Category Archive: Tips

My DIY Adventures

Over the past few years, I’ve worked to improve my DIY skills.  Here are a few of the projects I’ve tackled – with an eye towards saving money and doing it myself.

I replaced the garbage disposal below our kitchen sink.  This project was relatively simple.  I worried a little bit about the electrical connection, but I figured it out.  The disposal connects to the bottom of the sink via a special bracket and connects to the dishwasher via a long hose.  Prior to disconnecting the old disposal, I snapped several pictures of its various connections.  When connecting the new disposal, I referred the the pictures, and installation was a snap.

I built three shelving units for our kids. We have three kids and they have stuff. This past Spring, I built each of them a shelving unit. Using my Kreg Pocket Hole Jig and the table saw, these were simple, easy-to-build projects. My real struggle – I like to build but I’m not much of a fan of painting!

DIY Bookshelf Shelving UnitI replaced our dishwasher’s drain hose. This hose connects the dishwasher to the garbage disposal. This was a bit of a challenge, because I had to unscrew the dish washer from the kitchen counter brace, roll it out, and then remove the drain hose. The drain hose was filled with water, and removing it caused a bit of a mess. If you plan to tackle this project – be sure to have plenty of towels on hand! Side note: Finding the correct size hose was a bit of a challenge. For some reason, the fitting-size (on the end of the hose) isn’t universal.

I replaced the dryer belt on our dryer. Now, this one was a bit of a struggle. For some reason, the dryer belt on our dryer was slipping. (I’m pretty much convinced that it was over-stretched when the dryer was built – or damaged during transport.) I took dozens of pictures during dis-assembly. I had to remove the dryer door, the metal casing, and the back panel. Then, I had to figure out how to support the drying drum, removed the old belt, and then put the new belt on. It took me some time (and a few skinned knuckles), but I managed to replace the belt – and put the dryer back together. Now, it works just fine!

I repaired the trim around our back door. Our back door is exposed to the elements – and water had damaged much of its trim. I replaced the wooden trim with vinyl. This was a super-simple repair, made much easier because I could rip the trim with my table saw.

I (tried) to repair our toilet. This was a huge fail. Our toilet needed a new wax ring – and after watching several videos and talking with a couple of friends – I was convinced that this was a project I could tackle. Well, I manage to break one of the bolts needed to attach the toilet to the floor, drop a wrench down the toilet drain, and buy, not one, but two incorrectly sized wax rings. In the end, I called a plumber – and $75 later, the toilet was repaired. Lesson learned.

I like DIY projects. It feels good to fix something – and to save a little money.  Most of the time, I can figure things out, but there are times when I get in over my head, and it’s good to have professionals to call.

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Get Rid Of The Stuff You Do Not Use

Several years ago, I decided to take control and rid myself of the stuff that I did not use.  I gathered some cardboard boxes, and went to work, removing the clutter from our home.  I went through our closets, cabinets, dressers, and drawers.  I separated our unused stuff in to four boxes.

Box 1 – Give It  – I encourage everyone to consider donating a portion (or all) of any unneeded items to a local clothing bank or homeless shelter.  Many of the folks who live in shelters need office-appropriate attire, for when they go to job interviews.  We also try to find good homes for our kids’ used toys.  We only donate items that are in usable, wearable, or working condition.

Box 2 – Trash It – I am amazed by how much stuff we have – stuff that no longer works or no longer fits.  We recycle and reuse what we can, and get rid of the rest.

Box 3 – Sell It – We have two garage / yard sales per year.  We sell baby clothes (and other items) on eBay.  We have even listed items on our Facebook pages.  Check online and in the local paper for free classifieds.  The main purpose of selling our unnecessary stuff is to get rid of it – but it’s cool to make an extra buck-or-two, too.

Box 4 – Store It – We have stuff in our house that we don’t need, right now, but we might need it at some time in the future.  So, we’ll store it in the shed or in the kids’ playhouse – up high and out of sight.  Once a year, I’ll go through our stored stuff, see what we have, and purge what is broken or unnecessary.

Now is a great time of year to get rid of unnecessary clutter.  Plus, if you make a few extra bucks – that’s more money for your debt reduction or savings!

I have found that there are several advantages to a life with less stuff:

1 – With less stuff, organization is rather easy.  We do not have to invest in elaborate shelving, giant plastic tubs, or thousands of labels.  Instead, we have removed the clutter – and what is left can be place neatly in our cabinets and closets.  In other words, we’re not just moving piles of stuff around.  We actually got rid of some stuff.

2.  Our kids are organized.  I have three kids, ranging from ages 3 to 12 – and all three of them keep their rooms neat and tidy.

3.  Evenings are relaxing.  Straightening up our entire house takes less than 15 minutes.  Cleaning the house (with vacuuming, dusting, etc.) takes, oh, maybe an hour – thirty minutes if the kids pitch in.  So, each evening, we cook a meal, clean that up, wash a couple loads of clothing, make lunches for the kids, and then we can relax.

You might be asking – What does removing the excess clutter from my home have to do with personal finance?  Well, it’s hard to communicate, exactly – but there’s something… liberating… about a clutter-free home.  It just feels better – and when we feel better, I think we make better decisions.  We have more energy and enthusiasm to devote to more important tasks – like the management of our personal finances.  So, the relationship isn’t direct, but it is indirect, and it is real.

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Save Money On Lawn Care

When I was a kid, I never thought I would type the following sentence:

I really enjoy yard work.

