Saturday, April 4, 2009

Do-It-Yourself to Save

I've always been a hands-on, self-taught, Jack-of-all-trades sort of guy, and that philosophy extends throughout all facets of my life.  In today's economic crisis, those traits open up all sorts of wonderful cost-saving opportunities.

You don't realize how much you can save by doing things yourself that you'd normally pay others to do until you sit down and calculate some of the savings.

For example, at Chateau Papillon, Beth and I have done nearly all of the work in our renovations; indoors, the only thing we've contracted out to date was the extension of a gas line to the kitchen for our range--and it's not that I don't feel I could have successfully taught myself to do gas-line plumbing, but rather that I'd prefer to have the security of mind in knowing someone who does that work for a living did it safely.  I'd rather my house not go "bang!" after all.

That means our only costs have been materials.  No costly labor (though for those less handy, the stagnant construction industry means you might be able to hire contractors for far less than you would have just a couple of years ago--keep that in mind, too).  That's let us spend much more on those materials and thus get a lot more renovations done than we would have otherwise.

Likewise, I've tackled several home maintenance tasks entirely on my own.  When the downstairs bathroom clogged so badly that the toilet wouldn't flush and the shower wouldn't drain, we could have (and almost did) call a plumber--something that would have cost us likely $200 or more (and I speak from experience--a clogged sink at our prior rental home cost the owners nearly $700 and three different plumbers to fix satisfactorily).  Instead, we spent $11 at Home Depot on a little gadget that screws onto a garden hose and expands to fill the pipe, then directs pressurized water at the clog to break it up.  Snaking that down the shower drain cleared the problem up in less than ten minutes.

In the back yard, we've made great use of local resources; instead of paying quite a bit for composted soil or for someone to haul mulch to our home, we've visited Fairfax County recycling facilities which give away composted leaf and hardwood mulch--the stuff you'd pay $4 or more a bag for at garden centers.  So far, we've used at least six cubic yards of the free mulch--saving ourselves at least $500 and recycling yard waste which otherwise would go to waste (no pun intended).  We've done all of our own landscaping so far, after a (free) consultation with a local garden center.

And it's not just in the home improvement arena where we've saved by doing things ourselves.  Yesterday, I replaced a burnt-out headlight and brake light on Beth's car; we'd have paid several dozen more dollars in labor had we gone to a shop, and the work was only a matter of ten minutes or so.  A while back, I repaired and then reupholstered one of our dining room chairs; the discounted upholstery fabric I used combined with scraps of memory foam from dog mattresses we'd made in the past saved us a ton over what a shop would have charged.  And while we're on that topic: sewing is a great skill to develop, and one which isn't difficult to learn for the purposes of repairs, hemming, simple clothing construction, etc.

Now, you might not feel like you're ready to tackle some of the do-it-yourself projects we have; that's fine.  But remember: I'm largely self-taught, and like me, you have to start somewhere.  Find a relatively easy project to start with.  Visit your local library, home improvement center, or craft shop to see if you can find hands-on instruction--for free or at low cost.  As you complete each project, you'll experience a great sense of satisfaction, and your confidence will grow, enabling you to tackle those larger jobs.

And "do-it-yourself" extends beyond the areas of construction, maintenance, landscaping, and the like; take up cooking, and with any degree of creativity and self-confidence, you'll find yourself quickly moving beyond following recipes word-for-word to all-out improvisation.  For example, one night last week, I glanced in the pantry and pulled out a couple of different varieties of dried lentils, some bulgar wheat, pine nuts, walnuts, an apple, and some cheese that was getting a bit old and dry from the fridge, and cooked up quite a tasty (and healthy, I might add) dish, just from what we had on hand.  No need to go to the store or to spend money at a restaurant; our dinner cost perhaps $2 total in ingredients, and a half an hour or less for me to prepare.  Cooking is a wonderful skill to develop that will save you quite a bit of green.  You might find yourself like me, noting the sale and coupon items at the store and wondering, "What could I do with that?" and thus saving even more!

So consider doing-it-yourself to save yourself a bit of green!

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