7 Ways To Save Money Building Your Layout

If you have been a model railroader for some time you will understand that the costs of model trains can add up very quickly.

Model trains are the best hobby in the world, but if you are going to pay full retail price for everything you buy… it will soon become the most expensive hobby you have ever had!


Here are 7 tips to save money on your model trains…


1) Make Sure You know What You Want

A common mistake with beginner railroaders is to start collecting one scale of model trains only to find that there are more accessories in another scale, so they change over. Do your research first, speak to other railroaders, check how much space you have available, do you want diesel or steam locomotives, will your layout be multi-level, etc.

Think carefully about what you want. Hobby shop sales people love customers that walk in and ask their advice. Most of the sales people are on commission bonuses or incentives, so it is natural for them to sell you what is in stock and preferably the equipment with the biggest commissions.

With the internet it is easy to do some quality research and find the best price. Often model train equipment from different states or countries can be much cheaper, even with postage included.


Miniatur Wunderland Hamburg. A model railroaders dream layout.
Miniatur Wunderland Hamburg. A model railroaders dream layout.


2) Create Half a Layout

A model train that takes up your whole basement looks very impressive, but the bigger your layout the more money you will spend. Often beginner model railroaders will see large and impressive layouts at their local model train club and want to build a similar sized layout.

They usually do not have any idea what that large layout has cost the owner and how many hundreds of hours have been invested in building the system. Start off slowly with a half sized layout built against a wall. With clever use of backdrops you can make your layout appear twice as big as it actually is.

A half sized layout is quicker to build and will provide any beginner railroader a good idea of costs and time involved. A half sized layout can always be pulled away from the wall and made twice or three times as big.

3) Buy 2nd Hand

I have bought locomotives off eBay for a tenth of the price of a new one. Model train enthusiasts are generally very careful with their model train equipment, so it is very rare that you will buy a dud.

Unfortunately some veteran railroaders die after 30 or 40 years of model railroading. Often complete sets like these can be bought for a fraction of the cost of buying new. Set up an alert on eBay, watch your local newspapers and community boards, keep in touch with your local model train club and ask the hobby shops.

Hobby shops usually only sell new equipment because the profits are bigger, so they will happily keep your details on file should someone come in wanting to sell 2nd hand equipment.

Advertise in newspapers and newsletters that you want to buy 2nd hand model train equipment. Most veteran model railroaders have far too much equipment for their needs and usually have had stuff sitting in boxes for years. Your advert may come at a time when they need some cash.

4) Trade With Other Model Railroaders

Model train clubs are great places to swap or trade model train equipment. Often railroaders do not want cash but they may want what you have. It does not mean that you have to swap a diesel locomotive for a diesel locomotive, you could trade your skill in building a pond or painting their model train room. The ideas are endless and this can be a massive money saver.

5) Always Spend Your Hard Earned Money on Quality Over Quantity

If you have the money and only want new equipment than you absolutely must buy quality over quantity. Locomotives can cost hundreds of dollars and it can be tempting to buy a locomotive at the lower end of the price scale. Manufacturers have become very good at producing lower priced locomotives that are well detailed and look good. However they lack in their inner workings.

A common mistake is to say you will upgrade later, because the initial money you spent will be wasted. Once you experience quality equipment you will never use the low quality stuff again.

6) Make It Rather Than Buy It

Model trains will teach skills that you never had before. From working with electrics to creating rivers and ponds to building landscapes and so much more. It is this skill set that you develop that makes model trains the best hobby in the world.

Every part of model trains can easily be learned by buying an ebook, a book or asking your model train club. So make it before you buy it. Buildings can be bought in kit form but it is so much more fun (and cheaper) creating the structure from scrap wood, beads, glue, paint and other bits and pieces.

7) Keep a Journal And Budget

It can be very easy to impulsively buy when being sold by an enthusiastic hobby shop sales person. If you know what you want and have done your research online you will know how much you need to spend, which will make negotiating easier.

Building a reasonable sized model train layout can run into the thousands of dollars. If you have $500 to spend then you do not want to even start with this layout. You will end up with a half finished layout until you find some extra money.

As you buy your model train equipment record the date, the details of the item you bought and the price you paid in a journal or notebook. That way, when you come to sell it 2 or 3 years later, you know what you paid for it and can price it accordingly.

A journal is a great way to record your progress. Keep pictures as you are building your layout and comment on any issues or milestones.

I look forward to your comments…

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Dan Morgan

Dan Morgan fell in love with model trains at the age of six when he visited an NMRA Convention in Seattle with his father. Forty two years later, his passion remains just as strong. After achieving a successful career in architecture, Dan’s particular interest is within layouts and buildings. With a wealth of knowledge on the subject, Dan loves nothing more than sharing this with others and is delighted in the forum of members who are brought together over the hobby they have in common. Dan lives with his wife Helen in Washington. As a professional painter, Helen has learnt through Dan about Model Trains and they now enjoy working on projects together. The only member of the family who isn’t allowed to join in is their over-enthusiastic Labrador called William who has been strictly banned from the workshop! You can find Dan on Google here!


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