Hands Holding A Pen Writing On Budget List While Looking At Calculator

5 DIY Skills That Will Save You Money, And 5 That Aren’t Worth It

Hanna Kielar8-Minute Read
April 29, 2021

So you’re looking for ways to save money. Maybe you want to build an emergency fund, or you’re getting serious about paying off debt. Finding tasks that you can do yourself can be a great way to save. However, most DIY skills take time, effort and stress to acquire – and even after acquiring those skills, putting them to use often takes more effort.

To make sure you get the most benefit out of your embrace of DIY, we’ve gone in depth on 10 popular DIY ideas that could save money to make sure they’re really worth your time. First, we’ll explain the five that are worth it, and then get into the five that aren’t.

5 DIY Skills That Will Help You Save

Not all of these DIY activities will be a good fit for everyone, but if you find that one applies to your circumstances and inclinations, you’re likely to get a significant return on your time and effort investment. We hope the range is wide enough that most readers will find at least one skill that catches their eye! Let’s take a look.

Simple Plumbing Repairs And Upgrades

When it comes to plumbing repairs and upgrades, it pays to do your homework before diving in elbows-first. If you’re experiencing any kind of flooding, you should call for expert help. 

That said, let’s review four plumbing jobs that you can most likely manage yourself in order to save big. Keep in mind that the average cost of hiring a pro plumber is $75 per hour.

Toilet repairs: There is very little you can ruin by opening up the top of your toilet and making repairs yourself, so this is a safe place to save on calling a plumber. Learn what the toilet’s flapper does and how to identify when it’s the problem.

Faucet repairs: If your sink is dripping, you can most likely solve the problem yourself by unscrewing it and replacing the cartridge. It’s as simple as watching one or two videos, buying your parts and jumping in.

Replacing a kitchen sink trap: Look beneath your sink. If the looping pipe located just below the sink is corroded and leaky, you need to replace it. However, you don’t need to call a plumber for this. Unscrewing the old trap and replacing it with a new one from the hardware store is straightforward. With roughly 30 minutes of work, you can solve this problem on your own.

Insulating your hot water heater: If the outside of your hot water heater is hot to the touch, that means that big energy bill savings could be in your future. It’s a simple job to insulate your hot water heater yourself, and you’ll save money not only on hiring a professional, but on the energy you save through superior insulation.

Cooking And Meal Prepping

Most meals are five times as expensive when eaten at a restaurant as when cooked at home. The average price per serving is around $20 at a restaurant, while it’s under $5 for home cooking. If you spend $50 a week on restaurant food, that’s $2,500 per year that could probably be cut down to more like $500. You’ll want to learn how much you should spend on groceries to stay in line with typical budgets, but you should also keep in mind that even splurging significantly on groceries will result in a net gain if you’re replacing eating out with eating in.

Meal prepping (cooking large batches of food on a single, designated day and then reheating throughout the week) can save you more money – potentially taking your costs down to under $2 per serving. It can also more effectively reduce food waste. Meal prepping is not for everyone, though, and if you don’t feel up to the logistical challenge of cooking everything at once, that’s OK. Cooking yourself or your family a simple, inexpensive meal will also do wonders for your budget. 

Filing Your Own Taxes

For individuals making less than $75,000 per year, free tax filing software is available. Whether it’s a thrifty idea to file your own taxes depends on how you earn your money. The IRS estimates that those employed by companies take about 8 hours to prepare their own taxes, while business owners take around 24. Itemized deductions, such as mortgage interest deductions, will also make your tax process more complex and potentially difficult. Hiring an accountant will likely cost $170 – $400. That means you’re essentially getting paid $21 per hour to do your own taxes. Most people would consider this a decent rate. If you feel you’re up to the task of crunching your own numbers and handling all the paperwork in the name of savings, we say go for it.

Check Your Credit Score

Create a Rocket Account to check your credit score.

House Painting

Like most major DIY home improvements, house painting is a lot of work – but it’s also a task that many homeowners feel ready and able to do on their own.

According to painting contractor Ryan Cunningham, it should take around .76 minutes per square foot on average for an everyday homeowner (not a professional) to paint a room. He breaks it down in the following manner:

Prep work: 0.185 minutes per square foot

Cutting in: 0.32 minutes per square foot

Rolling walls: 0.185 minutes per square foot

Cleanup: 0.76 minutes per square foot

Terms like “cutting in” may sound scary, but the numbers could change your mind. Cunningham’s math means that for a home of 2,500 square feet, DIY painting will take 32 hours. According to some expert sources, it costs $4,300 – $6,750 to have a home painted professionally (this includes materials as well as labor). In contrast, it should cost around $3,125 – $5,000 as a DIY project. So, assuming you save about $1,500, that’s like getting paid $47 per hour to do the project yourself. Compare that to growing vegetables, which we discuss down below, where you’re getting more like $4.80 per hour! 

