Saturday, 20 December 2014

2014 in review: Good and Bad Ways To Spend My Money

It's probably best to start this post by admitting that I am really really into tracking my finances, and always have been. At the end of every year I tend to look at what I spent in every part of my life, from the essentials like food and car maintenance, to the minutiae of my discretionary spending on clothes and entertainment, and try to figure out what worked for me or where I need to cut back or change my spending habits next year. Taking up sewing has been quite a novelty for me because it's the first time I've had hobby with such a consistent level of spend attached -- most of my hobbies before have been free or inexpensive (e.g. reading, because I used libraries, and writing) or else there's been one big up-front purchase and then you're done (e.g. gym membership). With sewing though, there are always new patterns, new notions, and of course, there is always new fabric to acquire, and so working out where the money went and whether it was worth it is useful to me.

I give myself what I consider to be a generous but pretty rigid budget to work with for all my sewing and knitting endeavours. At this point in December, I am done buying for this year. After running a little under budget all year, I finished up December with a bit of a buying splurge, mainly on fabric, and exactly hit my budget for the year (I was £0.10 short of the exact figure :D). I say "knitting and sewing" but actually it's almost all sewing -- I spent just about 5% of my total budget on yarn, knitting needles and a couple of knitting patterns. I have nothing really to say about my knitting spending. It's proportionate to my level of interest in knitting and I'm generally happy with the things I acquired and used in 2014.

The remainder of my budget, though, went on sewing in the following order: fabric (35%), patterns (19%) sewing magazines (18%), notions and hardware (13%), books (4%) and other stuff (6%).

I also made one major purchase this year which I didn't include in the budget because I bought it for myself with money given to me as a Christmas gift in 2013: my coverstitch machine.

The Janome CoverPro 1000DX

I bought the Janome CoverPro 1000DX (a.k.a. the cheapest coverstitch on the UK market at the time when I was buying it) in January this year. I can't say I found it at all easy to use initially, despite reading my way through hundreds of pages of tips and hints before I started. The first few things I hemmed with it ended up with badly tunneled hems and a couple of them the stitching completely unravelled after a couple of washes (this particularly affected a turquoise knit top I made early in the year, which I hemmed about four different times in the end).

After making a LOT of knit garments this year and using the coverstitch on quite a few woven garments as well, I now feel really competent with the machine and generally get a good result using it first time, every time. (I do always do a test and adjust my settings before I hem, though!) I found the machine very easy to thread and very easy to use once I got the idea of how it works and what I need to do, and I love the finish it gives me on knit garments. However, there's no doubt that it really was a luxury buy and I could have lived without it. I can't imagine that I'll want or need to replace it for a very long time, barring catastrophic failure, so I suppose it will pay its way eventually, but it's never going to be a high utilization machine. Also the needles are stupidly expensive when you have to replace them. Luxury or not, though, if I were making the buy/don't buy choice again based on what I know now, I would definitely still buy it.

In the other categories:

FABRIC: I was semi-seriously "fasting" all year on fabric purchases, which is an amusing thing to say when you consider that I bought just over 70m and spent 35% of my budget on fabric. That's still a great deal less in metres and money terms than the previous two years. Also, on the plus side, I've used almost all the fabric I bought early in the year, and I know nearly everything I bought recently in my November/December budget splurge will be used in the next few months because it was bought with purpose. I feel like I bought more useful fabric with better understanding of what I was buying this year, which is mainly just a result of having more sewing experience, I think. I do have to be careful not to fall into the trap of buying fabric just because it's beautiful -- my mantra is still there will always be more fabric.

One big negative for my fabric spending is that in January I placed a big order with one particular fabric shop, Croft Mill. I have use CM before, even though it tends, in my opinion, to have slightly higher prices than other internet only vendors. This time I was not all that impressed with the service. They charged me an arm and a leg for postage as I was living in Dublin, which is fair enough, but then took nearly a month to deliver. More damningly though, when I was doing my review of all the garments I made in 2014, I suddenly realized that three of the garments that ultimately failed in large part because of fabric issues came from that order, and I was at best indifferent to the fabric quality/outcomes from other purchases from there. I probably won't use them again.

