Extravigantly Frugal: The Do-It-Yourselfer

Disclaimer: This is the second, and I can't say the final, post based on a country song. Fan or not, they are many times difficult not to relate to. You've been warned.

Few things are quite as frugal as going the DIY route. Many times this can be simple things:

  • Mowing your own yard instead of paying the neighbor kid twenty bucks.
  • Washing your own car instead of blowing ten bucks on the Scratch-o-matic downtown.
  • Making your own meals instead of letting McDonald's catch your slack.
You didn't know you were a DIYer, did you? Stop discounting it and give yourself credit - some folks would balk at those tasks without even considering it. Sure those are all pretty low-risk, low-involvement, but money-savers none the less. People typically associate DIY with higher risk ventures like carpentry, plumbing, car repair, basic wiring, or the dreaded computer repair. While the first list is often overlooked, the second is all too often farmed-out and put off as being 'too hard'. I will admit, they are - in their own way - a gamble, a risk.

Here is what the Gambler taught me about DIY:

Know when to hold 'em:
Some things are just as simple as you would hope. A burnt out tail light on NtJS-mobile-1 required removing 1 screw, unfastening the harness from the reflector, replacing the old bulb (a few dollars for TWO from the auto supply store), and putting it all back together. A 15-minute job. Even an auto-repair-phobe like me can handle that one. Some things you should just dive into and not worry about it. If it's in the front half of the home improvement store or featured on a commercial, then you can probably handle it. When in doubt, read the instructions. Celine fans, wall paint, lawn and garden care - you can do this stuff and succeed despite your skill set or lack there of. And the small wins will give you confidence to move up to bigger things.

Know when to fold 'em: Somethings you just shouldn't even attempt. I'm not saying that they are not possible. Just that they lie far enough outside of your abilities to have even a chance of success. We needed some electrical work done recently. The first bit was hired out. We got a recommendation on an electrician and he was great. When the next bit came, I thought I should at least look into doing it myself. Frugal? Over-confident? Who knows, but I mostly found myself wanting to do it. I could see other electrical projects on the horizon, and if I could do this, then the others would be no problem. I went through 3 or 4 resources from the library before I decided to call the guy back. I just wasn't getting it, and an attempt by an uniformed novice could go awry fast.

Know when to walk away: Some DIY is based on prior experience. In a previous life, I've hung drywall and gone though gallons of joint compound. I've built various things out of raw lumber. I've operated and serviced lawn care equipment. But all initially with the guidance of someone who knew what they were doing. With a little luck, I can repeat those tasks today with success. Some DIY is based on little more than a willingness to try. During a kitchen remodel, we replaced - among other things - the sink and drain. Whenever I get the chance, I add shut-off valves where they would today, but didn't 40 years ago. When I went to do that here, I got in a hurry and made a mistake that I had made before: I didn't open the valve prior to soldering it on. Even with the water off, there is still moisture in the lines. When you add heat, you get steam. When you get steam, it will look for the easiest way out - usually up and/or at the weakest point. My closed, un-soldered valve was both. Once enough pressure built, it overcame the weight of the valve and shot it 7 feet into the air. The burning hot brass valve landed 6 inches from my hands. It was time to walk away, b r e a t h e, and take some time to regroup. I came back a few minutes later with a clearer head and did it right - valve open - with no trouble.

Know when to run: Sometimes, you get blinded by bravado (or the fear of a professional's bill). As my father would say, "He knows enough to be dangerous". I've had no formal training when it comes to plumbing, but that didn't stop me from... well any plumbing project. While some were surprising successes, they didn't all go well. In a recent venture, my largest to date and the reason for our intermittent posting as of late, the test run of the new supply and drain resulted in 3 leaks. I was beaten and I knew it. The close quarters soldering and blending of the new PVC drain to old cast iron proved to be too much for me, especially after weeks of following up an 8 or 9 hour day at work with 4-6 hours of DIY at night on this mega project. It was late, I was defeated, and I could see it going from bad to worse in a hurry. I looked at the Mrs, and asked her to call a plumber in the morning. It was time to cut my losses and run.

You never count your money, when you're sittin' at the table, there'll be time enough for countin', when the deal is done: I can't help but think of my early days of computer building and repair here. In college, I was introduced to the notion of computer DIY. It started with simple upgrades: more RAM, extra HDD, new video card. It was surprisingly easy. Then a friend took me to the next level - building from scratch. The mechanics were surprisingly easy, but there was still a chance for failure. Cards not seated properly, incorrectly set jumpers, or the dreaded static discharge, could leave you perplexed for hours. The rule of thumb was, "never put the case back on before testing it". Even a simple task would get the kiss of death if you were so foolish as to make your upgrades, close the case, and then fire it up. I can't say that it always made sense, but it usually held true. Don't count the job as done until it's truly done - testing and all.

DIY work can be incredibly rewarding, and if nothing else, should give you an appreciation for the professionals who do this stuff every day. Basic competencies in these general home improvement areas can be just as valuable as having a phone list of contractors that you can trust. One will mostly cost you your time, the other is more taxing on your wallet. Like anything, the more you do this stuff, the better you'll get at it. But the next time you are staring down the barrel of a home improvement project, think of the lessons of the Gambler.

DIYers: How do you choose when to hold 'em and when to fold 'em?

Non-DIYers: What keeps you from sitting at the table?


Robin said...

Sure those are all pretty low-risk, low-involvement, but money-savers none the less. People typically associate DIY with higher risk ventures like carpentry, plumbing, car repair, basic wiring, or the dreaded computer repair.

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