Five DIY projects that don't save you money

Before you drop everything to bust out a Pinterest-perfect project, take a moment to consider its cost-effectiveness. Yes, DIY projects can save you money, but that doesn't mean all of them will.

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff/File
A basket of yarn. DIY projects, including knitting and making homemade lip balm, can be worth it for the enjoyment factor, but they aren't necessarily money-savers.

DIY can be a fun way to add a personal touch to your life and save money in the process, but before you drop everything to bust out a Pinterest-perfect project, take a moment to consider your options.  

Yes, DIY projects CAN save you money, but that doesn't mean all of them will. In fact, if you don't already own the supplies, they can actually end up costing you significantly more money than just buying a similar item that's ready to use. And even if something does save you money, doing DIY right takes a serious time commitment, and your time is valuable. If you're putting aside your normal responsibilities to complete a DIY project, it should be something that is worth the time, effort and cash you're going to spend on supplies and/or ingredients--something that you'll actually use more than once and be proud to show off.

I've written in the past about DIY hacks that are legitimately cheap, easy and useful, so I thought I'd go the other way this time. Here are five DIY projects that, unless you're an expert, will likely cost you more money than just shelling out for something store-bought, not to mention bring you all kinds of stress. To calculate the price of each project, I assumed that you (like me) didn't yet own any of the necessary ingredients, so you can subtract out the price of anything you already have stashed in the back of your cabinet to get a more accurate picture of the total cost.

1. Knitting your own sweaters

You can disregard this if you're a knitter by trade or hobby, because knitting obviously gives you joy and that's not something I want to take away from you. However, if you're someone who's interested in knitting their own clothes in order to save money, you're barking up the wrong tree.

In general, knitting a sweater is significantly more expensive than buying one, and even the most experienced knitters can take months or even years to finish a seemingly simple cardigan, like this one from Vogue Knitting.

The DIY Cost

The aforementioned cardigan pattern calls for:

TOTAL COST: $96.17 (+ several months of effort)

The Store-Bought Cost

I mean, this is a pretty basic black, knit cardigan. If you want this look right now there are endless options out there for you at the mall. Most cost significantly less than $96.17 and will take you about three seconds to purchase. Here are a few store-bought alternatives to the DIY sweater:

If you want to learn to knit and don't mind spending an extra $60-80 and months upon months on this project, then go ahead and knit yourself a sweater. If you're looking for a cheap and quick fashion fix, this probably isn't for you.

2. Making your own candles

This is one of those things that seems like a great idea in theory. I mean, those Yankee Candles are expensive! It has to be cheaper to make 'em yourself at home, right? Sadly, unless you've already got a cabinet full of candle-making supplies, creating your one of own can cost you more than double the price of just buying one. Let's break down the price of making your own 16 oz jar candle, shall we?

The DIY Cost

To make a candle, you'll need the following materials:

TOTAL COST: $41.06 (+ a few hours and the very real possibility of disfiguring burns)

The Store-Bought Cost

Yeesh! That's not exactly a bargain, is it? Let's see how the price on ready-to-burn candles looks now:

Not too bad, right? Plus you won't have to find a place to store all the leftover candle-making supplies you'll probably never use again. I call this a win-win.

3. DIY silly putty

Although making your own silly putty isn't very cost effective, it does seem like a fun activity that will keep your kids busy for a few hours this weekend. So even though I don't recommend this project as an exercise in frugality, if you want to try it out for fun, be my guest. If you're just looking to save a buck or two, just pick up a few eggs from Walgreens and call it a day.

The DIY Cost

To make your own silly putty, you'll need:

TOTAL COST: $13.93

The Store-Bought Cost

At $0.97/canister, it would cost you $7.76 to buy as much as the above recipe is supposed to make. Half the price and none of the effort? Hear, hear!

4. Wedding invitations

According to The Knot's annual survey of brides, the average amount spent on wedding invitations in 2013 was $443, and at that price, the allure of DIY invites is understandable, but perhaps unfounded.  Yes, it's possible to save a couple hundred dollars if you DIY, but when you're planning an entire wedding, you need to decide which projects are actually worth your time. Depending on how you want your invitations to look, making them yourself can be a serious time suck, and they might not turn out the way you want them, which means you'll end up wasting time and spending even more money ordering them last minute

Blogger Kirsten Hansen of Offbeat Bride says it this way:

"In general, I don't remember [a wedding's] invitations, thank you cards, the food, etc. What I'm trying to say is that it really is worth thinking about how important certain projects are to you. Or, to help you evaluate this better, how important is it going to be a month after your wedding? One month after your wedding, when you're starting to settle down, are you going to care about that? Will you wish you'd spent your time and energy on something else? If certain projects really matter, awesome. Do it! If not, then don't. Or just do a quick job of it. Get it done to a level that it deserves. It does not all need to be Martha Stewart-perfect."

The Wedding Invite Price Breakdown (for 100 invitations)*
  • Design Studio -- $1,200+
  • Stationary Store -- $700+
  • Online Retailer -- $400+
  • DIY -- $150+
*data via Woman Getting Married: How Much do Wedding Invitations Cost?

5. DIY EOS Lip Balm

I've recently become addicted to the bright color, the lip-smacking taste and the smoothing sensations of EOS lip balm, so I admit I was intrigued by this DIY project at first. Then I figured out how much it would cost me to make, laughed, and resolved to just buy more when I run out. However, if you already own these materials, of if you need a fun project to keep an older kid occupied, this isn't a bad option.

The DIY Cost

To make your own EOS-type lip balm, you will need:

TOTAL COST: $33.42

The Store-Bought Cost

EOS Lip Balm -- $2.99 at Walgreens

I think that speaks for itself.

What's the least cost-effective DIY project you've ever attempted? 

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to