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How much does it cost to be a web designer and/or developer?

July 8, 2019Will Leffert

As a web designer & developer, I've spent a lot of money not just building up my skills, but maintaining the tools necessary for my craft. That's why it always irks me when someone asks me to do something for free; "All you're doing is just writing some code! It doesn't cost you anything!" is the refrain heard around the world by my fellow designers/developers.

Well, I'm here to dispel that myth right now, as well as help you decide if you should invest the time and money into becoming a web designer or web developer.

How much does it cost to be a web designer?

Being a web designer isn't cheap, even with open source software filling a lot of niches in the world. The costs of being a web designer aren't apparent to the average Joe, so let's break it down.

Web designer tools

Here's a list of must-have tools, plus alternatives that are frequently used in the web design world.

  • Adobe Creative Cloud - $9.99/mo minimum (Photography plan), $59.99/mo recommended (All apps) - This is the industry standard for designers. I myself get by with the Photography plan, having purchased Illustrator CS2 many, many years ago to do vector artwork. As well, artists could utilize open source apps like Inkscape for vector art, and The Gimp for photo processing. Those tools are limited, however, and reduce your ability to work with outside vendors and teams.
  • Sketch or XD - $99/year for Sketch, XD is free with Adobe CC - Sketch is another industry standard (for Mac users) in the web design world, used for crafting mockups of websites, sharing them with clients, and collaboration. You can, however, live with out it, as I have. As a PC user, I utilize XD, which comes with all Adobe Creative Cloud plans at no additional cost.
  • Visual Studios Code - Free - This is, hands down, the number one app for coding in the web world. I've used so many different tools over the years; Notepad, Dreamweaver, GoLive, Geany, Vim, Brackets, and more. VS Code is extensible to work with just about any designer/developer's code needs.
  • WinSCP (Windows) - Free - WinSCP is a great FTP program, and it is free to boot. There are so many out there, though, that you'll have no problems finding something you like for free, including for Mac.

So, what's the tally so far? It costs anywhere from $0 (for nothing but open-source apps, which are limited in some cases), to $119.88/year for just the basics that'll at least help you meet industry standards, to $818.88/year to have the full suite of tools considered "must-haves" in the industry.. And that doesn't even include your computer.

We'll jump into the web developer world next, but don't close out the article just yet; I cover some other must-haves that both professions share.

How much does it cost to be a web developer?

Web developers have it a little easier on the cost-front. Without a need for design tools, they can focus solely on coding.. Which is practically free on the tools front.

Web developer tools

Here's the list of must-haves tools for web developers.

  • Visual Studios Code - Free - Used to, you'd need some pretty hefty software to do development work. Not so; VS Code is the go-to for web development with its extensibility!
  • WinSCP (Windows) - Free - Once again, you can't go wrong with a good free FTP program.
  • (Optional) Sketch or XD - $99/year for Sketch, XD is free with Adobe CC - If you're doing front-end development work, you'll need to be able to open the files sent to you by the designers! However, in some cases, assets can just be shared and screenshots will do the trick.

Now, there are a number of other things developers utilize, but pretty much all of them are free. Software such as NPM, Webpack, Gulp, Git, and more are all freely available. So, the costs associated with being a web developer right now start at $0, or $99/year if you get Sketch. Not bad, right? Well, let's look into the shared requirements!

The mutual costs of being a web designer and/or developer

What else could be needed, you might ask? Well, the most critical part of any web designer or developer's toolbox is their own website, which can also end up being the most expensive.

If you are utilizing WordPress, there are probably a few plugins you'll need to get. Here's 2 paid plugins I wouldn't want to live without; thankfully, they are just a 1-time cost with unlimited usage.

  • Oxygen - $99 - I LOVE Oxygen for building my sites. Its quick to use, but also provides me a lot of flexibility to write code (including PHP) inside the WordPress backend without having to manage theme files. There are a number out there, and some have annual costs, such as Pro, Badger Builder, Elementor and more.
  • All-in-One WP Migration (unlimited extension) - $69 - I can't live without this. I can backup, migrate, and more with no issues, ensuring my own (and client) site launches go off without a hitch.

Now, both of these are completely optional. You can code your own theme, and manually migrate sites yourself, but the added work sometimes doesn't outweigh the savings.

The most costly part of being a web designer/developer is hosting (assuming you don't have the full Adobe CC Suite). Finding a good host for your work seems like an almost Sisyphean task. Here's an outline of my costs.

  • Siteground (GrowBig plan) (for my main website) - $71.40 for the first year, $239.40 every year after - Siteground has been good to me. I've been with a number of hosts; Bluehost, Liquid Web, Steadfast Networks, A Small Orange, and have even used.. *shudder* GoDaddy hosting (not by choice). This is where I host my main website, as well as host sites while under development. The GrowBig plan allows you to host multiple sites under one account, which is critical in my book for any designer/developer!
  • NixiHost (1gb VPS) (Node development) - $5/mo - If you do development work with Node, Ruby, or something not offered under a traditional shared web host, you'll need a place to host it and share your development. A VPS is a good cost-saving measure in this case, assuming you've got the expertise to do your own DevOps. You could also use Heroku, but I prefer having more control over my setup.
  • Namecheap domain name - ~$9/year - Everybody needs a domain name. Namecheap is great. Don't mess with GoDaddy.

So, as you can see, I'm spending over $300/year on web hosting alone for something relatively simple. Need to host a high-powered web app? You'll be spending more money. Need expensive control panels? Better shell out more money.

What's the final breakdown of costs for web design/development?

Let's tally up the results.

Tools: $0 (not recommended) to $818.88/year (for the industry standards)

WordPress: $0 (if you'll hand-code everything and do manual migration) to $168, one time fee, for my setup.

Hosting: $248.40 (for just WordPress hosting plus a domain name) to ~$308/year (includes a VPS for Node/Ruby/etc development).

Finally, let's factor in a computer. If you're utilizing a PC, you can get away with spending about $1000 for a good design/development machine (I've got $1600 invested in my beast), with another $400 approximately for at least one good monitor (I'd recommend two). If you want to go with Mac (for Sketch), you'll need to spend at least $2,399 for a 15" Mac Book Pro, or $6,000 for a starter-level Mac Pro (yeah, that's insane). A heavily-used machine will last you anywhere from 3-5 years, so you're looking at an additional estimated $280 to $2,250 per year depending on your setup.

As you can see, it isn't always cheap to be a web designer/developer. You've got overhead, and this isn't even everything. This is just the bare minimum. I've also got cloud backups, a local development server, and additional hardware.