How to deal with deprivation while saving up for a lever harp?
February 22, 2020 9:10 PM   Subscribe

How do you deal with the financial, emotional and other deprivations while cutting expenses to the bone in order to save up for a harp?

I have always wanted to play the harp but a lever harp costs around three thousand dollars. I live in Asia where this is not a common instrument and it is not a small sum for locals. I have spoken with local teachers but they do not know of any secondhand harps for sale. Apparently their students are wealthy enough to buy new and have no intention to sell their old harps. There are no rent to own programs. Renting will cost me over a hundred per month with no possibility of getting the money back so I think I should only start renting when I am close to saving up the sum required.

So it seems that to study the harp I would need to have three thousand dollars plus laid by ahead of time. It will take me a long time to save up such a large sum of money. That means no eating out, going out or spending money on my other hobbies like painting classes. I know some of you will suggest free events but even free events mean I have to spend money on public transport (I have no car) and I would have to be disciplined to schedule my meals before/after I go out and bringing my own water bottle since I can't afford to eat out or buy a cheap drink. So the best and safest way to save money is not to go out at all.

I used to have a guitar but it was accidentally damaged by a family member and now I have nothing to play. I miss making music so much, even the simple tactile sensations of the strings under my fingers. But a harp is a long way off financially. If I paint for example, I would have to spend money on painting supplies and I would rather have my harp. But not being able to do anything is also driving me nuts.

So how I cope with not having a hobby to de-stress in the meantime and also living close to the bone?
posted by whitelotus to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (32 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Get a ukulele for the time inbetween - they're way cheaper ($40 secondhand?) and will give you music in the meantime. Talk to the shops again abut rent to own - I'm surprised they don't have it because renting to own pianos is pretty common.

I listened to the YNAB book when I was setting up my budget and one thing in it was relevant: they had cut everything to the bone to repay debt and found they were really grouchy and stressed. They decided to put in a tiny $5 budget just for fun, so they could have a simple pleasure every now and then - doughnuts or a magazine. They said that made saving aggressively much more sustainable.

There are tactile crafts that are practically free and time intensive: making your own bread and noodles is the same cost as bought, but takes more time. Embroidery is very cheap if you borrow the book from the library and use just $10 of floss, a packet of needles and embroider existing fabrics like clothes and teatowels. Calligraphy is very cheap too - a fountain pen can cost $4, you can buy or make ink, and the books/guides are free or library.

I have a friend who did something similar working towards a house deposit. She made her own meals, walked more and so on - no new clothes, etc. She kept one very cheap dance class because it gave her a weekly social outing and the rest of it was coupons, library and very careful shopping. She ended up putting it as an environmental lifestyle choice too which made her frugality more socially accepted and she has ended up being a pretty staunch environmentalist even now with more money - mostly vegan, water bottle etc. Reframe your choices as environmental zero/low waste and you will feel better about your choices.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 9:26 PM on February 22, 2020 [9 favorites]

Response by poster: dorothyisunderwood: The harp is really a niche, high-end instrument where I am. There aren't any shops that sell harps as such unlike common instruments like pianos, just harp teachers who also act as local agents for various harp brands e.g. Camac or Lyon and Healy. If you wish to buy a harp, you would have to place an order and they would ship it in from US or Europe.

They don't keep spare harps around, just a few to rent out to their own students but as I said, renting doesn't really make sense long term because you don't get back the money. There just aren't any rent-to-own programs. I think renting a few months when I am close to my savings goal will make sense just to try out the instrument before I buy. The teacher told me her students usually already had enough money laid by for a harp (a few thousand) when they start lessons so they would immediately buy after the first few lessons.
posted by whitelotus at 9:45 PM on February 22, 2020

I'm not sure I understood from your question but do you already know how to play the harp? Is this an instrument that you're looking to return to? If not, then I'm not sure I understand the need to go through all of this specifically when you could instead replace your broken guitar which would be considerably cheaper. You say that it will take a long time but are you talking months or years? On top of which, you should have some savings aside from your harp in case of emergency so it could take even longer. The last thing I want is to dash your harp dreams but if you want to play music in the meantime, I would suggest a guitar. It may delay being able to save for the harp but at least you'd have something to play.
posted by acidnova at 10:04 PM on February 22, 2020 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: acidnova: I do not know how to play the harp at all and I have never owned a harp. I owned a guitar because it was cheap but I have never liked the guitar.

When I say it will take a long time, it will probably take me longer than a year to save up. So it definitely is a long term thing. I could get a cheaper non-harp instrument just by saving up a couple of months but of course it will delay my harp savings. So I am pondering if it would be worth it just to get something cheap in the meantime to tide me over (not the guitar, I am sick of the instrument).
posted by whitelotus at 10:15 PM on February 22, 2020

Best answer: Could you take a few harp lessons first, to see whether you enjoy playing it and whether it’s worth saving up for over a year?

If you do enjoy it, remembering how you felt during those harp lessons will probably help motivate you when the saving gets tough. And if you don’t enjoy it as much as you think you will, it’s better to find that out now than later.
posted by mekily at 10:29 PM on February 22, 2020 [48 favorites]

Yeah, I would definitely recommend lessons first, to see if you do like it, before committing to save the money.

As for the deprivation: remind yourself that it's temporary, and in the end you will have a harp of your very own. Make lists of free pleasures for when you're feeling down, and keep a picture of the harp in your wallet, next to your computer, and on your fridge as reminders of your goal. Look on YouTube for harp performances.

Definitely get a cheaper non-harp instrument as a stopgap; you might well wind up enjoying it for its own sake.
posted by Tamanna at 11:36 PM on February 22, 2020 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I would rent first for at least a couple months so the novelty of having a harp wears off and you can see if you still want to own one.

I'd also consider how easy it is or would be to sell it if I needed to move.

If you are still excited after two months, I would set a savings goal but also budget in some fun money.

Is there an expense you can sacrifice? If you give up one thing, it could be something like "I'm giving up ordering takeout so I can have my own harp faster" or "I'm biking to work so I can..." etc. So you give up one thing, or two things, instead of sacrificing every little luxury.
posted by M. at 11:54 PM on February 22, 2020 [2 favorites]

Definitely get something cheaper first and then save up. What’s a couple more months on this long-term project if it also keeps you happier while doing it?
posted by jeweled accumulation at 12:00 AM on February 23, 2020 [1 favorite]

Could you talk to one of the teachers you have already communicated with about having lessons on their own instrument in the mean-time while you save? This would be beneficial for two reasons: you would have the satisfaction of progressing your skill while saving up for your own instrument which would maybe make the things you are sacrificing for your savings more manageable, and you would know more about the instrument and your aptitude for it and so be able to make more of an informed decision about whether saving up is the right path for you. Also a third benefit would be that you would be slaking your desire for the harp, maybe meaning you could save less intensively over a longer period and therefore not have to deny yourself so much in other areas.

Usually if saving is going to be so tough that you literally can't do anything fun the advice is to find another source of income to top-up your finances.
posted by Balthamos at 1:36 AM on February 23, 2020 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Balthamos: Lessons are usually on the teacher's harp at the teacher's studio. Harps are not easy to transport unlike violins. However, I would still need a harp at home to practice on in between lessons, either my own or a rental. It would be hard to progress long term without a harp to practice on. Which is why the teacher said new students usually would have ordered a new harp by the third lesson.
posted by whitelotus at 1:50 AM on February 23, 2020

I bought a small harp when I was in college -- my dude likes to say I bought it "instead of a car!" like it was the most insane thing I could have done.

So, my harp is only 3 octaves; that's definitely too small. However, if you got a 4- or 5- octave harp (or even 3.5 octaves, which seems to be fairly standard for lap harps), you could learn a lot of songs and get practice fingering.

If that's already what you're considering -- sorry ! Otherwise, it might be something to consider.

One other option - maybe you could get someone in the US (or Ireland?) to purchase and send to you a second-hand harp. With the ability to send videos, it might not be such a risky proposition. And you'll want a really good case anyway, to protect your investment, so that can help protect your new friend during transit.
posted by amtho at 1:55 AM on February 23, 2020 [4 favorites]

Best answer: acidnova: I do not know how to play the harp at all and I have never owned a harp.

I'm not sure why nobody else is just coming out and saying this, but spending $3,000 on an instrument you don't even know you'll enjoy in an area with no resale market is a very, very poor idea. You are basically worrying about how to pay for a wedding without going on a first date.