One of many envelope patterns for a dress that I have bought this year ... and not made
PATTERNS: The nicest thing I can think of to say about my envelope and PDF pattern buying habits, which account for about 20% of my spending, is that they would be EVEN WORSE if I lived in the US, home of the Big 4 patterns sales. As it is, even in the relatively unpromising UK market, I buy WAY too many patterns, especially when you consider that I have a strong preference for actually using pattern magazines (see below). My absolute worst vices are the instant gratification PDF patterns (which I then fail to print and stick because I hate it) and buying dress patterns. I already have loads of dress patterns. I am actually very ambivalent about wearing dresses. In my whole sewing career to date I have made just one successful dress. And yet, every new pattern release I ogle all the dresses first and I just keep buying them. Such a waste of money if I never use them, and honestly my conversion rate for ALL envelope/PDF patterns is beyond terrible. The only possible redeeming feature of my pattern buying is that it is extremely rare for me to buy full price -- I wait for sales/discounts and buy (cheap) vintage whenever possible. Even so, I definitely need to think about limiting my pattern buys in 2015.

SEWING MAGAZINES: In 2014, I had four active subscriptions and I bought two others occasionally as well. My active subscriptions were: Burda Style, Ottobre Woman, Patrones and Patrones Extra. I bought MyImage and Burda Style Special as individual issues. I also bought quite a few back issues of Burda when I saw them for sale at a reasonable price, though not as many as in previous years (mainly because I have many of the issues I want at this point).

Ottobre Woman 05-2014
I think it goes without saying that I consider my Ottobre subscription to be among my best purchases, ever. I used loads of the patterns this year and have many more of them in my sewing queue. Although I use Burda Style less and, since I stopped doing the monthly reviews (because I felt like I had nothing to add to the many people already reviewing it elsewhere), talk about it far less, I actually also love my Burda subscription and wouldn't give it up. Yes, Burda is full of photos where you can't make out the garment details, It's A Giant Rectangle! patterns, weird sartorial choices and crafts that would not look amiss in an elementary school classroom. However, it's also full of gorgeous, well-drafted patterns that I really do want to make, which is why I also buy back issues when I see them for sale. My sewing queue is stacked with Burda patterns as well.

I'm more ambivalent about MyImage and Burda Style Special, my two occasional buys. This year I bought both issues of MyImage and didn't use them or add any to my sewing queue, and I bought the two Burda Style Special: Easy issues and the Vintage (1950s) issue and also haven't picked any patterns from them. That said I decided just the other day to put a pattern from a 2013 issue of Burda Easy in my sewing queue and I have made a couple of successful MyImage garments in the last 18 months, so I guess there's always the chance I'll come back to it.

Patrones: not my best buy
Definitely my worst buy was my subscription to Patrones and Patrones Extra. On the one hand, there are a few really nice patterns that I've earmarked for future use in the magazines I received. However, I found the content overall to be extremely repetitive over the course of the subscription, far more repetitive than Burda despite a similar issue frequency and number of patterns, and I found the style choices were in general a poor match to my age and aesthetic preferences. Patrones Extra included far too many special issues in which I had no interest (Kids, Plus, the summer issue full of teeny tiny shorts and tops, etc). I cancelled my subscriptions after a year and can't imagine that I'll re-subscribe in the future.

NOTIONS AND HARDWARE: Above all, I'm glad to be back in the UK because even simple notions like buttons and invisible zips were stupidly expensive in Ireland. My spending on notions dropped off a cliff when I moved back here this summer.

One buy I have been disproportionately pleased with is my large (60cm long, 15cm wide) metric marking quilting ruler. It took me ages to find a metric version and then I hemmed and hawed for like, 6 months over whether to fork out quite so much money for a ruler, but I've found it INCREDIBLY useful. I am sure I am the very last garment sewer in the world to realize that quilting rulers are good for more than just quilters, but just in case I'm not, I do highly recommend owning one. If you work in imperial measures you have lots of choice but you can get metric if you look for them. I'd like to buy some additional rulers next year. Also in my weird fandom of rulers, I think I bought it in 2013 but I only started using my seam allowance ruler this year for real and it's one of my most favourite things ever (I have the now defunct metric version though).

Other lessons learned this year: good pins are worth it (learned by buying horrible, cheap, non-pointy pins and then having to throw them all away and start again with good ones). On the other hand, the pound shops (Poundland (Dealz in Ireland) in particular) have loads of useful little things for sale that aren't sewing tools precisely, but that I use for pattern work. I like their cheap packs of glue sticks for PDF patterns, masking tape for taping and adjusting patterns and plastic table covers for transferring patterns I want to keep in a more durable form onto.

