Long before the recession and the resurgence of frugality, DIY was widely practiced. In days long past there was little choice. In the early 20th century you could not run down to the local grocer to pick up a rotisserie chicken. For those fortunate enough to have plumbing or electricity in those early days, plumbers and electricians were not readily available. Professionally crafted fixtures and furniture was truly a luxury, more than likely if you needed a table or a chair bench you made it yourself or went without.
People and communities had to be self sufficient, they had no choice.
Today, you can find dozens of people walking through the local hardware store picking up odds and ends to perform their own maintenance or repairs. More often than not, these conventional DIY activities are no more than swapping parts and pieces. Anyone with basic tools can install a new faucet or replace a receptacle, but how many are really capable of creating something new, from scratch?
If you have spend anytime floating through the personal finance blogoshere you may know at least a few that are capable of crafting beautiful and functional creations.
Did you have bunk beds when you were a kid? Not me. My father made what we called box beds because that is what they were, giant plywood boxes with a mattress on top. How cool would these be. Hang a sheet over the side and you have an instant fort. Climb on top and you are in the crows nest of a pirate ship or at the helm of the Enterprise.
Check the price of bunk beds and you will find they run upwards of $700 and more. Yet for a few hundred dollars and several hours of sweat you can give your kids a childhood of memories.
Who wouldn’t love to have the stately gas fireplace in their home?
By building this fireplace himself, Joe estimates he saved over $1000. A project like this requires just a few more than basic tools but it is well within reach of the average homeowner.
No doubt on these cold winter days this fireplace provides plenty of warmth for Joe and his lovely bride to snuggle up and spend a relaxing day with a glass of wine.
You can almost see the smile on a child’s face as they rock their days away dreaming of being a cowboy, playing polo or performing in a circus.
This kind of project is something that a child will be able to hand down to their kids and their kids again. Truly an heirloom.
You can find a basic wood rocking horse for a couple hundred dollars. For the truly exotic hand carved carousel rocking horse you could easily spend thousands. But how much is a rocking horse made by your father worth? Like the old Visa commercials… Priceless!
DIY Can Be Expensive
There is no doubt, custom crafting one of a kind pieces of furniture and accessories can be expensive. They may also require an inordinate amount of time to complete.
For something like Fiscal Geeks bunk beds in may only require some basic hand tools or a few inexpensive power tools. Even Joe Taxpayers rocking horse conceivably could be created with only a few more tools.
For most home hobbyists the range of tools quickly expands and the costs of some can skyrocket. Admittedly, I have accumulated over $10,000 in equipment over a 20 year span of time. Is it possible for this kind of “investment” to be worthwhile?
The ROI Can Be Huge
There are several advantages that the extreme home hobbyist has.
Experience – This is the greatest advantage. Experience building, finishing and repairing is easily transferable to a wide range of opportunities. Skills gained running gas lines for fireplaces can be used renovating kitchens. Knowledge of materials, their strengths and weaknesses, will be applied to a wide variety of personal and educational projects. Understanding of tools and their application promote efficiency on future jobs.
Financial Savings – While not every project pays, in many cases even factoring in your investment of time, commercial equivalents often cost considerably more.
Quality – Beyond any up-front savings I have found that commercial equivalents often fail to meet the same level of quality as homemade products and furniture. When was the last time you even saw a piece of furniture that wasn’t made of inferior chipboard that was simply covered in a laminate? They are available but they are rare and extremely expensive.
Customization – When you build your own furniture, fireplaces or even toys you have the ability to design and build to meet your unique specifications. You are not limited to the standard size and options available from a factory. When building kitchen cabinets, if you want a spice rack/cabinet over the stove, it is yours. Do you want a rocker 3″ taller or shorter than what you see in a store, just do it! Is your preference a dresser made of zebra-wood? It will be pricey but doable.
Longevity – One aspect of hand crafted wooden furniture and items that I love are their timelessness. A tree left alone will live for 50-100 years and then die and rot. A well crafted piece such as this rocker may last hundreds or even thousands of years. Yes, thousands potentially. Last year I admired King Tut’s chair, nearly 3,000 years old! There is no reason Joe Taxpayer’s mahogany rocking horse, for example, cannot last just as long if properly cared for.
Enjoyment – People often write of the need to spend time on worthwhile activities. Ideally every activity itself would be a joy but work is often just that, work. However, there are few things as rewarding as seeing your hard work pay off, even if you didn’t enjoy the work itself. If you happen to love the process of building and finishing, than consider that a bonus!
When you factor in the quality that you have control over and your ability to build to your own specifications a project created at home can compete financially with much of what is available on the market.
Add to this the sentimental value of an item made by Dad/Mom/Brother/Sister/Friend and you have already crossed into the realm of priceless.
From a practical standpoint however and considering the long-term value of building your knowledge and skills that can be used over a lifetime, you will find the investment will, by far, pay for itself many times over. What have I enjoyed for my $10,000 investment and many hours? Here are just a few of the more significant projects.
- A kitchen renovation valued at over $40,000
- Oak raised panel blanket chest valued at $1200
- Cherry 4-post canopy bed valued at $3,400
- Cherry secretarial desk valued at $1,600
- Cherry shoji screen valued at $900
- Cherry platform bed with 6 drawers valued at $500
- Purpleheart & Ebony table valued at $2,400
- Wooden-geared clock valued at $1,900
The kitchen renovation has become an investment in the market due to the fact we sold that house. The remaining pieces are all in use and represent cherished pieces the family will enjoy for decades.
From the outside I have had friends and others question the sanity of this hobby, but when I look at the financial reward I question the sanity of the non-DIYers.
How about you, what projects have you tackled at home? Have you renovated a room, built an addition or made your own wedding invitations? Please leave a comment below and share what you have done!