Rent a harp. Take lessons. Make sure this is a commitment you actually, not just theoretically, want to make. It's not a waste of hundreds of dollars, it's a potential savings of thousands.
posted by DarlingBri at 2:07 AM on February 23, 2020 [36 favorites]

Response by poster: Amtho: I have considered buying secondhand from a reputable shop in the U.S. It is not much cheaper especially with having to arrange shipping but I would probably get more harp for my money and have greater access to more models since only a few big harp companies have agents locally.

DarlingBri: I have attended a harp festival organized by a local teacher before and have had opportunity to pluck harp strings at the festival workshops. I paid for a ticket and went because I wanted to learn more about the instrument even though I knew I was unable to buy one straight off. I cried when I went home after the last day of the festival because I wanted one so much but I just couldn't afford it. Admittedly it is not equivalent to having real proper lessons. Which is probably a good idea before I buy together with renting as others has suggested.
posted by whitelotus at 2:17 AM on February 23, 2020

Best answer: I would do a few things simultaneously:

- try some lessons to see if it's even worth it

- get another instrument in the meantime

- do spread the word to teachers and anywhere else you can think of that you'd be willing to buy anyone's secondhand harp, and keep reminding them every once in a while. Maybe even give them a sign to put up. The person who bought a harp but got tired of it, or inherited a harp and has no need for it, or is suddenly in need of funds, might not be selling it today but they might try to sell it 8 weeks from now. Keep an ear out for as long as you're trying to save.

- consider actively searching for another unusual (but less expensive) instrument you might find as satisfying, and putting the harp on the back burner. What is it that draws you to the harp specifically? Tell yourself if you still want it in 5 or 10 years, for example, you can get it then, and save at a much less intense pace in the meantime.

(I have found sometimes that I can intensely desire something, but if I can't have it that desire can dissipate and sometimes disappear entirely after some time. Even to the point where I choose not to get it once I am able to afford it, or am not so excited if I do actually find it in my hands.)

- as Balthamos said, see if you can boost your income a little, even by doing small freelance things like editing or giving English lessons (random examples since you seem to have excellent English or be a native speaker)

I would be wary of cutting out the activities you mentioned entirely, because it sounds like that would mean cutting out much of your social life. If you do decide to do it, plan to do things like inviting people over to eat at your place instead of eating out, or to invite people to do activities at your place. Maybe you'd be able to find a group of people interested in meeting up to paint together and so forth. In other words, if you cut something out think about all the aspects of what you'd be missing (social, artistic, etc.), and see if there's another way to meet those needs.
posted by trig at 2:20 AM on February 23, 2020 [12 favorites]

I think others have covered the 'do some more lessons before you invest this much cash' angle. So I'll just push back gently on this:

I know some of you will suggest free events but even free events mean I have to spend money on public transport (I have no car) and I would have to be disciplined to schedule my meals before/after I go out and bringing my own water bottle since I can't afford to eat out or buy a cheap drink. So the best and safest way to save money is not to go out at all.

Not going out at all, especially to things you really enjoy, is a fast route to feeling really miserable and isolated. Is it really that hard to take a water bottle and eat before you go out? Or take a sandwich and eat it on the bus? So you'll have to pay for public transport, but if you can do that occasionally rather than just never going out ever, you'll save some money without driving yourself crazy in the process.
posted by penguin pie at 5:12 AM on February 23, 2020 [13 favorites]

So it looks like by saving really stringently, you’ll have about 225/month to throw into this. A year is a long time to be that strict with yourself, especially for something that is somewhat theoretical. But there doesn’t seem to actually be a time crunch. If it’s that important to you, it will be that important to you in 18 months of saving 175/month, and you can have a few treats to get you through—maybe other harp concerts, books, or preliminary lessons on the teacher’s instrument, that will reinforce what you’re working toward. Or maybe you’ll hate it! But that has value too.

