The last few days we have talked about saving money through DIY and buying to save time.  I thought today we would take a closer look at time vs. cost as it relates to our questions of the month, DIY or buy?  The time and cost of a project or purchase is related to the type of project or purchase.

To illustrate the relationship of time vs. cost I am going to use the same categories from the DIY or Buy Continuum.  For detailed definitions and examples of each category, please refer to the DIY or Buy Continuum post.   DIY or Buy Continuum

Here are all the categories plotted against time and cost.  More hands on categories require more time and varying levels of money.  More hands off categories tend to cost more money and require different amounts of time.

Let’s examine the relationship of cost and time for each category, starting with the two extremes and then working in.

Build From Scratch – The most extreme type of DIY is completely building something from scratch.  Of all the categories, build from scratch usually takes the most time, but it is relatively inexpensive.  (Note: To build from scratch there would be an initial upfront investment in the necessary tools and supplies that I am not factoring in here)

Off the Shelf – The completely non-DIY, hands off category involves buying something directly as is and using it for its intended purpose.  I consider this the highest cost category, because in relative terms you are paying the full retail price.  This category requires the least amount of time…you see it, buy it, put it in your home.

Restore – Restoring a vintage item or thrift store find is slightly less time-consuming than build from scratch, but still very time-consuming.  The amount of time depends on the condition of the item and the restoration needed.  Buying a vintage dresser and restoring the finish or repainting it requires more time than buying a new dresser “of-the-shelf”.  In relative terms, a fixer-upper piece in need of restoration costs less money than a new piece of similar design and quality.

Unconventional Use – In this category you buy something off the shelf, but use it in an unconventional way.  The time involved is middle of the road, because it depends what you are going to do with the item to modify its use.  Unconventional use is considered high cost, because you are paying full retail price for the off the shelf item.  Although I consider the cost high based on paying full retail price, the project might actually cost less than conventional off the shelf products that do the same thing.  For example, I paid the full price for the shower curtain that I transformed into two curtain panels for the nursery.  But, the finished project was less expensive than buying two curtain panels off the shelf.

Commission – When you commission someone to create a custom piece it can be relatively expensive.  Other than some initial input from you, a commissioned project takes very little of your time.  However, in overall time a commissioned project may require a long lead time or production time.  Although the buying is easy, you will have to patiently wait for the piece to be finished.

Thrift – Shopping at thrift stores is usually very inexpensive.  It does require a bit of time though.  Rarely do you go to a thrift store once and find a gem.  You have to shop thrift stores often, scout out the best ones, and figure out the best days and times to go.  But, if the thrill of the hunt is in you, thrift stores are an excellent way to save money.

Reuse – I separated reuse from restore on this chart, because the time and cost involved is so different.  If you reuse an item you already own in a new way, then there is no cost involved.  There is also usually very little time involved, unless you decide to makeover or restore the item.  In the simplest form reuse means taking a pretty mug out of your cupboard and repurposing it as a pencil holder on your desk.  No cost, no time.

Buy Handmade – With handmade marketplaces, like Etsy, it is easier than ever to buy handmade.  You can quickly search and find great items from thousands of handmade sellers.  There is a moderate cost involved with buying handmade.  But, usually costs are reasonable.  With online handmade shopping it is easy to compare similar items from several sellers to find the best cost.  Sometimes the value or quality of the handmade item drives a comparatively higher cost.  For example, a mass-produced quilt from a big box store will cost less than a handmade quilt.  However, the value and uniqueness of the handmade quilt permit the higher cost.

Customized Off the Shelf – When you tweak something off the shelf you are still making a purchase, but you are also investing time to change the item.  I put customized off the shelf lower on the cost scale, because I think most people rarely pay the full price for something they are going to go home and spray paint or recover.  They look for a clearance or thrift store find to transform.  In another scenario, you may purchase a less expensive item to tweak so you can knockoff a pricier off the shelf item.  The time involved depends on how much tweaking is needed, but it is definitely more than buying direct off the shelf and definitely less than other types of DIY.

Semi-DIY – This one also falls pretty close to the middle on the time and cost scale.  From a time perspective, semi-DIY projects involve cobbling together a few purchased items to make something new.  It takes less time to do a semi-DIY project than a build from scratch project.  At the same time, semi-DIY is more costly than thrifting, reusing, or building from scratch.  With semi-DIY you have to buy a combination of supplies and off the shelf items to complete the project.

You can see that these comparisons are relative to one another.  Of course there are really expensive build from scratch projects or really cheap off the shelf purchases.  But, generally this chart is a good rule of thumb when evaluating the time and cost involved in a project or purchase.  More hands on projects take more time.  More hands off projects take less time.  More hands on projects cost less (you are hopefully saving money with your elbow grease).  More hands off projects cost more (your spending money to save time).

Check out the rest of the posts in the DIY or Buy series here.



In just 15 minutes a day for 5 days, you can refresh one room. Without spending a dime.

Start your free 5-day Decorating Do Over Challenge and get exclusive sneak peeks of my book Free Decorating.

We won't send you spam. Unsubscribe at any time. Powered by ConvertKit
Tagged with:

One Response to DIY or Buy: Time vs. Cost

  1. Hello I am visiting via the Nester’s 31 days series. Your series is so inspirational. So many times I have made a costly DIY mistake.

    I too am participating in the series. My topic is “Decor To Adore~ finding your style”. I would like to invite you to stop by anytime.

    Have a beautiful day and a wonderful fall season.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *