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Bead work, making crafts.Pongphan Ruengchai

Welcome to our Gen Y money blog, where a recent grad chronicles her real-life journey to becoming a financially independent adult.

I'm always on the lookout for ways to save cash, and a great alternative to buying is to DIY (Do it Yourself).

DIY undertakings can range on a pretty wide spectrum, from recipes to home improvement projects. Although I do most of my own cooking and the odd minor repair job like re-sewing a button, I hadn't really risked trying any major DIY projects – the kind that required time and money investments – until recently.

Drawn in by the dramatic "before" and "after" images on Pinterest (a.k.a. the DIY kingdom), not to mention the headlines screaming "easy!" and "budget-friendly!", I decided to roll up my sleeves and try my hand at becoming a serious DIY-er.

It was a disaster.

In an attempt to stretch my budget over the gift demands of the holiday season, I started my DIY adventures by trying to turn some of my Instagram photos into cute magnets for my friends and family as Christmas gifts. In theory, spending $100 on tools and supplies seemed like a reasonable amount to spend on approximately 12 handmade gifts. In actuality, it was a lot of money to spend on shriveled-up globs of paper and glue.

My other two major DIY attempts resulted in similarly tragic results. The four batches of cookies that I was supposed to bring to the office Christmas potluck ended up looking less like cute snowflakes and more like a Settlers of Catan game board, resulting in another $30 (plus the $15 I used to buy replacement treats) landing in the gutter.

I then attempted to build a simple shelf for my shower, which served absolutely no purpose other than to periodically collapse and cause shampoo to spray everywhere, pulling $50 down the drain with it.

After three DIY project attempts, I'm left with hours of wasted time, a $200 bill, and an unopened container of (probably stale) Christmas-themed cake sprinkles.

As frustrating as these failed DIY projects proved to be, they've helped me understand that the cheapest option isn't always the best option. Of course, being on a tight budget means that it's important for me to explore less expensive options, but it also involves making an intelligent decision as to whether or not it's worth the price.

Now, when considering a potential DIY project, I run a mental checklist to determine if it's worth my time and money. A few things I consider:

  • Do I have the time, tools and skills to do this properly? As easy as a project might be, it’s not going to be a success if I can’t put aside the time required to do it properly. Sometimes, the extra cost is worth the convenience – especially when taking into account the time it takes to learn new skills and buy new tools.
  • Does it have lasting-quality potential? Something made from paper and glue is not designed to last forever. If it’s something that could potentially last a long time (e.g., a shower shelf), I’ll consider buying over building.
  • Is it worth the satisfaction of a job well done? I’ll be honest – part of the reason I wanted to bake a complicated cookie recipe was for the satisfaction of getting some “oohs” and “aahs” at my handiwork. Were the wasted hours and dollars worth it in the end? Probably not.

Although my hopes of ever rising to the highest ranks of the Pinterest DIY kingdom have been crushed, at least I know my limits when faced with the decision to DIY or buy.

I guess I should probably toss those Christmas-themed sprinkles.