The thing that has gotten me through times of saving is tracking my spending carefully so that spending my money on non-essentials is a conscious choice. “This hobby item will delay my goal by a week, but will entertain me for two weeks of evenings at home and give me something to talk about with my friends. That is worth it.” or conversely “This meal out will delay my goal by a week but I’ll have forgotten it by tomorrow. I only want to eat out because I’m too tired to make dinner. Ugh, I guess I’d rather just go home and eat a bowl of cereal.”
posted by tchemgrrl at 5:33 AM on February 23, 2020 [8 favorites]

Living close to the bone long term will really burn you out. I would suggest trying something like one month on, one month off, so one month you save hard, buy nothing, don't go out, and then the next month just try save half that money and give yourself the other half for fun stuff. Having a small budget for fun has always felt doable for me, whereas having NO budget made me stressed and unhappy. Not buying the fancy shampoo I like until next month, when I'll have some budget - sure. Doable. Helps me track my spending closely. Never buying the shampoo I like? I'll snap and buy it anyway and a bunch of other things I want because dammit I'm fed up. Plus, setting it up this way it feels like rewarding yourself for each hardcore saving month you do.
posted by stillnocturnal at 6:20 AM on February 23, 2020 [5 favorites]

I just recently played a Jasmine acoustic guitar, made in Indonesia, and purchased on Amazon (by the person I was visiting) for $76. I was amazed at how good it sounded, how solid the action and intonation were, and the overall build quality of the instrument for the price. It even appeared to have a solid wood top.

I am, by the way, a professional guitarist with a rack full of very expensive instruments.

I’m sure it’s gettable in Asia for a similar price.

Then take up Hawaiian slack key style guitar with open tunings. Or listen to Malian guitarists who shift Kora techniques over to the guitar. Those two styles of playing are as close as a guitar gets to being used as a harp.
posted by spitbull at 7:29 AM on February 23, 2020 [3 favorites]

Best answer: One thing you can do to pass the time while you save is to buy yourself a cheap electronic keyboard and use it to hone your general musical knowledge before you start learning on the harp. Do you already know how to read music? If not, use free resources to practice reading music on the keyboard. How about your rhythm reading skills? Music theory? All of these skill can be practiced on a keyboard and will transfer to any other instrument. This way when you start harp lessons you can focus on learning to play the instrument without having to learn the basics of music.
posted by Kicky at 7:34 AM on February 23, 2020 [4 favorites]

What about becoming really familiar with major pieces of harp music while you endure harplessness? Are you familiar with music theory already? It never hurts to know some before you embark on any type of music lessons. Perhaps you could teach yourself music theory or composition in the interim, and it would help you feel purposeful because it would ultimately contribute to your success at the harp?

A year can go by quickly if you're busy. What appeals to you about the harp, aesthetically? Are you able in any way to seek out other experiences that tick any of the same boxes as the harp? Perhaps if you love the aesthetics of the Middle Ages and Renaissance, when lots of harp music was written, you would enjoy other forms from these eras? Knowing the historical context of a piece of music or what else was going on artistically and culturally when it was written can add a kind of depth to your experience of it.
posted by unstrungharp at 8:07 AM on February 23, 2020 [1 favorite]

I am sorry if this has already been stated or is simply not doable: is there no way for OP to finance a harp?
posted by Crystal Fox at 8:17 AM on February 23, 2020

Response by poster: Kicky and unstrungharp: I can already read music because of my experience with the classical guitar. But I really, really do not want to play the guitar any more. I only picked it up because the instrument was cheap and the guitar suffered from my deep resentment that it wasn't the instrument I really wanted.

I like the harp's sound as well as plucking unfretted strings with my fingers. I really like Celtic music, especially folk songs and slow airs. I also like Debussy but I would need a pedal harp for that. Pedal harps cost even more than lever harps so that is out of the question. But if I take lessons, the teacher may allow me to play on her pedal harp during lessons. I know a teacher that teaches on her Lyon and Healy Style 23.

Crystal Fox: I don't think it's possible to finance a harp, unlike cars or property where I am. I know some professional harpists do this in the U.S. for pedal harps (which can cost as much as a car) through harp stores but there aren't real harp stores here.
posted by whitelotus at 8:24 AM on February 23, 2020

Response by poster: I am looking for a student instrument, along the lines of a Lyon and Healy Ogden which is a floor harp that has just enough strings range-wise. As you can see, even a used one isn't cheap.

Lyon and Healy Ogden

posted by whitelotus at 8:36 AM on February 23, 2020

I don't know anything about harps, but have you checked That's the #1 site I think of for buying secondhand or cheaper music gear; they have a marketplace of individuals and music stores kind of like eBay but music-focused. Searching for "lever harp" brought up options as cheap as around $400 with free shipping (of course, that's in the US, but you could probably message the seller to see if they could ship internationally for an extra charge--I'm sure it would work out to be less than $2600!) They have Affirm, too, for installment plan payments, though I don't know how that works outside the US or how much extra it adds.

