When to Make or Buy?

Written by Cel

In frugal circles, there’s a lot of emphasis on DIY and making things from scratch.  This makes sense, as it often is cheaper to make something yourself rather than buy it from a store – and perhaps higher quality, depending on your skill.

However, that’s not always the case. Some things are better off just bought from the store. It may be very cheap already, or require a prohibitive amount of time to do it yourself.

Let’s look at baking bread for example. We have priced out our homemade loaves of bread to be around 80 cents per loaf, and it’s comparable in quantity to a loaf from the store. We would be buying the higher-quality bread for $3-4 a loaf – and it wouldn’t be fresh – so there’s a substantial price difference.

Ah, but what about the time investment? Although it takes about 3 hours from start to finish, most of that time is the dough automatically kneading in the bread machine, or simply rising.  The time spent actually doing something (mixing ingredients, putting the dough in the oven) is about 5 minutes.

So we save a few dollars per loaf in exchange for about 5 minutes of work – and we get the benefit of having fresh bread every couple days.

This would be an example of when DIY is worth it.

An example where we feel DIY is not worth it, would be making your own laundry detergent.

We bought a several kilo box of Tide laundry detergent in July of 2012, and it cost $28. The box is still going strong in November 2014 (for two people).  That works out to less than $1 a month.

If we were to make our own detergent, that would cost perhaps $5-$10 for the supplies. And over the last 28 months, we would have had to make it at least five or six times. Let’s say it takes 20 minutes each time. We would have spent about two hours to save $20 (over several years) – not the best use of our time. Unless there was a pressing reason why we needed homemade detergent (say, to avoid chemicals we are sensitive to in store-bought detergent), it would not be worth it for us.

So, when you are considering when you’re better off making something from scratch or simply buying it, just consider how much money you actually save, how much time you need to spend, and how much you enjoy or dislike making the thing in question. If you really hate doing something, you’re probably better off not doing it, even if you could otherwise save $25 for 1 hour of effort.



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