Changing Your Own Locks

First, make sure that changing your own locks won’t void your home warranty. This is crucial. If it won’t, then it’s probably a relatively low-effort way to save a few hundred dollars. A rekeying kit costs around $17, while hiring a professional to rekey for you will cost around $120. If you replace a lock, a professional will probably charge $100 – $200. Most people who’ve changed locks themselves say it generally only takes about 15 minutes to do, and only requires watching a few video tutorials.

5 DIY Skills That Don’t Pay Off

Most of these DIY activities could likely save you a little money under the right circumstances, but when it comes to rewarding your efforts financially, they aren’t good time investments. There are still numerous reasons that you might want to pursue them, but they just don’t pay well per hour.

Growing Your Own Veggies

It’s certainly possible to create a vegetable garden on a budget. You can use seed libraries and create your own fertilizer by composting. Even if you aren’t incredibly careful, you may well come out ahead in creating produce worth more than what you’ve spent to grow it.

All that said, for most people, a vegetable garden functions more like a hobby than an income source. Blogger J.D. Roth rigorously documented the time, cost and estimated profits of starting a fruit and vegetable garden. He found that the garden cost him and his wife $318 and earned them $606 worth of food. Their time spent creating the garden was around 60 hours. That’s $4.80 per hour.

Most of the DIY projects we recommend will get you at least $20 per hour for your time, and/or will save thousands, rather than hundreds of dollars per year. Like several other items on this list, a vegetable garden can allow you to have frugal fun and result in significant benefits to your quality of life and to the environment. It just shouldn’t be part of your savings plan. 

Sewing

An entry-level sewing machine will probably cost you around $200. Getting pants hemmed by a professional typically costs $10 – $25. Think back over the past 5 years: How many articles of clothing have you needed hemmed? It’s unlikely that the math will come out in favor of a machine.

Sewing your own clothes is even less likely to save significant money. Cloth and patterns are typically very expensive. There’s also the question of whether you can make the kind of clothes that would actually substitute for work and school clothes for you and your family. Sewing Halloween costumes for your children could be incredibly fun, but you could also likely invent or research all kinds of creative homemade costume ideas that don’t involve sewing and that could save you much more. Like gardening, sewing can be a great hobby – but you shouldn’t take it up in order to save.

Pressure-Sealed Canning

Water bath canning can be done with little more than a large pot on a stove. This works well for high-acid foods, such as peaches, pickles and cherries, but all meats and vegetables require pressure sealing in order to prevent botulism.

Food poisoning is no joke, and there’s really no two ways about it: If you want to can the green beans that you’ve grown, you’re going to need a pressure canner. A pressure canner can be as inexpensive as $80 or as expensive as $500. Store-bought canned foods are generally some of the least expensive foods you can buy, so we don’t recommend a canning hobby as a way to save money.

Oil Changes

Thanks to advancing automobile technology, you won’t have to change your oil as often as you might think. While you may have been told throughout your life as a vehicle owner that changing your own oil is your best bargain, the reality is that you’ll have to do a lot of oil changes yourself to start actually saving money. Paying a professional will likely only cost about $20 per oil change, and the initial outlay of getting the tools to do this yourself is not insignificant, at around $300 (this includes a jack, an oil drain pain, a car jack stand and rubber gloves). Also, given the safety concerns associated with changing your own oil, we’re hesitant to endorse it fully as a DIY activity.

Tire Changes

What about learning to change your own tires? If you don’t want to wait around by the side of the road, this is a great idea. However, most roadside assistance programs will cover tire changes. Many insurance companies offer these for only $25 per year. Given the slew of other problems that you could run into on the road that require assistance, it’s probably worth that $25 to protect yourself and let the pros handle any tire changes.

While it’s certainly advantageous to learn how to change a tire, you don’t need to look at this skill as a significant source of savings.

The Bottom Line: Be Conscious Of Your Time And Energy

Living a DIY lifestyle can be fun, educational and financially rewarding – but you should be just as protective of your own time and energy as you are of your wallet. Your time and labor are valuable, and there are many other ways to save on a tight budget. Why not explore our Financial Learning Center to discover more money management options?

Hanna Kielar

Hanna Kielar is a Section Editor for Rocket Auto℠, RocketHQ℠, and Rocket Loans® with a focus on personal finance, automotive, and personal loans. She has a B.A. in Professional Writing from Michigan State University.