most useless and annoying advice ever: it's cheaper if you make it yourself

I did not make this myself.
Ever since moving to Canada, people have been telling me how I could make something myself for less money than I paid for it. Curtains, chair coverings, scarves. Kitchen gadgets. Dog needs. Skin care products. And food of all types. 

You can make that yourself, so much cheaper. 

I've heard this so often and from so many people, one might think everyone in Canada was crafting everything by hand. Which would not explain the crowds buying cheap merchandise in Canadian Tire.

Similarly, in certain Canadian circles, there is disdain for hiring someone for any personal or home labour. Snow shoveling, house cleaning, dogwalking, lawn care. Oo-hoo, look at you, throwing money away instead of picking up a shovel! It seems I am finally old enough for people to give me a pass on this one. The hidden joys of aging!

I find this "you can make it cheaper yourself" mentality annoying on so many levels. One, it's my money. I can spend it however I want, and I'd rather do so without your judgement. Two, isn't your time worth anything? My time is more valuable than money. Money can be earned, but time is a nonrenewable resource. (Yes, I know this is a privilege.) Three, mind your own business!

Perhaps this is not a Canadian thing at all. I don't know if people dole out this "advice" throughout the rest of the US. But I can tell you no one does in New York City! 

Long before the pandemic forced everyone inside, New Yorkers had everything delivered to their apartments. Since everyone walks or takes public transportation everywhere, deliveries are a way of life. So is paying for convenience. New Yorkers eat at restaurants or takeout almost every night of the week. They drop off their laundry. They hire dogwalkers. They rent car shares. And most of all, they have everything delivered. It's not an easy city to live in. Everyone who can afford to buys every convenience possible. And nobody ever tells you how you could make things more cheaply yourself.

Like Elaine Benes, I love a "big salad". In fact, one of my favourite meals are salads with lots of different ingredients. I love chopped-salad restaurants, and happily spend $16 or $18 to choose 10 different ingredients tossed in freshly-made, creative dressing. I am not often in an area with these restaurants, but when I am, I enjoy this very much.

Big salads are something I will never make for myself. I cook a lot, and I do quite a lot of other food prep. We do sometimes have a protein salad for dinner, but it's much more simple: lettuce, tomato, mini cucumber, chicken, cheese. I'm the only big salad fan in the house, plus, it's just too much effort.

In our previous suburban home, there were no restaurants that offered big salads. The closest we came was when Whole Foods opened a Mississauga location, but a salad bar is not the same. And of course there is nothing like this in my tiny little town now.

But now big salads have come to supermarkets! This has been a great development for me. I take a packaged salad kit, add a hardboiled egg and some grated cheese, and I have the perfect dinner. If I have some leftover grilled chicken or salmon on hand, I throw that in instead of the egg. 

This is one of my favourite meals and it helps me eat more vegetables -- more raw vegetables, which is even better. The only downside is there is a lot of plastic waste. This disturbs me... but not enough to stop buying the salads. 

But salad kits are expensive! 

In my experience, if you mention salad kits -- or if a busybody sees you buying a few in the supermarket -- or if you look for information online about a salad kit... You can make that cheaper yourself! 

Is this even true -- can you make the salad more cheaply yourself? I don't know. I haven't tested this claim, because I don't care. But some years ago, I wondered if Whole Foods' delicious, expensive tuna salad would be less expensive to make at home, and discovered it was only slightly more expensive to buy than to create. Sometime after that post, the store's prices went up, and later I started using less expensive tuna (for environmental reasons), so the balance would have changed. But the assumption that the prepared tuna salad was vastly more expensive than homemade was incorrect.

The salad kit I ate for dinner last night contained: white cabbage, red cabbage, kale, romaine lettuce, shredded carrots, cilantro, crispy noodle strips, and slivered almonds, and dressing. I added an egg and a bit of grated cheese. 

  • If I had made this myself, how much cheaper would it be? It's not a $6.00 salad versus a free dinner. After I'm done buying all those ingredients, what have I spent? 
  • Unless I used two entire heads of cabbage, an entire head of lettuce, and an entire bunch of kale within the upcoming week -- which I won't be able to do -- some of the vegetables will go bad. I would be wasting money and wasting food.
  • I can buy all different flavour combinations of salad kits, and eat different ones whenever I like. Having variety helps me maintain a healthy diet.
  • And finally -- but most importantly -- making this salad myself is too much effort for the end result. Everyone has (or should have) a personal time vs money formula. I would much rather spend $6 than make this complicated salad myself, and if I had to make it myself, I wouldn't eat it.

In short, it's a no-brainer: healthy, convenient food that I enjoy is worth the price of the kit.

I don't care if I could make it cheaper myself! 


Amy said...

Here, here! I loved this! I know I am privileged, but especially when I was working and had kids at home, time was a very limited resource. And I am clumsy and not at all crafty. I failed home economics (well, I got a C, but it felt like failing). I don't like making things myself, and I actually hate making salads (that's Harvey's job in any meal) because I have no patience for chopping that many wet vegetables. My key for cooking is as few ingredients and as few steps as possible---both for health reasons and time reasons.

But no one has ever told me to make things like clothes or curtains myself. I do wonder whether that's more a Canadian thing as I have lived in a pretty non-urban place in the US for almost 40 years and not heard that. It sounds like a longing for "the good old days," days when women stayed home and did such things instead of being out in the world.

laura k said...

Thank you Amy!

