We are typically a DIY household. We saved thousands when we built our house 4 years ago by rolling up our sleeves and doing our own tile floors and landscaping. I have built furniture, painted nature scenes on my kid’s walls before they were born and am an amateur furnace repair man. You can save a ton of money, you can build valuable skills, but every time I get into a project, I wonder…Is DIY worth it?
Is DIY Worth It?
Last weekend I was scoping out a relatively small woodworking project for my daughter. She REALLY likes to hang out with us when we are doing things in the kitchen. Chopping vegetables, cooking or washing dishes, she wants to be a part of it. It’s really sweet (even though she is negative help) but after one tumble from the top of a chair and a few other close calls, I stumbled across something called a kitchen helper.
The first few I looked at were anywhere from $130-$400. After searching a bit more I found one for $75 on Etsy and thought that was a good deal. Then I saw the $50 shipping charge and it would take 2-3 weeks to get here I ruled that option out.
Once I saw they were that expensive, I was warming up my DIY brain. I could build one of similar quality for under $40. They don’t look all the complicated and when you can borrow (steal?) someone else’s design it makes it easier.
As I mapped out the plans in my head, I was really wondering is DIY worth it:
- Draw some quick plans to figure out what screws and wood (size/length) I would need (30 minutes)
- Go to the store to buy the materials (60 minutes)
- Cut, drill, square and screw everything together (240 minutes)
- Paint (60 minutes)
In total that is 6.5 hours. My DIY brain thinks 4 hours to build is excessive, it thinks we can hammer it out in 2. My rational brain knows, after building a few end tables over the years, that the first time it is going to take at least double that.
Between the constant second-guessing, re-measuring and thinking about the best sequence to put things together, the first time takes forever. The second time through, 2 hours is more reasonable, but I knew I couldn’t figure it out in that amount of time on round 1.
I decided to take one more pass at finding one online and did a local craigslist search and found the above kitchen helper for $80. All I need is some paint and an hour to finish it however we want.
$30-40 for wood and 5.5 hours to get the wood and build
$80 for a finished product (better than I could build on round one) and 1 hour to paint
Again…..Is DIY worth it?
Related: How to save money building a house
The Financial Independence Crowd is DIY by Nature
We are a DIY crowd.
- Build from scratch
- Fix when broken
- Repurpose when worn
- Grow food
- Brew beer
Most importantly, we have learned how to manage our money on our own which saves thousands and thousands of dollars over our lifetime.
We do things most people don’t to save money, but I am now realizing that it occasionally gets taken too far. If time is what we are all after, given that situation above, it is way cheaper to separate myself from $80 then spend 5.5 hours on a DIY project I am not passionate about.
What is my time worth?
I have been thinking about this in a few different ways
Straight Forward Earnings Comparison
IF you are trading time for money, your minimum price is set. Whatever you make per hour is a good baseline. My employer thinks I am worth over $46 per hour (more if we throw in benefits).
Since I am not Financially Independent, work (and everything that comes with it) takes priority on Monday to Friday. Family takes nights and weekends. Running this site fills small free time gaps. If I fit a 6.5-hour project in during naps, it would eat all my non-kid time on the weekend. Which is when I get a BUNCH of other shit done right now just to keep this house functioning. This will likely change when the kids are a bit over and more self-sufficient or can hang out with me around power tools but for now, its tough to commit to significant projects. The time with them is just too valuable to miss.
I trade time away from my kids for $46/hr for my career. If I took on that project it is the equivalent of saving $50 for 5.5 hours of work. $9 hour…WELL below my market value.
How much money can I save?
For most money conscious people this is the tipping point for DIY vs buy/pay someone to do it.
In this example, I would be trading 5.5 hours for ~$50 in savings. The fact the I even thought about building it for that price makes me question my sanity. This was a no brainer buy situation.
If it’s saving a few thousand dollars for a day of laying sod I will make that trade without a second thought.
Is the fix straight forward?
There are a ton of things that are “straight forward fixes” that you can do with standard household tools. Replacing doorknobs, smoke detectors, fixing/adding shelving, unclogging drains, etc, etc, etc. You know what the problem is, what to buy, and can watch a very simple video to fix it.
Then there are the NOT straight forward fixes:
The fixes that require special tools or require a diagnosis more complicated than “It no worky”
I don’t like spending money on guesses, and guessing is what I would have to do on most things under the hood of a car and anything that isn’t easily identifiable in the guts of a washing machine.
Those situations I feel waaaaay less guilty just paying an expert instead of fixing by elimination.
Do you have the tools?
The good thing about most tools is they are a single investment for a long lifespan (if treated properly).
The flip side of that is owning tools for very specific purposes that you won’t get much use out of that you have to buy, store, move and maintain.
- Borrow – Best option if available. I trade tools with my Family and Neighbors all the time. My family doesn’t need multiple tile cutters because we aren’t laying tile floors more than once a year. We have one that travels around as projects arise.
- Rent – Great for single or rare use applications. Example: I needed to take the sheetrock off my basement ceiling and rented a sheetrock lift for next to nothing for 4 hours.
Cheap tools with many opportunities = buy
Everything else = borrow or rent
Is it safe?
I don’t like messing with electrical issues. I have seen enough mislabeled electrical boxes to have a healthy sense of fear. Just last week I found my bathroom outlet is on the breaker labeled “Garage” and my house was built under 5 years ago.
Electrical work and anything that can produce flames or carbon monoxide inside your house, I hire out or request the help of a more experienced DIYer.
Am I capable of doing it?
Most DIY skills take time to master, you don’t just grab a pile of wood and build a flawless piece of furniture right away. You have to be willing to put in some (patient) practice. You can learn a ton from watching videos on YouTube, but it can’t replace the actual skills you develop using the tools themselves.
I can point to every single DIY project at my house and see multiple mistakes*. Be willing to live with them, or spend more time and money to fix/replace them.
I am also very cautious when I make even minor updates to large, expensive, hard to replace items. Kitchen cabinets, fireplaces, countertops, other things that if you make look like shit that would require you to replace the whole section.
*These mistakes drive me nuts to this day and only people who have woodworking skills notice them.
Do I enjoy the work?
Including this section to avoid the “but I like (insert any DIY project here)” comments
If you like building things because it is enjoyable, or you get a ton of personal satisfaction by doing it your self. Then it is less about the money and more about how you WANT to spend your time. Have at it!
If you get ZERO enjoyment or no personal satisfaction from the DIY world, skip 95% of the DIY projects around your house and stick to the easy stuff that can save some cash here and there.
My “Is DIY Worth It?” Checklist
How I am thinking about DIY projects moving forward:
- Am I saving at least 75% of my hourly pay (1 hour of work needs to save at least $35)
- It is safe?
- Do I own the tools or can borrow/rent them for a reasonable amount of money? If not, do I foresee using these tools again?
- It is a straightforward build, fix or replacement?
- Am I sacrificing other priorities to take this project on that I value more than the money or outcome?
Is DIY worth it?