Thirteen Easy Things You Can Learn to Do Yourself That Have a Big Impact on Your Budget

check oil

With the economy slowing, everyone is looking to cut back in many ways. Some people are eliminating their daily coffee, others are combining trips to save on gas. These and similar strategies are great and will help you save money. However, there is more money to be saved by learning how to do some simple things for yourself rather than paying a professional to do them.

None of the tasks below are particularly challenging or taxing for the average, intelligent, physically capable person, yet many of us pay others to do them. Why? Convenience, for one. Not wanting to/not having the time to learn, for another. Then there’s the intimidation factor. Some people believe that learning something new is going to be too hard.

But when you’re looking to make big budget cutbacks (or if you just like to save money even if you don’t “have to”) nothing beats DIY. So here are thirteen tasks/skills that are easy to do and learn, but can save you big money in the long run.

1. Change your own oil and other routine car maintenance. If you drive an average of 12,000 miles a year, you’re probably having your oil changed four times per year, more often if you drive more than that. Most professional oil changes range from $20-30. However, you can do it yourself for less than ten dollars and it will only take about fifteen minutes once you get good at it. You can also learn to change your own flat tires, top off your fluid levels, repair minor problems, and properly inflate your tires, all of which save you the time and money wasted at the garage.

2. Cut your own hair, or at least that of others in your household. Haircuts at the chain salons start at around $15, plus tip. At designer salons the price is much higher. That’s kind of steep if you or someone in your house has low maintenance hair that just needs a trim or a buzz . You can get a set of clippers and scissors for as low as $10 at places like Wal-Mart or Target that allow you to do a perfectly serviceable job. Your investment in the clippers will pay for itself in the first use, making every subsequent cut free.

3. Do your own yard work. The quotes I’ve seen for mowing begin around $150/month, with grass being mowed once per week (weed eating is usually extra). That’s $37.50 per mow. You can buy a decent push lawn mower for $125. Even factoring in gas, you’ll still come out ahead after just a few mows. Companies like ChemLawn and TruGreen charge around $80-100/month for fertilizer service. You can buy a spreader or hose attachment and the fertilizer at Lowes for around $40 total and spread it yourself. Trim your own hedges and whack your own weeds and save even more. Doing your own lawn work is also great exercise, which might enable you to drop the gym membership and save some more money.

4. Power wash your own house and clean your own gutters. Professional power washers charge around $100 and up for a simple house; more if they have to climb very high or do a lot of square footage. You can rent a power washer for as low as $15/day with a refundable deposit when you return it. Most medium sized houses only take a day or less to do. Similarly, professional gutter cleaning can cost as little as $50 for a small house and over $200 for a large or complex home. Do it yourself for free.

5. Groom your own pet. Professional pet grooming starts around $20 for a simple bath. Add more if you need nails clipped, teeth brushed, or hair clipped. Pet grooming is easy to do yourself and the materials are all available at places like PetSmart, Petco, Target, or Wal-Mart. A large bottle of shampoo can cost as little as $3, cologne is around $4, and a toothbrush and toothpaste set goes for around $8. Nail clippers (as low as $5) or a Dremmel tool (as low as $25 for some models) are cost effective ways to do nails. Hair clipping sets are also inexpensive when compared to the cost of paying someone to do it over and over again. And if you mess up the first time, it’s not like the other dogs will be making fun of Fido’s bad haircut. Just let it grow out and try again.

6. Learn basic computer maintenance and problem solving. We turn on our computers and expect them to work. But when they don’t, if we don’t know what to do, it results in a costly call to tech support or a repair person. To have someone come out and install a new operating system or update the old one will cost $249 if you call Geek Squad, for example. Recovery of lost data starts at $259. Backing up your data starts at $229. Installation of security features starts at $229 and setting up a home network begins at $199. With prices like these, a little knowledge can save you a ton of money. Computers are not difficult to figure out and there are many free forums on the Internet that can provide help and a free education.

