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DIY-conomics

What do you really save when you do it yourself? A pseudoscientific experiment

In these lean times, the chance to save money is always welcome. In some cases, the economics are clear: staying home instead of traveling abroad, dining in instead of out, rethinking last year’s wardrobe instead of splurging for a new one. In others, we wonder: Is this really worth it? Below, we explore the economics of six everyday do-it-yourself projects, considering time, money, and effort—but be warned that effort varies according to your experience level.

PROJECT 1: HAIRCUT
My skill level: experienced (on my husband’s hair)

Cost If You Do It:
In Dollars: $0. Around $60 in startup costs if you want a clipper set and fancy styling shears
In Hours: About 30 minutes, including cleanup; factor in extra time for fits of near hysteria if this is a maiden cut
In Tears: This all depends on the subject/victim and whether he or she is comfortable with a random bald spot.

If Others Do It: At a local barbershop: $12 to $20; At a local salon: from $27 to $50 for a men’s cut

Worth It? For easy-going subjects, particularly ones with curly hair that hides mistakes, definitely. Even if you splurged for the clippers and shears, you would see a return on the investment after only a few cuts.

 

PROJECT 2: HEMMING
My skill level: by hand, novice

Cost If You Do It:
In Dollars: $3 to $5 for a basic package of needles and a spool of thread
In hours: About 1 hour for a pair of unlined cotton pants
In Tears: Potentially frustrating, especially if you are concerned with the aesthetics of the finished project. If you don’t mind uneven seams, it’s a nice way to be productive while watching TV.

If Others Do It: $10 to $15 at a local dry cleaner

Worth It? For yoga pants, definitely. For anything else, unless you are a fabulous seamstress/tailor or have a sewing machine that you are not afraid to use, definitely not.

 

PROJECT 3: APPLE PIE
My skill level: experienced

Cost If You Do It:
In Dollars: About $4 for a 9-inch deep-dish pie (mostly for butter and apples). Organic ingredients  cost $1.50 or $2 more.
In Hours: About 3 hours, including baking
In Tears: Blending butter and rolling crust can be a pleasure. If, however, you undertake first-time pie baking in the midst of the holiday hubbub when the sweet teeth of children are depending on your efforts, it might be another story.

If Others Do It: $15.99 for a 10-inch or $6.99 for a 6-inch pie at Whole Foods, $3.99 (8-inch) at Jewel. Local bakery’s organic pie: $24

Worth It? Absolutely. Homemade is a much better product than the average supermarket variety and on par with a bakery pie. The smell of cloved and cinnamoned apples baking between layers of toasting butter and the swell of homey pride when a perfectly lumpy pie emerges from the oven are priceless.

 

PROJECT 4: FINISHING FURNITURE
My skill level: novice

Cost If You Do It:
In Dollars: $18 for stain and wax (or $33 for eco-friendly versions) plus $10 for sandpaper and a small drop cloth. My 5’4” bookcase took half a quart of stain and a quarter of a quarter-liter can of wax.
In hours: 31/2 hours of actual labor plus a minimum of 8 hours of drying time
In Tears: In a small city apartment with a combination workshop/living room, the big, slowly drying obstacle can be annoying.

If Others Do It: $44 to have the same size bookcase finished at 57th Street Bookcase & Cabinet (a non-eco-treatment)

Worth It? If you have a nice, well-ventilated workspace and are soothed by repetitive tasks, go for it. If not, the marginal do-it-yourself savings are not worth the inconvenience.

 

PROJECT 5: CHANGING A BIKE TIRE
My skill level: very novice

Cost If You Do It:
In Dollars: $5 for a new inner tube (or $2 to $5 for a basic patch kit to fix up the old one)
In hours: About 11/4 hours, including emergency calls to bike expert brother
In Tears: Oh, the tears

If Others Do It: From $8 to $10, plus $5 for the inner tube

Worth It? Not unless you have the patience of a saint and the hands of a lumberjack. Small, relatively weak fingers didn’t cut it, even with the help of a tire lever, when it came to the last few inches of tire to be pulled back onto the wheel. If you don’t get the tire into place properly, it can pop the new inner tube you have just installed.

 

PROJECT 6: CHANGING A FACET WASHER
My skill level: novice

Cost If You Do It:
In Dollars: $0.69 to $10 for a new washer
In hours: In theory, only 10 minutes; in my experience, at least 20 minutes till you realize things are not working out, and then another 5 minutes to put everything back together, assuming you have not done irreparable damage.
In Tears: The first steps here are to turn the water off and remove the faucet handle. If these sound like great personal plumbing triumphs, the cost in this category will be high. After 10 minutes of attempting to remove a nut that may or may not have actually been a nut and, either way, would not be removed, the whole endeavor starts to sour.

If Others Do It: About $130 per hour, for a minimum of an hour

Worth It? For the money, definitely. If, however, you are not mechanically inclined, dinner and a few drinks for a knowledgeable friend may be the best bargain on this one.

 

Photography: (apple pie) Kivoart/istockphoto.com, (scissors) spiderstock/istockphoto.com, (chair) © Brian McEntire/istockphoto.com, (bike) Yurovskikh Aleksander/istockphoto.com, (thread) Yurish/istockphoto.com, (faucet) Ljupco/istockphoto.com

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