When to Buy and When to DIY

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Is this the year of do-it-yourself projects? A new survey suggests it might be.

According to a JPMorgan Chase poll, “people are taking steps to achieve their goals – and have fun – on their own terms this year.” While it seems the only reason it was polling on this subject was to find out spending habits and promote itself, here are some of the company’s DIY-related findings…

  • 46 percent will exercise at home or outdoors instead of at a gym or health club.
  • 59 percent will pamper themselves at home rather than making visits to a spa or salon, which only 22 percent plan to do.
  • 29 percent prefer to celebrate a special occasion with a home-cooked meal instead of dining out.

All of these are smart and simple ways to save money at home. Unless you’re just trying to make a superior or unique project, that’s the main goal of DIY work.

Unfortunately, the DIY ethic doesn’t always save money, time, or sanity. If you’ve ever learned the hard way that we have pro services for a reason, here are some factors to consider before tackling another project on your own…

  1. Time. How valuable is your leisure time? Big projects might require several nights or multiple weekends, and you’ll need to keep tools and supplies somewhere in the meantime. Plus, if you have to dismantle something in the process, it’s out of order until you’re done. This can make long projects or ones in important areas of the house (like the kitchen) pretty inconvenient.
  2. Tools. Specialized tools can be expensive, and you may not need them again. If you don’t have a friend willing to loan what you need, that means more time and expense in hunting down and buying tools or renting them.
  3. Experience. How confident are you that your skills are suited to the project at hand? Are there safety risks? Permits required for the work? If you screw up, you have to call a pro anyway – and they may have to fix damage from your mistakes on top of accomplishing the original project. That adds insult to pocketbook injury.
  4. Interest. If you’re taking on the work as much to learn as to finish a project, then your time will probably be better spent and more enjoyable than a stubborn, grumbling penny-pincher’s. It’s not worth it when the work makes you miserable and leaves you unsatisfied.
  5. Replaceability. Some things are just cheaper to replace than to fix – most low-end electronics fall into this category. Parts can be hard to find or pricey in comparison. The only time it’s worth spending more on a DIY project than you would to buy it outright is if you get something superior or unique (sentimental value, knowledge, custom-make) out of it.

So what makes a good do-it-yourself project for the average person with no special skills? Here are some scenarios of when to buy and when to DIY…


Buy: Most staples are cheap to buy in bulk – like rice and flour. Some things you should always buy generic. Stock up on the ingredients to your favorite menu items, then learn to make them yourself. Just make sure you know when your food expires so nothing goes to waste or makes you sick.

DIY: If you’ve got the space, start a garden. Seeds are much cheaper, and the food is often much tastier, than store-bought veggies. Check out Saving Green by Growing Your Own Vegetables. We can also help you make your own dog food, homemade yogurt, and flavored water.


Buy: Sturdy equipment – cheap mops and sponges end up costing more when you have to replace them often.

DIY: Homemade cleaners are both effective and cost-effective. Learn about the wonders of vinegar and how to make dish soap, laundry detergent, and all-purpose cleaners in How to Make Dish Detergent (And More).


Buy: Most things, unless you’re obsessed about quality or took that arts and crafts class seriously. Without practice and knowledge about materials, this is a time-consuming adventure that could be wrecked by the washing machine. Fortunately, there are many ways to save on clothes even when you buy.

DIY: How about Halloween costumes, which only have to last one night? Or custom accessories that won’t hit the wash? Basic mending, sewing, and hemming skills also go a long way to preserving your wardrobe, and a mini-sewing kit doesn’t cost much.

Home repairs and improvements

Buy: This is where things get risky – in terms of time, cost, and safety. When in doubt, use a pro. This page of About.com has home renovation DIY or not recommendations. DIYorNot.com also has recommendations, along with a lot of instructions. Jobs for pros: most additions and installations, major electrical work, paving, windows, gutters. But when you get a pro, use these 16 tips to save on remodeling.

DIY: A lot of energy-efficiency upgrades are simple enough to do yourself and use cheap materials. Check out the 5 Best Tips for a Cheaper Winter for some quick projects to cut your electric bill down, and here are 5 more cheap do-it-yourself repairs. Most people can handle painting jobs, drywall, and laminate flooring.

Want more DIY resources? Try these:

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