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