I am not crafty AT ALL, and that may be why I hear this "advice" so often.

I don't think this is sexist. I think it's the Canadian emphasis on frugality. I.e. CHEAP. :)

Amy said...

Do people say this to Allan also? Or only to you?

laura k said...

Allan doesn't tell anybody anything, so no one had the opportunity. :)

Amy said...

LOL! Good for him!

laura k said...


laura k said...

Re cooking, I wash and chop A LOT of vegetables for all kinds of things. But I am unwilling to do all that for one meal for one person.

johngoldfine said...

The question for me isn't "cheaper" but "better."

I can buy most garden produce cheaper than I can grow it--it costs money to get corn, potatoes, asparagus, tomatoes out of the ground and onto the table. Even local organic farmers who grow good stuff, can do it cheaper, but I can often do it better since I am consulting only my tastes and not a market's.

Then there is cheaper AND better. When the storebought baguettes moved into the six or seven dollar range a few years ago, I began baking my own. Cheaper by far and better too.

Chores and stuff: I need the exercise, so shoveling snow, cutting and splitting wood are pleasures, but when it comes to stuff I have always hated: chimney cleaning, carpentry, plumbing, shingling, I play the old-guy card shamelessly. I'd rather happily pay the chimney cleaner than go up on the roof again myself, thank you very much.

laura k said...

Growing and/or raising one's food also depends on one's time and inclination. I know many people who do this, but I would hope it's for the meaning/satisfaction/fulfillment/enjoyment (etc) they derive than to save pennies.

I would no sooner bake bread than I would build my own house. If I had to bake my own bread, I would simply not eat bread! (Not joking!)

I never feel the need to justify paying someone to do a task that I either can't do, can't do well, or don't want to use my time for. As long as we are a good employer, we're helping someone else make ends meet.

I understand that for many men, there's that macho/self-sufficiency element. Like it's some kind of man-sin to hire someone else to work on your house. *eye roll*

impudent strumpet said...

Oo-hoo, look at you, throwing money away instead of picking up a shovel!

This idea that it's appallingly decadent to pay someone to shovel your snow or mow your lawn was very prevalent when I was growing up. And it also correlated strongly with "Kids Today want everything handed to them! Why don't you show some initiative and shovel your neighbours' snow for money?"

I've also noticed a strong correlation between people who tell me I could make the salad cheaper myself and people who never make salads (whether it's because they don't eat salads or because someone else cooks in their household or whatever.)

My mother's family actually has a long family tradition of making their own clothes, curtains, upholstery, etc, and it literally isn't cheaper any more, even before you take into account time/cost of labour. Fabric, yarn, etc. has cost at least as much as fast fashion for the entire 21st century. Even the most skilled seamstresses in the family ("made her own wedding dress without a pattern at the age of 25" level of skilled) will buy something and alter it rather than making it from scratch.

allan said...

Laura does not want to be perceived as cheap. . . . Interesting. . . . I wonder where that comes from.

impudent strumpet said...

Also, if I buy an enormous take-out salad with a dozen ingredients, I get the feeling of "Oooh, a treat!" I look forward to it beforehand, and then feel delighted satisfaction after. Basically, in addition to a nutritious meal, I've bought several hours of happiness!

laura k said...

Imp Strump, thank you for these lovely additions to my arguments! A++!!

Laura does not want to be perceived as cheap. . . . Interesting. . . . I wonder where that comes from.

Yes, quite a mystery, she says with obvious and enormous sarcasm. Exhibit A that you can choose to be different than your upbringing. :)

PS: Laura is NOT cheap!

Amy said...

Although the image of all Jews being cheap is one stereotype, another is that all Jews are rich and lazy. So either way there's a trap we fall into. Better to take Allan's approach and just not tell anyone anything...

laura k said...

My thing about not being cheap is not about being Jewish. It's about being raised by an incredibly cheap person who used money as a way to control everyone around him. And wanting to be as different from that as humanly possible.

Allan is pretty much a hermit. The hermit lifestyle has its merits. :)

Amy said...

Yeah, I had a feeling it was more personal than ethnic.

James Redekop said...

If it's a Canadian thing, it probably comes from all the Scots who settled here (speaking has a half-Scot Canadian...).

But in the end, the "it's cheaper to do it yourself" thing is very hit-or-miss. Lori sews, quilts, and weaves; I have a wood shop. We made stuff for the house. But it takes forever to weave a carpet! Unless I buy furniture-grade wood in bulk (and I don't make enough stuff to justify that), I have to use plywood or pine, and the stuff I make is of much lower quality than something store-bought for 10% more. (Not to mention the time aspect, which you covered...)

In the end, we usually only end up making things that we can't buy, like a sofa computer desk that works with the odd-sized sofa we bought in Toronto 12 years ago, or an entertainment stand that fits the new ultra-short-throw projector, which has to be 60cm away from the wall.

I'm not about to try to make a set of dining room chairs!

laura k said...

Lori sews, quilts, and weaves; I have a wood shop. We made stuff for the house.

But that's got to be because you enjoy it. Nobody buys a loom and learns how to weave to save money. :)

laura k said...

This post has gotten a lot of traction on Facebook. It seems many people value their time and hate this "advice"!

James Redekop said...

Even without the cost of the loom, when you factor in the time it takes -- not just to weave, but in how many weeks it takes to use enough spare time to weave -- the only way to produce useful things at a reasonable rate would be to quit working. Which is even sillier.