7. Learn some basic home maintenance/repair. There are lots of projects around the home that can be done on your own, but many people call for professional help. Learn how to snake a drain or plunge a toilet to remove clogs. Installing a new faucet or fixing a leaky one is easy to do. Replacing existing lighting is also easy. Replacing bent or broken roof shingles is usually an easy task. Installing garage door openers, replacing damaged siding, installing insulation, and cleaning ductwork are all pretty painless. There are many things that you may currently pay others to do around your home that are very easy to learn. Pick a few to tackle and do them yourself.

8. Learn basic appliance troubleshooting and maintenance. Maybe the only reason your vacuum cleaner isn’t working is because it needs a new belt. Or your dryer isn’t drying because the exhaust pipe is clogged with lint. Or your dishwasher isn’t draining because there’s a piece of food blocking the drain. Maybe something just blew a fuse. Sometimes an appliance problem is a very small thing that you can either fix on the spot or fix with a small, inexpensive part replacement. However, unless you can figure out what the problem is, you’re going to have to shell out for an expensive service call. Or, worse, you’re going to assume the appliance is toast and go out and buy another. So learn a little about your appliances and how they work so you can fix minor problems yourself.

9. Learn how to paint and/or wallpaper a room. Even if you don’t want to change your color scheme, sooner or later you’re going to have to repaint your rooms. Paying a contractor to do this begins at $1,000 for a small house (1,200 sq. ft. or so) or $200 for a small room, with costs rising with the size/height of the rooms, quality of the paint you choose, and the overall complexity of the job. However, you can buy enough supplies to paint that same entire house for as little as $200-600, depending on the quality of paint and brushes you choose. You can buy enough supplies to paint individual rooms for far less. Correct painting/papering techniques are easy to learn. Beyond that, all you need is some muscle for moving furniture.

10. Learn basic building techniques. Learn how to hammer a nail and how to choose wood wisely and you open up a whole new world. You can repair/replace your own steps and decks, build your own doghouse or shed, build a fence, or construct a playhouse for the kids. There are many low-complexity building projects that can be tackled by someone who only has a rudimentary knowledge of building. Get very good at it, and you can build your own addition onto your house.

11. Do your own alterations. Hemming pants and skirts is not that difficult and neither is taking in or letting out a garment. Basic alterations usually start at $20 or so and go up depending on the fabric and complexity of the alteration. But you can find a good quality sewing machine for $100 or a under on sale. Use it five times and it’s paid for itself. If you wear a lot of things that need altering (you’re a strange size, for example) or you have kids that need a lot of clothes repaired, a sewing machine and basic sewing knowledge are wise investments. As a bonus, you can sew other money saving items with it like simple clothes for kids, slipcovers for old chairs, pillows, stuffed toys, etc.

12. Clean your own house. This one sounds simple, but many people don’t really know how to clean a house. Routine cleaning is very easy to learn and harder things like cleaning blinds, drapes, carpet, and upholstery are also easily mastered. A professional housekeeping service might charge upwards of $75/hour. You can buy all the supplies you need for far less than that or make some eco-friendly alternatives for almost nothing.

13. Learn how to protect your own identity. New services such as Lifelock are springing up claiming to help you protect your identity. These charge around $100 per year, per adult. However, you can do all of the same things for free by getting your own credit report free from, understanding how to dispute erroneous information, knowing how to freeze your credit, understanding how to place a fraud alert, removing your name from pre-approved credit card mailings and other junk mail, and monitoring your accounts and statements.

DIY has many benefits including complete control of the project, avoidance of contractors’ high hourly rates which cause costs to skyrocket, and the thrill of learning and mastering something new. There’s nothing like being able to point to something and say, “I did that.” Plus, if you get good enough at something, you may find that others are willing to pay for your skills, further increasing your income.

There are lots of free or low cost resources that can teach you what you need to know in order to master these DIY skills. Books are available through libraries or book sales, free websites abound with tips and tricks, and free classes are regularly held at stores like Home Depot and Lowes. Even a course through the local community college will save you money in the long run once you put your new skills to use. You may also have the benefit of a handy parent, sibling, or friend who can teach you what you need to know. If you need special equipment, much of what’s needed can be rented. Even if you purchase, you’re likely to earn your money back in a very short time. So get out there, learn something new, and start saving money.

