When to Purchase or Not to Purchase Equipment? (That is the Question)

A good illusion can have a price tag on it that is equivalent to the cost of a small car.  Most of us cannot afford to go out and pay cash for a car, nor can we afford to own five or six cars at the same time, so how can we afford illusions?

This is an area where I am constantly challenged.  I continually want to improve the show.  I want to make changes so audiences do not think “it is the same show I saw before.”  Yet, apart from the fact that I do not have the  money to do so, if I were to go out and purchase new major illusions every year, It would become nearly impossible to make a profit on the show.

Here are some conclusions I have reached about the subject.

  1. No debt. Save up instead!

Almost everyone has a hobby and most hobbies are as expensive, or more expensive than magic.  Consider the cost of owning a speed boat or motorcycle.  Hunting and fishing gear can be costly.  Musical instruments can have a big price tag.

I’m not saying all hobbies are expensive, but I am making the point that it is typical for people to spend money on things that are not household needs.

It is not good to borrow money on things that are not necessities.  (I try not to borrow money for anything.)  It is better to save up for fun things and items that fit the “hobby” category.

My suggestion is that you create an illusion fund.  Just like you would have another savings account, put money into this account and know that you are free to use it for the purchase of a big prop.

For those who are professionals and magic therefore is not a hobby, it is especially wise to set money aside ahead of time for the acquisition of something big. Create a budget and determine a reasonable amount to try to annually put into building up your show.  Restrict yourself to only spending the budgeted money, and only spending it when you actually have it to spend.

I confess, I do not like this approach.  I believe in it and practice it, but I do not like it.  It is hard to resist the idea of making payments, or using a credit card, to get something that appears to be a great deal.  Nevertheless, in the long run, it is the right way to do things.  I have found that I make better purchases, and end up with better equipment, when I only use cash (money in the bank) to make purchases.


I like and endorse the teaching of Dave Ramsey on the subject of finances.  I was not brought up to think the way he teaches. For many years I thought it important to have good credit and believed that one way to have good credit was to use it.  It was not until recently that I came to think differently. I have come to believe it is a best course of action to “pay as you go.”  Mary and I have made major changes in how we do things and are working hard to be debt free.

  1. Only purchase that which will make you money

Those who treat magic solely as a hobby can compromise this.  If you have money to do it, and it is fun, you can purchase something just because you enjoy having it.

Those who approach magic as a business must think differently. We cannot allow ourselves to buy things on the basis of “it looks fun” or “I have always wanted one.”  Instead we must ask ourselves, “will use justify the cost.”

In my book, On Stage With Illusions, I tell about how a magician purchased an Appearing Motorcycle illusion even though he did not have a motorcycle, nor did he work on stages large enough to perform such an effect.

Why did he buy it?  Because it was a great deal and he thought the way it worked was cool. It ended up in his garage. He showed it to his magician friends when they came to visit, but otherwise did nothing with it.  It was not an investment that paid for itself. Apart from the pride it gave him to own it, it was a total waste of money.  Ego can be expensive.

I have several illusions on my shopping list for next season’s show. They are not on the list because, “I like them and therefore want to put them in the show.”  Rather, they are on the list because I have taken time to think through the show carefully to identify things that need to be different next year. Once I understood specific places in the show where change needs to be made, I put my mind to what equipment would facilitate the changes.  That led to the creation of a shopping list.

Assuming funds will have been saved to do so, the illusions will be purchased with knowledge that they will help me continue to sell tickets to my shows. In the long run, these props should bring in more money than what was spent to acquire them.

I know several people who have found great financial success as magicians.  All of these people have the attitude of, If it won’t make me money, I won’t buy it.  When we can afford to make the investment in the first place, the issue is not how much will it cost me, but how much will it make me.

  1. Make it a practice to purchase quality props from reputable builders.

There is a difference in props made in someone’s garage and props made by those who specialize in their construction.

It is enlightening and a bit intimidating to go to a site like Magicauction.com and see the price of used illusions.  They are expensive.

A good example is the Origami illusion.  First of all, it is hard to find as  a “used illusion” because most performers who have one do not want to part with it.  Secondly, even though they are priced around $7,500 new, the used price is still often $5,500 or more.

This means a performer can purchase an Origami brand new, use it for several years, and then resell it for two-thirds the original price.  That is not a bad deal.

A person who, instead of purchasing an Origami new, finds one on the used market, is still likely to find it to be a great prop. He will be able to use it for many shows.  At the end of the use, he may be able to resell it for nearly as much as he paid for it in the first place.  This is good use of money invested in an illusion.

In contrast to this are illusions offered in the “unknown builder” category.  They are much lower priced. Many of them, in spite of a lower price, do not sell.  They do not sell because, without a good name behind them, it is not possible to be sure that they will work properly and hold up well. If you purchase a homemade “Sawing In Half” for only $1,000 dollars, and it ends up looking bad and falling apart on stage, you’ve lost a $1,000. Had you spent more on a proven model, it probably would have worked nicely and, in spite of use, retained its value.

It took me a long time to save up enough money to buy a Kub-Zag.  I would come across homemade versions here and there. Some looked pretty good, but I wanted one from the authorized builder (Smokey Mountain Magic – Chalet Magic was previously authorized).  I was finally able to make the purchase.  I have used the prop over five-hundred times and it looks as good as new.  I have not had to replace or fix anything about it.  If I were to try to sell it today, I am certain I could get back more than half of the money it cost me.  In light of the fact that the price has gone up since I bought mine, I might even be able to get back nearly what I paid for it.


Remember that not all who advertise themselves as illusion builders are reputable.  Do not be enticed by the lowest price.  Check out references.

  1. If you purchase props which are homemade or of unknown origin, only do so when the price is super low.

By taking this approach, you minimize your loss if the prop turns out to be a piece of junk, and maximize your gain if it turns out to work great.

Some years ago, while visiting a magic store, I found a trick that I recognized as the Chests Of Mystery.  I asked the proprietor, “Who built it?”  He said he did not know. He told me someone had brought the prop to him and traded it for new magic.

Upon examination, I was convinced the prop was homemade, but it looked very good.  I discovered the price was only $300, so I bought it. I am thrilled with it.  We have used it for many shows and expect to use it for many more.  It operates as effectively as the version listed in a famous catalog for ten times what I paid.

However, were I to try to resell it, because it is of unknown origin, I suspect I would have a hard time getting back what I paid for it.  It works great, but on the used market the value is low.

Used and homemade props can serve you well, but investing in them is a risky proposition. If a trick does not work,  or looks cheap on stage, the price was too much, no matter what you paid. If it is used or homemade, you want to be able to say to yourself, “ For this price, if it does not work, the loss is minor. If it does work, I got a deal!”

  1. Be Patient!

I wish I would have understood this when I started in magic.  I was in a hurry to get big and impressive things.  Because I was in a hurry, rather than saving up for a high quality item, I would buy a cheaper version. This kept me from putting money away so it could accumulate. Therefore my inability to get better things continued.

It took me a long time to learn that years seem to go by quickly.  Even if one can only afford to purchase a nice prop every few years, in time there will be a valuable collection of illusions that he or she will be proud to own and use.

Recently, when my son David was with us for a visit, he commented that there was no way a normal person could afford to go out and, all at once, purchase the equipment we presently have for putting on shows. However, because of what has accumulated over time, we have much to work with.


I’m trying to practice what I preach.  In building our show for next season, I have a budget and am sticking with it.  I am determined to acquire several nice things, rather than a lot of odds and ends that will lose value quickly.


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