BOOKS: My best book buy this year was definitely Shirtmaking by David Coffin. I don't think I made any terrible book purchases this year, although I did buy several books on tailoring and jackets that I haven't really thoroughly used yet as I didn't get to any of those planned projects this year. My worst purchase about was probably this one random basics book I picked up on impulse in a discount bookseller called The Sewing Book. It just duplicates other books I have, but luckily, as my purchase location suggests, I didn't really pay much for it. I tend not to think money spent on books is ever wasted, though, and most of my purchases this year were investment buys of technique books that should come into their own in the future.

OTHER: Other covers a lot of ground and 6% of my budget. It includes stuff like postage for things I've sent to people, my PR membership and Etsy fees for my little bag shop (In the latter case, I sold all of two bags this year so whatever, not exactly a thriving concern. In fact, I'd forgotten it was live and was entirely taken aback to get an email to say I had made a sale this month.)

Craftsy: I am not a fan
However, the largest line item in "other" is Craftsy classes, and I have to say that overall, after buying multiple Craftsy classes over the last couple of years, I've found it to be a nearly total waste of money for me personally. I've bought a total of 10 classes (!) including two this year and of those I've watched two of them through from beginning to the end, six I've dipped in and out of (including one from this year), and two I have never watched any of at all, (including one of the ones I bought this year). I just don't find it to be a learning platform that works for me at all, and I struggle to watch the videos all the way through. I have also had little luck with the PR online class platform, which suffers from having significantly lower production levels as well, with one exception: I actually did watch the "sewing an unlined jacket" PR class quite extensively in 2013 and found it useful. I definitely don't need to buy any more online classes though, and in about June I unsubscribed from all 8 million emails Craftsy send in order not to be tempted and haven't bought any since.

Overall, I'm not displeased with my spending. My biggest areas to work on are continuing to make better fabric choices and I think also cutting down on buying patterns, though I admit I feel kind of whiny about that because I LIKE buying patterns. I think it will make me grumpy to cut back, but I should probably still make the attempt!


  1. Another GREAT post! Navel-gaze on my friend! ;-)

    I have a loose budget and I need to pull it together. I too *want* to cut back on pattern buying but most certainly do NOT want to cut back! KWIM? I started my Burda subscription for 2015 and will attempt to do the pattern a month so as not to 'waste' the mags. We will see how I do. (And booo! to that fabric shop!)

    I am not a Craftsy fan. I thought I was the only one. I've watched several and was all M.E.H.! So I stopped even considering them.

    So glad you've got access to more affordable notions!

    1. Thanks!

      I know just what you mean about not WANTING to cut back on patterns. Actually, I have kind of an epic case of the toddler DUNWANNAs about cutting back. At the same time, it was a LOT of money I spent on patterns this year. When I look at which patterns I actually used it was pretty clear that I'm spending a lot of money that I'm not getting any use from. Eh, I'll see how the first few months of 2015 go I guess.

      The problem with Craftsy is that there are a LOT of bloggers getting paid to go CRAFTSY IS SO GREAT OMG, so the fact that I think there are a quite a few of us who have decided it's not worth the money is kind of hidden. I'm not the only person to have said something publicly negative about it, but it's pretty rare compared to the people getting affiliate kickbacks to say that it's great.

  2. Thank you for sharing your sewing financial management for the year.

    This is hands down one of the best posts that I read this year. Thank you, thank you, thank you for your openness and honesty.

    1. Wow, thanks! Glad you enjoyed reading it. :D

  3. I enjoyed your post and really need to do a better job with budgeting. I am cutting back on pattern purchases come 2015. I have way too many and trying to sell a few now on eBay. Perhaps I should also do a give away.
    I too own he Janome coverstitch machine and like you I don't think I will be replacing it anytime soon nor do I think I need another one if this one fails. I have got the stitch adjustment working well for me now. Happy Holidays!

  4. This is awesome! I'm inspired to do the same in 2015. It's so easy to get caught up in wishfull spending although I have to disagree with you on Craftsy. I love the unlimited access and online learning platform. I rarely pay more than $14.99/class. Here's to a productive year :)

    1. I definitely think Craftsy can work for some people, but for me personally, not so much. :D