The 1 Fun Thing I Always Make Room for in My Budget — Even When I’m Trying to Save

published Mar 20, 2023
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Growing up, I never saw a craft kit at Michaels that I didn’t want. My ambitions always outstripped my capabilities, but I still loved trying. Whether it was spin wheel art, soapmaking, or embroidery, there was something completely magical about making something with my hands. I was amazed by the ability to take raw materials and transform them into something new, functional, and even beautiful. It was addictive. 

Today, I still get the same thrill out of crafting. And though my materials have gotten a little more refined (and more expensive) as I’ve gotten older, I always find room for crafting in my budget. While my actual spending on crafting ebbs and flows in relation to my income, I never cut it out entirely. I simply work backwards from the amount of money I can spare and choose my next project accordingly. Even when I’m trying to save money, I will find a way to save a little extra in a different area (like clothes or takeout) so I can fund a small project for myself. 

For example, I started wheel throwing last year as a creative outlet during a stressful time in my career. Ironically, that stressful (and salaried) job is what enabled me to indulge in my expensive pottery classes. When I left my full-time job for freelance writing and uncertain income, I needed to reevaluate my craft of choice. I took a break from my beloved pottery studio and swapped it for knitting at home, a relatively low-cost pursuit that could give me months of enjoyment from $20 worth of yarn. Knitting was a wonderful craft on a tight budget because I could make my projects as complicated or as simple as I chose, and it gave a sense of accomplishment to otherwise idle hours I spent watching TV. And like pottery, I could make things for myself and my loved ones that might have otherwise been expensive to purchase ready-made.

Credit: Hippo Wong/Apartment Therapy

A good bargain launched me into my current crafting phase. Since I grew up watching my mother make beautiful blankets, pillows, and elaborate Halloween costumes in record time, I’ve always wanted to learn how to sew properly. When I saw a solid beginner’s sewing machine on sale at JoAnn Fabrics, I snapped it up and embarked on a new hobby. On a freelancer’s budget, I stuck to simple and low-cost sewing projects that I could complete with inexpensive fabric and few notions (like a flannel baby blanket). Since I’ve returned to salaried work, I’ve allowed myself to explore the wide range of fabrics that are available from all over the world. I’m currently on a drapery kick, seeking out and purchasing beautiful textiles that are a pleasure to sew and that adorn my windows like artwork.

Crafting, and particularly sewing, makes me feel connected to the women in my family who used their skills and labor to carve their own paths. My great-great-grandmother was an immigrant from Japan who had to raise her two small daughters alone in rural Hawaii after her husband died in the 1918 flu pandemic. She managed to support all of them with her skills as a seamstress. Her older daughter Haruka later moved to California, only to be incarcerated with other Japanese-Americans during World War II. She earned a living in a discriminatory labor market by working long hours as a seamstress. Even on her meager wages, she made and sent beautiful goods to her sister in Hawaii, including lovely curtains of maroon organdy patterned with white egrets that my grandmother still remembers for the elegance and luxury they lent to their small house.

Credit: Katey Laubscher
Handmade valance curtains in the author's living room.

Instead of feeling frivolous, crafting actually becomes even more important when I’m on a tight budget. Making things with my hands allows me to fill my home with what is beautiful and useful, to paraphrase William Morris, and to do so independently of the ready-made goods that I can afford to buy at a given moment. In a culture that pressures people to buy and spend indiscriminately, crafting is a thought-provoking and fulfilling pursuit that helps me be more aware and considerate of how I spend money at large.

Crafting is a unique combination of self-sufficiency and artistry. It offers the gift of using your own ingenuity and hard work to provide for your basic and aesthetic needs at the same time. Now, as I sew my own curtains from beautiful Japanese fabric, I feel extremely lucky that I can make them for pleasure and not from necessity. When I look with pride at my handiwork, I always feel that the hobby has more than paid for itself.