fee for several online commercial genealogy database programs. People world-wide will spend money on things they want to do and own no matter what their overall economic circumstances. Witness the minions of abjectly poor people who smoke and drink alcoholic beverages instead of spending their money elsewhere.
If you are one of those people who counts every penny, you may find it hard to relate to the more affluent members of our genealogical community that think nothing of flying to Europe or elsewhere to do genealogical research. But by actual observation, in my opinion, there are very few active genealogists in the poverty category, at least in the United States. What it comes down to is a matter of interest and priorities. If you do not know anything about genealogy and do not care to learn, you are very unlikely to see the utility of spending any serious money on the pursuit either personally or by a member of your family. How many of us would spend more time and more money on genealogy were it not for the attitude of a spouse or near relative? Fortunately, this is not my problem, my wife is also a genealogist.
It comes down to priorities. If you have genealogy as a priority, you will find a way to have the money to support your interest. If you do not value family history, any cost is too much to bear.