When Your DIY Project Isn’t Worth It (and When It Is)


Do-it-yourself projects are taking over the internet. Seriously. If you’ve ever ventured into the depths of Pinterest and taken note of the DIY projects that inspire you, “pinning” them until you’re 500 projects deep, then you know what I’m talking about. It’s a rabbit hole that’s creatively inspiring, intimidating, and potentially costly.

Pinterest and Etsy have gained an enormous following of enthusiastic crafters. The accessibility of DIY projects makes them attractive as does the appeal of saving on something that would be otherwise marked up at a retail store. But do-it-yourself isn’t always the champion of cheap alternatives. Depending on the level of expertise necessary, the materials needed, and the human tendency to start projects which never quite reach the finish line, DIY can be unexpectedly unfriendly terrain for those on a budget.

Being thrifty when you’re in a tight financial squeeze is a smart way to save some cash. But crafting and do-it-yourself projects can also come in at a very real (and sometimes high) cost. So before you dive deep into projects in the DIY world, here are a few questions to ask yourself so you can ensure you won’t be overwhelmed with the effort and expense:

Do I have to buy tools or materials that I normally wouldn’t use or purchase?

When taking on a new project ask yourself what kind of supplies you’ll need to support it. If you have a full and dispensable craft supply closet – then by all means have at it! There are absolutely people who already have the tools of the trade and who take the hobby of crafting as seriously as any other. But if you’re dabbling in DIY and don’t quite have the full arsenal of materials – make sure you consider the true cost by factoring in extras you will need. This is a lesson I learned when I endeavored to become “that friend who knits” and ended up with a closet full of yarn that’s decidedly unknit. My ambitions were short lived but I (literally) paid the price for my enthusiasm.

Take stock of what materials are required over the entire timeline of any project and add together to see the investment cost. Then assess whether that cost is reasonable. This will give you a realistic idea of what you might be paying into the project before you buy 12 tons of wool.

Will I actually use it? If so, for how long?

When all our basic living needs are met we tend to set a new standard for our “needs”. The result? We almost always think we need more than we really do. We’re nudging the bar up and up towards a more spendy lifestyle. Being crafty and making something cute, quaint, or even temporarily useful might result in short-term satisfaction but ultimately, we don’t always need those wine charms. Even if they’re shaped like tiny narwhals.

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Be tough. Ask yourself whether something that’s temporary or that will be used infrequently is worth your effort and money. Things that aren’t going to be used in the long run – however pretty they might be – aren’t always smart investments even when they can be produced cheaply. If money is tight then any extra spending can be looked at as unnecessary – bargain and thrifty projects included.

Is there another project more worthy of my time/attention/funding?

Don’t forget to factor in the value of time involved in the endeavor. Is it really worth your time? Could you have been doing something else with that time?

DIY is a great way to add to your life, to your home and to your belongings but don’t prioritize doing something cheaply over doing something that needs to be done – even if fixing the more immediate need means spending more immediate money. A roof will keep out the rain (or hail, or snow or sleet) – your crown molding won’t even protect against drizzle. If your roof needs to be replaced but you’re taking your extra time and money to glitterize your crown molding, reassess.

What is the expected return on this project?

If you’re taking on a home improvement project to add value, the initial cost of a DIY project might be worth it. If you’re confident in the return of value and you’ve calculated that you won’t be spending more to do it yourself in lieu of hiring a professional, go for it. But, and that’s a big “but,” you might realize that the return on your hard-work simply isn’t worth it. I once spent 5 hours diligently stenciling and coloring epic mountainscapes onto butcher paper to create some sweet homemade wrapping paper. What I didn’t recognize was that seeing my friend tear through it in 3.9 seconds would curdle my heart. Time spent was not time returned.

How dedicated am I to making this work?

If craftiness really is your thing then you can do what many people aspire to do: turn your projects into a potential for a little extra cash. Sites like Etsy allow those with creative flair to sell their items through an online marketplace. Hats, dog-sweaters, wooden flasks – there’s quite the variety out there. Be cautious in this venture, however, and dip a toe before diving right in. While some people might really want those kitten mittens, it’s not a guarantee. As a sole source of income, it can be tricky to budget! Do some research and try it out first.

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  • CynicFan2

    Not everything in life has to have a payback. Some things you just have to do for fun. I tell my wife, any project requires the ability to buy a tool or gadget. Its just fun! (as long as it doesn’t blow the budget)