Sweetwater has great customer service but I don't know about their harp or international shipping situation offhand.

I will second the posters saying to take some lessons before committing to buying anything, and look into ukulele or guitar with open tunings--"campanella" technique focuses on fingering arrangements to maximize ringing strings to give you a more harp-like sound. A zither/lap harp can be as cheap as about $30 and could scratch the music-making-with-open-strings itch very affordably while you are saving up. Or a hammered dulcimer?
posted by music for skeletons at 9:14 AM on February 23, 2020 [1 favorite]

For every harp that is bought there is almost certainly a harp that is in search of an owner - if they cost 3k they aren't going to just get thrown out if someone stops playing, upgrades or passes away. While you are saving your money, can you spend some more time trying to work out where these things go? It may not be fruitful, but it seems like a worthwhile investment of your time.

I would start by asking non local harp teachers and harpists; I imagine you've tried your local contacts but casting a wider net might find someone with more information.
posted by How much is that froggie in the window at 10:06 AM on February 23, 2020 [1 favorite]

OK, I'm supporting your plan to just get a really good one. Harps are difficult to play _excellently_, but they're easy to play so that something lovely happens. I honestly wish I'd bought a better one. You will love it. Things you can do in the meantime:

- Listen to music. You can learn a lot by listening. Figure out what kinds of songs you want to play.

- Do exercises to make your fingers agile, strong, and controlled - gently.

- Go ahead and look at some beginning lessons online. Visualizing how to play will help you. Really.

- Look into the whole "how do I safely carry this thing" question

- I got a kit to make a ukulele for $30. It's kind of cool! See if you can find something like that.

- Build social bonds somehow, with some kind of activity that doesn't require you to spend money. This is challenging enough that it will take up a lot of thought and time. And when you accomplish it, it will fill time pleasantly and constructively.
posted by amtho at 10:53 AM on February 23, 2020 [1 favorite]

Small lap harps are available on ebay for about four hundred dollars, some with free international shipping. Is that an option for you? Maybe worth looking into as an interim option?
posted by windykites at 11:27 AM on February 23, 2020 [1 favorite]

Just to clarify- I'm referring to a miniature Celtic harp, which you can buy with or without levers (check the listing carefully!), and not a zither which is also called a lap harp.
posted by windykites at 2:47 PM on February 23, 2020

Response by poster: Some people are suggesting lap harps because they are cheaper but they are not suitable for beginners because they are hard to hold and may lead to bad habits. Teachers normally suggest starting with floor harps with at least a certain number of strings/range. Students normally buy lap harps after they have been playing for a while.
posted by whitelotus at 8:50 PM on February 23, 2020 [1 favorite]

Here's a new one for $800 Musician's Friend, don't know the shipping.

Have you checked craigslist?

Is there a place that has a nice harp where you could go and play it? Such as a church, a school, a concert hall?

You could put up notices in your neighborhood: "Seeking lever harp to play". Chances are slim, but you never know....

a kit?

I see one on Etsy.

I can't read the prices, but Eage Harps?
posted by at at 1:23 AM on February 24, 2020

Response by poster: Ok, you guys have convinced me that I need to spend money on a few lessons and renting before I commit myself to saving a large sum of money.

So here's my current plan: Save up and pay for a few lessons and rent for a month or so. I would then decide if the harp is for me.

If the harp is it, I would commit myself to saving at a manageable and leisurely pace. In the meantime, I would save up for a cheap instrument and play it while waiting to reach my goal. Which will probably take more than a year. If I'm lucky, a secondhand harp might come my way or something. I will ask the teacher to look out for me and remind her periodically that I'm still looking. Or maybe I will decide that I'm happy with Cheap Instrument. I can always sell Cheap Instrument and recoup some of my money if I do get my harp.

Keeping this open for a while longer in case someone has something to add.
posted by whitelotus at 6:51 AM on February 24, 2020 [7 favorites]

It sounds like you are making a great plan! I'd love to have an update after you have a little hands-on harp experience.
posted by fiercecupcake at 8:41 AM on February 24, 2020 [1 favorite]

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