I sort of got into a discussion about this issue on Twitter and it's something I have been thinking about more lately just based on what I look for on eBay and at shows. I have made it known that I love blue refractors, so I can't say that I think all parallels and inserts are a waste.
My collection in the last year or so has shifted focus and I may have mentioned that once before. I basically look for autograph versions of my players and then fill in the base and base variations later on. I never thought I would be "that" collector who only cared about autographs but I talked myself into thinking my logic is actually logical.
If I were to do my weekly (read: daily and sometimes hourly) searches on eBay for Robbie Cano cards there are always tons of parallels, serial numbered refractors, and game used non-sense cards. Try and find 2009 Triple Threads Cano autographs, I dare you. I have seen the White Whales and maybe a triple relic autograph from 2009 but that's about it. So keeping that in mind, why wouldn't I go after his low numbered autographs and just regular autographs when they will be either non-existent in a few weeks or months or I will end up priced out as a result of scarcity?
Recently I have picked up only autographs of Cano and haven't bothered with anything else. Part of me doesn't even care about the rest of the cards but then the other part of me sees my page of 2011 Topps Chrome missing a regular refractor, atomic refractor, gold refractor, red refractor.... and it makes me mad for three reasons. Reason #1 - Mad at myself just because I'm mad about not having them. Reason #2 - That I have OCD and feel the need to fill those gaps in one day even if it's not now. Reason #3 - I (sadly) like having a page of the same refractor (there, I said it).
Now I know some of you might be going, well it must be nice to spend all that money on autographs. No, not even close. If you priced all the refractors that I am missing from Topps Chrome and Bowman Chrome if I were to just buy parallels it would probably afford me at least 2 Cano autographs maybe even 3 depending on what I went after. If I have $30 to spend on cards and there is an autograph I need in that ballpark vs. a bunch of parallels I am going for that autograph every time, no question.
Quick example, if you want to see how much a couple of parallels of Cano would add up to you can click and add them up.
2011 Finest gold refractor /50
2011 Finest red refractor /25
2011 Topps Chrome red refractor /25
Would it be nice to have those cards? It sure would. But it's always nicer to have a card like this instead.
I feel like I can save all the inserts and parallels I pull out of packs that I don't want to trade with other collectors for the ones I need rather than chasing those cards on eBay. I think this makes more sense anyway because it's not often that when we all rip wax that we pull the guys we collect in parallels. And if there are no trades on the cards I can always wait until I can get to a card show and rummage through bins for cards and buy a group of them for less than buying individual cards and paying for shipping online.
I would love to hear if your collecting habits have changed in terms of waiting on parallels and inserts and going after the autograph or game used cards first. Or do you go for the inserts/parallels first and take the quantity route for the bucks?