This story is part of a MarketWatch series, “Gifts that pay off,” about presents that have an impact long after the holiday season has passed.
Have a creative loved one who wants to save some money or try their hand at an artistic side hustle? Giving this one machine in particular as a holiday gift could give them a big boost.
Cutting machines, from companies including Cricut and Silhouette, cut through various materials, including different thicknesses of paper, cardboard, vinyl, fabric and even wood. Crafters can use them to make almost any project, including decals to decorate mugs, tumblers or wine glasses, birthday cards and party invitations, personalized T-shirts or holiday decorations.
Jenny Sparmo, a blogger at Cookies, Coffee and Crafts, got her first Cricut machine for Christmas three and a half years ago. At first, she used it for scrapbooking, one of her favorite hobbies, but now uses it to make birthday cards, create personalized shirts for her kids and design decorations and gifts.
She estimates the machine has saved her hundreds of dollars. She spends about $25 to make all of the birthday cards she needs for the year and pays just a few dollars to make T-shirts that would cost $30 at a store. “You have to buy the supplies, but I think with a lot of crafters, you know where the sales are and you wait for it,” she said.
While high-end electronics like iPhones and big-screen TVs may get a lot of the attention under the Christmas tree, cutting machines harken back to simpler pleasures and the joys of creating things with your own two hands. They can also have a financial pay-off for people who use them a lot, serving as a DIY workhorse for people who make their own wedding invitations or even use the machines to start their own businesses.
The Cricut Explore Air 2 sells for $199 on the company’s site and its professional grade machine, the Cricut Maker, sells for $349. The Silhouette Cameo 3 retails for $299. Other brands include Brother, with its Designncut ($199) or Cm350 ($299) machines, and Artistic Edge ($299).
Cutting machines make the most sense for people who are already crafty, said Christine Schinagl, founder of Cutting for Business, a consulting company that teaches crafters how to get the most out of their cutting machines. Crafters can use the cutting machines’ software to find project ideas or they can create their own personalized creations. The machines require some upkeep: crafters will eventually need to replace certain parts like the blades or pens.
In the era of side hustling, cutting machines provide crafters with an opportunity to make money — not just save money — by making their own party invitations and gifts. Schinagl has used cutting machines for 10 years and started a profitable Etsy
business with hers. She then became a small business consultant who teaches crafters how to make money with their cutting machines. She now speaks at crafting conferences.
“There are thousands out there making a part-time income, some who have been able to replace their full-time income with their craft business income, and a small number making hundreds of thousands of dollars a year using their electronic cutter,” she told MarketWatch.
About 44 million Americans have a side hustle to bring in extra income, Bankrate.com reported. They’re not just Uber drivers and Airbnb hosts — craft marketplaces like Etsy and even Amazon
host plenty of side hustlers with day jobs.
But even for those aren’t trying to launch a side gig, the cutting machines offer money-saving potential. Sparmo’s advice: be patient. It takes time to become acquainted with the machine, and beginners should start with small projects, such as scrapbooking. “Some people are intimidated by cutting machines and they can be overwhelmed,” she said. She was frustrated when she first began crafting with her Cricut. But now, “I make things without thinking about it.”
Get a daily roundup of the top reads in personal finance delivered to your inbox. Subscribe to MarketWatch’s free Personal Finance Daily newsletter. Sign up here.