The way you spend your idle time shouldn't put you on the road to the poorhouse.

In fact, hobbies sometimes can bring in a little cash.

The key is to pick a leisure-time activity that you'll stick with long enough to justify the expenses involved. It can mean the difference between a blatant money-waster, such as trying to break the cross-country speed record by car and one of the many relaxing and rewarding pastimes .

Here are key factors to consider:

Do your research: Numerous hidden costs may not first be apparent when you begin a hobby. So take the time to check into what costs come with the potential hobby. If you have several hobbies in mind, figure out the costs involved before plunging ahead. For example, if you take up running, you might first assume that this is basically a free hobby. Look a little closer, however, and you'll see that running shoes, proper clothing for different types of weather, travel expenses and entry fees for races can quickly make this "free" hobby quite expensive.

A lot of hobbies require specialized equipment that can be costly and that often needs to be replaced or upgraded. Others can be done virtually free. If you make computer games your hobby, you can assume you'll need a new gaming system every few years. Added costs: buying the latest computer games that come out each year and accessories for those games.

On the other hand, if you take up reading as your hobby, you have unlimited amounts of free material at your local library.

Choosing a hobby that is enjoyable and inexpensive can be the perfect combination, while choosing one that requires expensive equipment is a sure-fire way to keep throwing money in the gutter.

Take a test drive: Once settling on a hobby, do a "test drive." When beginning anything new, people have a tendency to go all-out right away, laying out lots of cash before they even get rolling.

Take a step back and curb your enthusiasm before buying loads of equipment. Think about how many people you know with expensive exercise equipment sitting in their garage because they purchased it before knowing whether they were committed enough to follow through.

Take it slow and be sure that the hobby is right for you, and you will avoid having a pricey pile of hobby material stored in your basement, never to be touched again, if you decide that you're not committed.

Spend some time on a trial basis, finding out as much as you can about the hobby before making an investment. Talk with those who already are pursuing the hobby to find out how much they spend, what equipment is absolutely necessary and what can be frustrating about it.

It's much better to find out early the aspects that may turn you off of a hobby before purchasing everything you need for it, rather than blindly jumping in and spending a lot of money to find out this information later.

Rent, don't buy: If your hobby involves the purchase of a large, expensive item, rent for a period of time before buying. If you have your heart set on learning the piano, for example, rent one for a year rather than plunk down thousands on the day you decide to become a concert pianist.

In addition to making sure you are still interested in the hobby a year later, the experience of playing and learning more about piano playing will help out tremendously in choosing the right piano. This knowledge will help you pick the right piano when the time comes.

Some professional violinists, for example, wait years before deciding on which violin is worth the money, using a borrowed or a practice model in the meantime.

Buy used: Once you commit to a hobby, think used. While you didn't go out and buy everything on day one for your hobby, a lot of people do. If they realized that the hobby wasn't for them, that hobby material is collecting dust in their houses. Garage sales, eBay ( EBAY), Craigslist and other places that resell used goods can provide you quality hobby material for a fraction of the retail price.

Focus on necessities: When making purchases for your hobby, zero in on the necessities. Almost all hobbies have expensive accessories that would be nice to have but aren't essential -- at least as you start out. Ignore the extras and focus on the basics.

As time wears on, you'll learn what is important to you as you improve at your hobby, and then you can make a better decision on the accessories you need. If you decide to take up photography, for instance, you don't need to buy the fanciest camera, lenses, filters and lighting. Instead, begin with a quality, durable camera, and as your photography improves, you can add accessories that will bring out your new-found talent.

Share and trade: Chances are that when you find a hobby, you will also make friends with others who have similar interests. Hobbyists who have been doing it for a while probably have extra equipment that they may be willing to share or lend. As you become more of an expert, trading among your hobbyist friends can make the hobby a lot more interesting at a fraction of the price of buying retail.

Make money: Once you have been doing a hobby long enough to learn the basics, you know what others pursuing that particular hobby want and need. This information can be used to turn your hobby from something that costs money into something that actually makes money, since you will be in a perfect position to know what other hobbyists like yourself wish for most. This information can be used to start a business to provide those wanted items or services.

Even if it is a hobby that seems there would be no way to make money from it, the Internet has changed that. It's possible to write a blog or newsletter about it which, if it gathers a following, can be profitable.

For example, if you love to try interesting new foods, a blog about these food adventures could be a way to make money. In addition to sharing your love of the hobby with others, you could write off the expenses of buying the food as business expense from any profit that you made.

Take the time to do your homework when choosing a hobby, and you'll greatly decrease the chances that you'll waste your money. Who knows -- maybe it will eventually make you a little richer.
Jeffrey Strain has been a free-lance personal-finance writer for 10 years, helping people save money and get their finances in order. He owns and runs

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