Image courtesy of Tanya Ryno

This entry was posted in Frugal, Personal Finance, Saving Money and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

24 Responses to Thirteen Easy Things You Can Learn to Do Yourself That Have a Big Impact on Your Budget

  1. sptert says:

    People are just too lazy to do most of that stuff these days.

  2. Travis says:

    These are good things, but I have never been in a situation where I was even able to have other paople do these things for me. So basically, this article didn’t help much.

  3. 3bean says:

    What about COOK? Food is such a drain on the budget. I think the ability to make thrifty, tasty, healthy meals and a working repertoire of meals you can make from memory is a HUGE money saver.

  4. wealthman says:

    This is another example where you should be looking to increase your wealth and pay people to do these things for you rather than doing them yourself. If you do it yourself, you’re stuck doing it yourself forever. If you increase your income, you can pay others to do it and spend the extra time learning more skills to earn even more. Attitudes like this keep you poor.

  5. teeter says:

    @ wealthman

    Increasing your salary isn’t the solution for everything. A balanced approach where you save and increase wealth is the best.

  6. Kim says:

    Wealthman-does it bother you at all that you come off as a total snob? It seems your answer to everything is “well, just get richer”. I think it is great that you have all the money you need/want but the purpose of this article is to find ways to SAVE money, which is what some people want to know.

  7. Jay Corn says:

    Probably the No.1 thing people can do is to change their buying habits and adopt some patience and disclipine. You see people doing impulse buying at the mall all the time paying double or more for their purchases than what they would have paid by shopping through bargain hunting websites (like, for the same items, only if they had the patience to wait.

  8. Cristi Smith says:

    I do some of these things now. I definitely could learn to do more! Maybe if we were more dependent on ourselves we would be less dependent on certain others. Like other countries. I agree that I do pay for some of the stuff to be done but others I would find silly to pay for.

  9. dreaming says:

    less than $10 for an oil change is ridiculous you need an oil filter thats probably $8-15 oil is maybe less than 10 it self you’ll need at least $8 Just for it and then if you need an oil wrench to start your savings plan, you’lll need to buy that, plus an oil pan to catch the old stuff, and if you dispose of it properly you’ll need to pay a disposal fee. it is not less then $10 to change your own oil!

  10. Pete says:

    Sigh. This is one of those articles that is so easy to write, and sounds good on paper but in reality, many of these things probably require tutoring and mentoring. It’s also not all upside, and the article doesn’t mention the risks if something goes wrong. A DIY oil change job gone bad (such as over-tightening the lug nut) can cost thousands and lead to permanent engine damage. Sure, cleaning your own gutters sounds like a snap but make sure your health insurance is paid-up while you’re high on that ladder, on your two-story, in case you fall of. And while you’re at it, have another policy that will get you some income while you miss work for 3 months after the fall.

  11. poundwise says:

    > Change your own oil. Nope. This definitely cost more than the article states and definitely takes longer than 15 minutes; especially when you add in the time to dispose of the oil properly, etc. One good thing to consider though it that most people do overpay for this. Quick oil change places (in particular Jiffy Lube and the like) charge $30 or more typically. My mechanic does my oil and filter change for $16.95.

    > Cut your own hair. Kids? Yes. Me. No. I use coupons and save but I like the results and hate the hassle of the alternative.

    > Learn how to protect your own identity. Definitely. Most services and insurance offerings in this realm are not worth it at best and a total rip-off at worst.

  12. Sean says:

    Overall, very good post.

    One thing, however. What are you going to do with the used oil when you do your own oil change, pour it down the storm drain? It costs money to properly dispose of that oil, and it’s ecologically irresponsible not to recycle it.

    You have to consider other factors, too. For example, I’m looking at a Toyota Yaris. The dealer offers a lifetime powertrain warranty, if you do an oil change with that dealer every 3,000 miles.

