When DIY has No ROI: Diary of a DIYaholic


in Frugal Fix,Frugality

I’ll be honest this is going to be a semi-painful tell-all of DIY projects gone awry of yours truly.  When presented with the option to pay a professional $100 to complete something for me when I could only spend $20 if I did it myself, I’ll pick the latter option most every time.  Well that’s not entirely true, over the past few years I’m backing off that trend and moving to a strategy where I look at the true Return of Investment of doing it DIY balanced with risk. Hopefully my folly can cause some poor unsuspecting soul to search deep within themselves and ask, “Do I really think I can repair our oven, and is it worth it?”

A Recent Example: Digital Camera Repair

Okay you’re saying to yourself, digital camera repair are you serious?  Do you repair electronic devices for a living.  Umm”¦.No.  Alright in my head it seemed easy enough, I’m handy.  We had purchased last year a Nikon Coolpix pocket size camera with a gorgeous 2.5″ screen.  It took fantastic pictures, and still does.  The problem is that you don’t have the slightest clue of what you’re taking a picture of or what settings the camera may be using because the screen was destroyed.  I mean who would have thought the “Grizzly River Run” at Disney’s California Adventure would end up cracking the screen even in the camera bag.  Yes that was terribly frustrating especially since we’d only had the camera about 4 months.  So the camera has essentially been sitting idle except for a few Dirt Bike trips where I thought I would take it because I had nothing to lose. As summer was beginning I had visions of using our pocket camera again so I started looking into some options.

The Justification

Cost to have the screen replaced by an authorized service center:  $125  (Note we paid $159 for the camera originally)

Cost for a replacement screen from Ebay: $35 + My Labor:  Free (okay not really see the Simple Dollar for a look at the Cost of Your Time) = $35

Cost for a new camera: $140 (they’ve come down a bit)

You can see how this was a no-brainer for me, especially if you know me.  I love to fiddle with things and this was just another excuse for taking something apart.  Even better I thought this could be a great entry in my Frugal Fix series and I’d document the whole process.  So I went ahead and ordered the replacement screen from eBay.  It arrived a few days later and I began the repair.

The Repair: What does this Wire do?

I first deftly disassembled the microscopic camera.  Okay not so deftly I have giant meat hooks for hands and this was no easy process, those screws couldn’t be any smaller and be visible by the naked eye.  I was then left with the white screen enigma box.  There were lots of tiny pieces that looked fragile so I gently pried the housing apart to reveal that there were two parts to the screen the screen itself and a backlight.  Hmm my replacement screen didn’t come with a backlight so I needed to reuse the existing one.  This is where things started going south.  I saw that the backlight was soldered to the screen with two tiny traces on a flexible strip so I got out my soldering iron and promptly melted right through the flexible strip.  The beads of cold sweat formed on my brow.  I vainly attempted to solder the connections to the new screen with what I though moderate success.  I spent a harrowing 30 minutes getting the little connectors back together and fired it up.  Nothing, not even a flicker.  Some rejiggering, a little more solder”¦nothing.  So I’ve now invested about 4 hours plus my $35 and I’m back to where I started and I’m nearly a human anger ball.

I’ll still try and sell this camera on ebay as I’m sure there’s plenty of people out there with the actual skills to repair this camera so it might not be a complete loss but it sure feels that way.  The moral?  Consider your time, money, risk and also relational impact.  The relational impact is something I’ve surely felt with some of my larger projects like the bathroom and kitchen remodels.  I follow the mantra: happy wife, happy life. If your significant other can put up with a kitchen or bathroom being out of commission for nearly a year, you’ve got a keeper.  Now I’ll provide my completely biased list of projects worth doing and those that your money is better spent paying somebody who may actually know what they are doing.

Kick the Tires and Light the Fires: DIY that makes Sense

  1. Give your own vehicle a lube oil and filter.  If you buy your oil on sale or in bulk you can probably save anywhere from $10 to $30 doing this yourself in about the same time as it would take to drive somewhere and have it done.  It’s really a simple process once you’ve done it and can give some good satisfaction.
  2. Rotate your own tires.  If you don’t know how to change a tire, this is one skill worth learning.  This is something you can easily do and it’s just a valuable skill to have in an emergency situation.  Your vehicles manual should have detailed instructions as a starting point.
  3. Mow your Lawn.  Better yet, have your kids do it.  If you’re really watching the pennies it doesn’t make sense to have someone else do it or maybe you should let some of your landscaping go native. Potential savings $20 to $100’s depending on your yard.
  4. Painting.  You can save a lot of money by doing this yourself with near professional results.  For me honestly I hate painting so would probably put it in my other category but you can’t argue the savings here. Potential savings $100’s.
  5. Window and Door screen repair.  Huh?  Keep an eye out for a new installment of the Frugal Fix where we’ll cover this in detail this is really quite simple.  $10 to $50 saved depending on door or window and size.
  6. Tile Work.  This may seem daunting but there is ton of help out there, head in to a dedicated tile store and they’ll give you all sorts of help.  I recently did my first tile project in our bathroom remodel and it went pretty well.  Just make sure your walls are square and when they tell you that the epoxy grout sets up quickly believe them.
  7. Drywall repair.  Do an internet search you can get all sorts of tutorials and walk throughs, you can do this one.  If it’s a highly visible area and you are a perfectionist though you may want to pay a professional because the texturing portion is really an art.
  8. Landscaping.  A paver patio, a new tree, a water feature.  Sure you can do these.

Pull Up Cougar you are Too Low!: DIY You might want to Avoid

  1. Plumbing.  This has burned me more than twice thinking I knew what I was doing just to have sealed up the walls and realize there was some form of leak.  I just can’t seem to crack the code on this one and I’ve sworn it off completely.
  2. Electrical work.  This can be dangerous as well as costly if done incorrectly.  I personally have a fair amount of experience here so I usually will take it on, but can’t in good faith recommend this for the average diy’er.
  3. Septic Tank or Sewer Repairs.  If you’ve got issues here, get a professional and get them fast.  Trust me on this one.
  4. Tiny electronic device repair.  Maybe you didn’t read my example above, leave this for some tiny handed professionals.
  5. Natural Gas or Propane device repair.  Again you and your families safety is too important here.  There’s a lot that can go wrong for the inexperienced.
  6. Automobile repair.  Today’s modern cars and trucks are terribly sophisticated, even if you have the ability to replace something that’s broken you may still need to have the computer reset. That’s assuming that you can accurately diagnose the problem once again if you can’t interface to the computer isolating the problem could be very difficult.  I’ll probably get some flack for this one, but I’ve many times tried to repair things myself only to have to pay a professional to actually fix the problem.
  7. Cabinetmaking.  I am an avid wood worker and I’ve gone this route myself.  Unless you have some highend equipment it’s going to take you a lot longer with minimal money saved to make your own cabinets.  I did for our bathroom remodel but due to the time required they still don’t have doors yet.  See “relational impact” above.

While not an exhaustive lists by any means for me the risk of a repair not going right and then essentially paying twice to have something done right is something you may want to consider.  I’ve also decided that I have enough hobbies and we’ll remove small electronics repair from that list.  Good luck and let us know if you have some horror stories of your own.

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