Personal Finance

DIY It or Buy It?

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When you look for advice on how to save money, a common refrain you find is to do things yourself. Instead of hiring someone to mow your lawn, shovel your sidewalk or fix your toilet, you should accomplish those tasks yourself.

That advice may be fine for basic household tasks, but it can be tricky when it comes to more complicated tasks. Also, when you have limited time, is it worth doing something yourself even if you’ll save money?

Read below to see when it’s worth to do-it-yourself and when you should just pay for it.

Is It Always Cheaper to Do it Yourself?

Whitney Hansen, host of the Money Nerds Podcast, buys furniture for cheap, refinishes it and resells it for a profit. As someone who’s tackled dozens of projects, she’s learned when it makes sense to do it yourself, and when you should leave it to the professionals.

She said one of the biggest problems beginners run into is underestimating the time involved. This often leads them to take shortcuts that result in shoddy work or getting frustrated and quitting halfway through.

“Refinishing only one piece sometimes costs more than buying some new,” she said. “If you plan on redoing multiple pieces the startup costs of buying paint, stain, sandpaper,  etc. aren’t too bad per piece, but it can be expensive getting started.”

If you plan on getting into a hobby, like refinishing furniture, buying all the tools and equipment makes sense. But if you only need to do it once, it may be less expensive to hire it out.

When You Should Buy

Wondering when it makes sense to skip doing it yourself? Here are some scenarios when it’s best to buy:

When the tools are expensive

If you need to buy or rent expensive equipment to complete a project, you may be better off buying it instead of doing it yourself. Unless you can resell the items or plan to use them for something else, buying an expensive tool often doesn’t pay off.

When it’s too time-intensive

If you browse frugal forums on Reddit, you’ll often see people recommend that you change your car’s oil yourself. But what they don’t explain is that changing your car’s oil can take at least an hour. It’s also not a pleasant process – and likely won’t save you more than $20. You’re likely better off finding a mechanic who charges a fair rate and going to them.

When it could result in a major problem

If you have a big family or go through multiple changes of clothes in a day, you probably spend a lot of money on detergent. If you want to be frugal and save money, you may try switching to homemade detergent.

But this can backfire on you. You may accidentally void the manufacturer’s warranty on a washing machine or dishwasher if you use homemade detergent. If you run into a problem, you may not be able to get repairs or a replacement covered if the technician can tell that you used homemade detergent.

When the result isn’t any better

A few years ago, I started taking sewing classes at a local fabric store. One of the instructors always talked about how she made her own clothes, including bras and underwear, and encouraged me to do the same. I decided to start by making a basic sleeveless topic for my Halloween costume that year.

It took me several weeks to complete the project, and after I did, I realized I could’ve bought a similar item for much less money. The cost of fabric isn’t as cheap as you’d think when you’re buying retail, and you also need to buy a pattern, thread and a sewing machine if you don’t have one already.

Unless you love to sew in your free time, making your own clothes is almost never cheaper than buying.

When it could be dangerous

If your puppy destroys toys in a week, it may seem more efficient to make your own toys from ratty t-shirts or old towels. But those fabrics can get lodged in a dog’s stomach and cause them severe problems. When in doubt, buy toys that are recommended by your vet. It’s a lot less expensive to replace a toy than it is to take your dog to the emergency vet.

When you can’t undo any mistakes

As I learned to sew, I considered hemming my own pants. As most short women know, even petite-size pants are always too long, and I was sick of taking every pair of pants to the tailor. I tried learning how to hem my own pants, and while it seemed simple I realized that a mistake would be impossible to undo. If I ruined a pair of pants, I’d have to buy a new pair.

DIY projects that can result in you permanently ruining something are best left to the pros.

When you should DIY

Wondering when it’s best to do it yourself? Here are some prime examples?

When you’ll do it over and over again

When I was getting married, I decided to make my bridesmaids’ makeup bags as a thank-you gift. I’d learned how to sew makeup bags at a class I took, but it still took me more than an hour to make the first couple bags. But as I made more, I got faster and faster. Soon, I could make two in the same time it previously took me to make one.

When you’ll have more time than money

One of the most common reasons that consumers try to tackle projects themselves is because they have plenty of time to attempt it. If you have a shortage of funds but have enough time, you may be a good candidate for a DIY project. You can find almost anything on YouTube these days, which should make figuring things out easier.

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