    Now, I change my oil every 5,000 miles, not every 3,000. The dealership charges 19.95 to do the oil change. I can do it myself for about 15.00, including recycling the old oil.

    So, doing it myself every 5,000 miles costs about 45.00 every 15,000 miles.

    Having the dealer do it every 3,000 miles costs about 100.00 every 15,000 miles.

    I only drive about 10,000 miles per year, so my annual cost of doing it myself would be about 30.00, and my annual cost of having the dealer do it would be about 66.00.

    So the question is, is it worth 36.00 per year for a lifetime powertrain warranty. I’ve had my current car for 12 years; I had the one before it for 9, so for me, the answer is a resounding “yes”.

    If you want to avoid being penny smart, but pound foolish, you have to consider all the factors.

  13. mom-from-missouri says:

    We already do these and many more. I agree with 3bean. Add cook to the list, and how about grow some of your own food (remember the victory gardens??)
    Also, I would add conserve, reuse and recycle-even if only within your own household.

  14. Gail says:

    Delighted to see sewing added to the list. Considering most people’s clothes were hand-made up to about 100+ years ago, almost anything that needs to be done to your clothes, such as hemming, can be done by hand. In haute couture (those fabulously expensive clothes) almost all of the sewing is done by hand, so if you can’t afford a sewing machine, you can still mend and alter. Will it take longer than with a sewing machine, Yes, but much hand sewing can be done while watching the TV if needed. Don’t know how to sew? There are countless sewing articles available on the web that will guide you and books at the library to assist you.

    Can you tell I am a seamstress?

  15. Miranda says:

    Some of these are great ideas. But, not everyone can, or wants to, do all of them. And sometimes, when you consider how much time you could spend doing other things, it’s not worth it. Figure out which things you could do — practically — and do those things yourself to save a little more money.

  16. Pingback: Fave posts from the blogoshpere

  17. John says:

    Hi! Nicely explained guidelines. Moreover, these all little extra effort will not only save your money but also will ensure daily work out! So, more savings!

  18. TopWaysToSave says:

    I think its a good article. Some people wrote its hard to learn to do a lot of things. With sites like Google, Youtube and you can search countless things that you can learn to do yourself now. My wife searched Stuffed Mushrooms on Youtube last week and they came out awesome.

  19. julie says:

    do your own pet grooming? i’ve been a vet tech for 10 years and you have no idea how many home grooming accidents i’ve helped stitch up! be very, very careful that you don’t cut your dog or get bit! you should definitely comb and brush your dog or cat. you should be able to bathe your dog, but unless you’re brave you may want to leave hair cuts to the pros.

  20. LC says:

    I have ALWAYS put these into practice and have saved TONS of money! I cut my own hair and people often think it’s professional. I have been cutting my own hair for years so I have had a lot of practice. I also dye my own hair. I cut my families hair too! All look fantastic. My husband does most of the work in the house for projects and takes care of the car while I do the cleaning. We all pitch in for yard work.
    Increasing your wealth to pay others to do this for you is no way to save money! When you spend your limit of your paycheck there is none to put away for savings. Hence by doing it yourself you can put away the money you might have spent for others to do it for you thus increasing your wealth!

  21. Curt says:

    As the economy slows, more people will be doing more of this things, but all the service sector of the economy is based on these things. Therefore, as more people take care of their own chores, the service sector of the economy will likely slow.

  22. jerseygrl says:

    I agree with some of these points, but I prefer to pay people for lawn service. When you have a 1 acre lot and you work 12 hour days, you don’t want to spend the weekend mowing your yard, trimming, etc. Money well spent on getting the help. I agree that cleaning the house is a luxury and I’m planning on getting rid of my cleaners since I can easily do that myself. I think it should be a balance of both (things you have time to do/like to do vs. things you can’t do/dont’ want to do). I hate sewing and it’s tedious to me and requires some skill to make it look right, therefore I use a tailor.

  23. Pingback: Aprender habilidades para ahorrar « Centsation

  24. Pingback: Peso a peso » Blog Archive » Aprender habilidades para ahorrar

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *