Before you hit reply to say, "No lol wtf are you talking about?", bear with me.
Before last year I was very much out of the gaming loop. Until about the age of 20 (I'm 24 now) I played a lot different games. Video games, tabletop wargames, roleplaying games, CCGs etc. When I decided I wanted to get back into these hobbies, I did a cost comparison. What I found is that miniatures games are often cheaper to play that many other types of gaming. Of course, all of this comes with a caveat: none of these things are actually cheap. You are still going to spend a lot of money, but (unless you're blowing an insane amount of cash on this stuff, in which case, this post doesn't apply to you) you will very likely spend less money on miniatures than some of the other options.
The perception that miniatures games are expensive is real and is somewhat based in reality. Out of all of the gaming options out there, it has one of the highest startup costs. You need to buy rulebooks, miniatures, paint, tools, terrain (or things to make terrain), etc. This will run into the hundreds very quickly. Let's look at two games, Warmachine and Warhammer (Fantasy and 40k).
Both flavors of Warhammer offer two-player boxes priced at $100. For that lump of cash you get two small armies, a condensed rulebook, dice, and templates. Everything you need to get started. If you split this with a friend, you've only spend $50 so far, which, isn't too bad. If you're not interested in either of these box sets, costs do rise considerably. Let's say you buy into an army that isn't offered at a discounted price. This is hard to gauge because what you buy can vary from person to person, but let's assume you by four things: the full rulebook, your army book, the battalion/battleforce, and a lord/hero. Now you're looking at about $200-250. Throw in some paint and you're right under $300.
Warmachine will come in a little cheaper by virtue that it offers more things bundled, requires fewer models, and doesn't charge you $70 for a rulebook. The two-player battlebox is also priced at $100 and offers you the same things that a Warhammer starter set does. If you want to start with an army not bundled in this set, you're still only looking at $50 for a battlebox, though you get less models. Throw in the full rulebook and paint and you've spent a little over $100.
At this point, we've spent anywhere from $100-$300. That's a lot of money on either side of the range just to get started. On the lower end, that's the cost of two newly released console games; on the higher, the cost of a new console. Let's look at other gaming options.
Magic: The Gathering, by comparison, has the cheapest start up costs. For less than $20, you can buy a premade deck and start playing. That's it. You're done.
Roleplaying games, like D&D and Pathfinder, offer starter box sets that will only set you back about $30-$40 and provide a few sessions worth of material.
When looking at startup costs, miniatures games look like the worst deal. You could buy a gaming/entertainment console for the amount of money, not to mention how much cheaper those CCGs and RPGs look. However, it's when you start looking at the cost of expanding that things work out in miniatures games' favor. Unfortunately, there is no way to quantify exactly how much someone might spend when they expand. Let's assume that the goal is to get to the level that most people play at (35 points in Warmachine, ~2000+ points in Warhammer/40k). The cost of that is likely to be roughly double what you already spent. I would set the total cost at this point at $300-$600. That's a whole lot of money for toy soldiers, but hold on a moment. You have an entire army! Not only will it take you a long time to paint, figures/units almost never cycle out play.
Again, let's look at other options.
You hit the higher end of that range pretty quick in a video game console's life and you're likely to exceed it. At $50/game, you're looking at a total of 6 games plus the cost of the console. Unless you rely exclusively on rentals and services like Gametap, you will probably hit that threshold within a year or two. You will play these games as long as they are fun.
Magic: The Gathering, if you keep up with the releases, is easily the most expensive of these hobbies. If you're trying to play semi-competitively at all, you can expect to drop $150 three times a year just to build a card base of each new set. If you get into the most competitive tiers of deck buildings, you could easily spend $300-$500 per deck. What's worse, these cards cycle out of being legal every two years, which means that over a three year period $450 (or more) worth of cards will no longer be useful. To put it other terms, you could buy an entire army every year single year for this kind of cash.
Roleplaying games look the best, in terms of monetary commitment. If you buy the three core books for D&D/Pathfinder, you've likely spend $100 or so. You don't actually need to expand beyond this to keep being entertained. Since editions retain players after new ones are released, you could conceivably spend only $200 forever. Of course, chances are you will expand at some point, but buying the odd book is only going to set you back $30-$50.
Anyway, this is already too long. What I want to do is turn this into a discussion of the perceived bang of your buck for gaming and dispel notions that certain games are cheap (M:tG) and some are expensive (Warhammer/Warmachine). What I'm not suggesting, however, is that cheaper equals better.
Some questions: What has been your experience? Is any of this stuff prohibitively expensive? Is my assessment just flat out wrong? Do you find one hobby to not be worth the investment? How can we make this cheaper?