Seriously.  I look forward to mowing the lawn, planting plants, raking leaves, and just spending time around the house, sprucing things up.

I also like sharing money saving tips, and here are a few of mine, for saving money on lawn care.  These are things I actually do (or have done) to save money and time.

Use Leaves and Pine Straw as Mulch

I live in the South, and have pine trees and oak trees in my backyard.  We use fallen leaves and pine straw as mulch.  The pine straw looks nice in flower beds and around shrubbery, while the leaves are reserved for a shady area underneath the kids’ swing set.

Leave a Portion of the Yard Alone

As our house sits, we basically have three sections of lawn – the front lawn, the back lawn, and a side lawn.  The front lawn and back lawn are mostly centipede grass, and are well-maintained, but we keep the side lawn, for the most part, alone.  Our kids’ swing set sits underneath a small stand of shade trees, grass doesn’t grow very well in this section of the yard, so we just let the leaves fall, pick up a few tree limbs from time to time, and that’s about it.  It’s cool to have the pretty manicured lawns – and a small part of the property that feels a bit more natural.

Build and Use a Compost Pile / Bin

I just finished building my compost bin instead of burning yard waste – or throwing vegetable and fruit kitchen scraps into the trash – I’m using them to create awesome compost.  This saves money, and bit of landfill space.

Plant Shade / Fruit Trees

I have already planted two trees in our backyard and in just a few years, they will provide shade for both our house and our kids’ playhouse.  I also plan to plant apple and pear trees next year.  Free fruit, more shade, and less yard to mow.  Win, win, win.

Keep Things Tidy

I have an electric, battery-powered leaf blower that I love.  I use it two or three times a week to keep our carport, sidewalk, and back porch clean.  It’s much easier to keep things clean – and keep them from getting dirty – when I spend a few minutes each day working in the yard.

Buy Plants in the Fall

Again, I live in the South, so our summer growing season is a bit longer than some places in the country.  As such, there are great deals on shrubbery, trees, and even flowers to be found at the local nursery.  Seriously.  A few weeks ago, I purchased some shrubs, regularly priced at $12 per, for just $4 per.  Shop around – and think local.  A local nursery owner will know exactly which plants are appropriate for where you live.

Share Tools

I have a pressure washer, but I don’t own a tiller.  My neighbor recently borrowed my pressure washer, and next spring, I’ll borrow his tiller.  If you can’t find folks to share, you might look into renting tools, especially if you are only going to use them once or twice.

Build a Rain Barrel to Catch Rain Water

As I mentioned a few days ago, I recently built and installed a rain barrel.  I am very happy to report that the rain barrel is working perfectly – and my new shrubs are strong and healthy.

Leave The Leaves?

When we moved into our house in February, there were leaves all over our yard.  The previous owner had chosen, like lots of folks do, to simply allow the leaves to pile up, and was planning to rake them up in the spring.  Me, personally?  While it might save me a few bucks or a few hours, I’m against letting the leaves pile up.  I have a mulching-blade on my lawn mower and I plan to mow the yard, three or four times this winter.  I’m not sure if this is a money-saver, but it helps me feel better about how the yard looks.

Increase the Size of Flower Beds

In the front yard, there is a small flower bed.  When we moved in, I just planted a half-dozen shrubs in the bed, added a bit of pine straw, and called it a day.  After several months of looking out the window and seeing the bed, I’m unimpressed with its layout.  In a few weeks, I’m going double the size of the bed.  This will decrease the area of lawn to-be-mowed and watered – and increase visual interest.

Buy Your Kids a Pair of Work Gloves

This is for those who have kids, and are looking for a way to spend more time with them.  Recently, I went to the home improvement store, and purchased a new pair of work gloves.  My son, six, was there with me – and asked for a pair of his own.  I think they cost me 3 bucks, but have more than paid for themselves.  Now, instead of being afraid to get his hands dirty, or pick up worms, or pull weeds, he puts on his gloves and feels like a yard working super-hero.  A couple of Saturdays ago, he helped me trim the shrubbery in the front yard.  He learned how to use the shears and the rake – and we had a blast.

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5 Simple Debt Reduction Tips

I like to write about an array of personal finance topics, but my true passion is debt reduction.

Tip 1 -

Send in credit card payments as soon as is possible.  This reduces your average daily balance and total interest charges.

Tip 2 -

Be both analytical and emotional. Debt reduction requires three things – money, a solid plan, and firm dedication.  Create a plan to reduce your debt – and then get a little angry.

Tip 3 -

Stop adding to total debt. Reducing one credit card balance by $500, only to charge $600 on another card doesn’t make sense.

Tip 4 -

Focus on reducing principal.  I know we get fascinated by interest rates – and rightly so – but the quickest way to eliminate debt is to reduce principal.  I like to make my regular payment, early in the payment cycle, and then make an extra payment (or two) throughout the month.  I have checked with my creditors to ensure that I understand how they handle extra payments.

Tip 5 -

Get one month ahead.  This is a new one for me.  In the past, all I had to deal with was consumer debt.  Now, I have a mortgage.  My payment is due on the first of each month.  Instead of scheduling my June 1st payment to be deducted from my checking account on June 1st, I schedule it for May 1st.  In effect, I’ve not only made my payment early, I’ve also given myself a (nearly) two-month cushion.  I have until July 1st to both make the July 1st payment AND make extra payments towards principal.  Now, I will not wait until July 1st to make my next full payment, but I have the cushion, built in, just in case.

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