Nov 20, 2013

The Cost of DIY- is it "Worth it"?

Everywhere you look on the internet there tends to be an ongoing struggle between DIY and not.  I would guess that the pintrest DIY and Crafts category is one of the most often pinned, and on the other hand, you get sites like Pinterest you are Drunk. There are the raving fans of ideas such as the living plastic dinosaurs, versus the folks raging against The Elf on the Shelf (which was never a thing when I was little.  And if it was, there's a good chance that the elf would have gone wandering off and never found his way back through the mess that was my room...) Then there are the folks that get actively angry at people like Martha Stewart or Maria Kang for "shaming" people for what they don't do (or how Pinterest is a horrible thing that makes people feel bad about themselves).

If we ignore the category of talent and skill (which can often be a factor in these things), often it tends to boil down to time or money.  People have a limited amount of both, and use it in different ways.  But in general, there are people who spend time to save money, and there are those who will spend money to save time. When it comes to DIY, it's fairly obvious which group most of those people are in.  They are willing to spend extra time to save money on whatever it is that they are doing themselves.  And people will do anything themselves, if you look hard enough on the internet. Don't believe me?  Check out this video of a guy who built a functional Wall-E.  Just because someone has done it, or you could do it, doesn't mean that it's a good idea.

That's the problem with most DIY articles.  The person who has done it is excited about what they were able to do, and wanted to share it.  Hey, that's what I do all the time.  When there are pretty pictures, and people who talk about how easy something is, it's really easy to think "I could do that", thinking that whatever the project is, it will be easier and better than buying it.  The question is, is it really economically smart?  The cost of materials is not the only economic factor to consider when embarking on a project.  Time is money. The factors that I would recommend considering for the economy of any DIY project are as follows:
  1. Financial Outlay: This one is fairly obvious.  It is the cost of a purchased object, or the cost of all of the materials to make one.
  2. Time: What is your time worth? A tongue in cheek statistic says that Bill Gates earns more than $100 in the time it would take to bend over and pick up a $100 bill that he dropped, and there are those that argue that a stay at home mom's yearly salary would be over $100K a year if they were paid for the work that they do. If you were to take the amount of time that a project takes, and spend that time working to earn money instead, would the finished product be more or less expensive than buying it? Also, especially for those who like to multitask, is this something that requires constant attention, or does it just require time to work? (For more of an idea on this topic, this blog post delves in a little more)
  3. Quality: Sometimes you just can't beat homemade.  Whether it's clothing that provides a perfect fit, or cookies that come out "so much better" than what you can buy at the store, quality adds value.  For clothing, this could be what you make compared to a professional bespoke item.  For food items, look to restaurants or bakeries.  How much better is the finished product than the corresponding object that you could buy?
  4. Fun: This is a completely subjective standard. If time, money, and quality were no object, would you still do it? Personally, I like doing things.  I like making things.  I like constantly creating.  If I had unlimited time and unlimited money, I would still cook, bake, craft, build, and probably learn more materials intensive things.  But I would probably never clean.  I would have a roomba, house elves, maids, whatever it took so that I would not be required to clean.
From my constant perusal of Pinterest, I would say that most DIY projects tend to be mindful of the financial outlay, quality, and fun.  Most tend to ignore time, with the exception of recipes.  Recipes are often broken down into active prep time and total prep time. A turkey can take multiple hours to prepare, but the active prep time can be relatively low. Sugar cookies can be baked pretty quickly, but if you want to decorate them then it can take hours.

So let's calculate the "actual cost" for something that I will make often.  Socks. If I search online, hand knit socks are going for about $20-$40. I know, you can buy socks at Walmart for $1, but I want to compare something that would be reasonably close in quality.  Let's see if it's worth it to make them. As a note, I am doing the calculations as I write, so I actually don't know how this is going to turn out.

  1. Financial Outlay: 1 skein of yarn.  I already own knitting needles, scissors, and a yarn needle. If I had to buy all the initial equipment, I would include that into cost.  But as I tend to use it often, the cost becomes negligible. When I knit, I like to use good yarn.  If I'm going to be feeling it for hours, I want it to feel nice, and especially if I'm going to be wearing the finished product, I need to like the feel of it. So as an average, let's estimate $20 for a skein of good sock yarn.
  2. Time: Here is where the time component comes in.  Knitting takes time. So depending on the thickness of the yarn, the size of the needles, the size of the socks, and the complexity of the pattern, the pair can take anywhere from two hours, to a ridiculously long time. It is a little hard for me to estimate the amount of time, as I am the sort that will keep knitting in my purse, and pull it out on the bus, in a waiting room, at the bar, or wherever I am.  So, for the sake of argument, let us just say that it takes 10 hours to knit a pair of socks. At minimum wage, $7.25 an hour would make the cost $72.50.  However, I would usually be knitting while doing other things (chit chatting, watching TV, riding the bus, etc.), so I'm going to discount that by 30%, which still makes it $50.75.

    So the cost of this pair of socks is over $70! Holy Cow! I don't know about you, but I would never buy $70 socks.  So based solely on cost, it makes way more sense to just buy them (and, if you're now comparing them to $1 socks from Walmart, the difference is even more striking).  However, let's move on to 3 and 4.
  3. Quality: If I make a pair of socks for myself, they are going to fit perfectly.  Why? Check out my post here.  These socks will be made specifically for my feet, and conform perfectly to any abnormalities about them.  I am going to choose a yarn that I love (and pay more for it), and the perfect pattern.  Would this be worth an extra $30 to me if I was buying a pair of handmade socks in a store?  No, probably not.  Would the fact that I made them with my own two hands mean more to a person I made the socks for (if I wasn't making them for myself)? I think so (but still, probably not $30 worth). There is a quality that permeates an object made with love.  Not to get all sappy here, but there is an intangible quality that makes Mom's or Grandma's cookies better than that of any bakery.
  4. Fun: As I've said, I like making things.  And, I like doing things like knitting, crocheting, beading, baking, and an inordinately long list.  I'm the type of person who needs to always be doing something with my hands. It's not something I am doing to save money, it's a hobby.  I like the act of making things, and I like the finished product.  So instead of spending extra money on going to movies or collecting stamps, I'm doing something that leads to a useful item when I'm done.
Economically, making my own socks is a bad idea.  But this is not something I'm doing to save money.  If I was going to embark on a DIY project so that I wouldn't have to pay for it (not because I actively wanted to do it), calculating time, quality, and financial outlay would help to demonstrate exactly how much I'm actually saving  by doing it myself.

In an attempt to help make any of the tutorials that I make more helpful, I will try to utilize my own rubric. That way, you can make up your own mind as to whether or not it's actually "worth it". 

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