The rule: it's worth doing something yourself (vs. buying a product or hiring out a task) when it's some compelling combination of cheaper, better, or just plain fun to do.
A particular decision could be made on small contributions from each factor, or it could be based entirely on the strength of one of them, but it has to meet that test somehow. (If you flip it around, it sounds pretty obvious: if you'd be suffering to do/make something that will cost more and turn out worse, obviously that's something you should buy or do without.)
My primary examples: beer and applesauce.
|For example, that's Two Hearted on the right.|
I've been asked before whether I brew beer, because it seems like something I'd be into. But in fact I've never even really been tempted. It certainly doesn't sound very fun—a bit of planning and cooking, a lot of waiting, and a lot of tedious sterilizing and processing—and while home-brewed beer is cheaper, my impression is that it's not way cheaper, and at the rate I drink beer (which I guess might increase a bit if I had larger quantities sitting around, but not drastically) it would take a long time to make up for the investment in gear. But the biggest factor for me in this case is the "better". There's so much really good beer out there, I just don't see myself managing to make something that would compete.
ApplesauceYou can buy applesauce cheaply and you can buy pretty good applesauce (not cheaply), but can you get applesauce that's as good as our home-canned Fuji/Honeycrisp blend? I'm not sure you can. And can you get it for about $1.70 per quart? No, you cannot. I can't say it's particularly fun (as a small-scale activity with friends or family it might be, but the way we do it these days is I stay up late processing a bushel at a time with a hand-powered Foley mill), but it's totally worth it.
- Knitting: it's not even close on price (decent yarn is expensive, manufactured goods with the same quality materials cost less), and I think in most cases there's no quality advantage. So this is something you should do if you find it fun (of course the fun can be in wearing or giving away something you made, but it's probably best if you enjoy the activity itself at least somewhat). I used to, but at some point it stopped being worth it for me.
- Home/car/bike repairs: all about cost. Though in some cases I think quality benefits, because you have the time and motivation to be as careful and do as good a job as you can, whereas someone else's main goal might be to finish and get paid as fast as possible. Obviously quality can also suffer if you don't quite have the hang of what you're trying to do (solution: more YouTube videos!). There can be a fun factor, too, if we stretch the definition of "fun" to include "sense of satisfaction at one's own increased competence and self-reliance."
- Roasting coffee: I would like to get back to doing this. The cost is roughly even, but I found it enjoyable. And while there's no shortage of good coffee out there, I think in this case there's something to the claims that extreme freshness makes a noticeable difference.
- Granola, hummus, yogurt: I've been making these three recently (yogurt very recently, and it might not stick, but the other two are part of my routine now). I do like my versions, but there are plenty of store-bought versions that are excellent. So this is purely a cost issue. Not that we're actually saving money, I don't think, but we get to eat more granola and a lot more hummus than we would if we were paying store prices for them.