Mini-Money Challenge: How Handy Are You?

My friend had a leak under her sink. Big puddle of water. They called the plumber, who quoted her $800 to pull and remove the leaking faucet and replace it with a new one.

She related the story to me: “$800?! Are you kidding? That’s a lot of money! That’s almost a thousand dollars!”

“So you told the plumber ‘thanks, but no thanks?’” I asked.

“Yeah! Absolutely, I can walk into Home Desperate and pick up a new faucet for $200 and swap it out. That savings is enough for my Juvederm!

For those of you who may not be familiar, Juvederm is a cosmetic gel that is injected into various facial creases, usually around the lip/cheek intersection area. It is a “filler” and “plumper” used by some people, like my friend, who prefer a minimum of facial texture. If your brain works like my husband’s, it may help to think of it as caulk for under your skin.

This, to me, is hilarious. My friend is willing to go total DIY, take household maintenance onto herself and step outside of “typical gender roles” in home improvement.

She’s walking around Home Depot with an old facet under her arm, hunting for silicone tape and new braided hose. Later she’s under the sink, a kid’s flashlight in her mouth and a wrench in her hand. She’s saving money, doing it herself and not outsourcing doable tasks.

And she’s doing this all for face caulk, perhaps the girliest, least “frugal” expenditure I can think of.

Which brings me to my point: the values that drive your spending decisions are probably not the same as mine, and mine are not the same as my friend’s. But all of us should have some basic skills around the home, so that, whatever our goals, we are able to avoid $800 charges for repairs and improvements that are within our skill set.

Scoping out the panel options at the Big Box Store.

Mini Money Challenge

Your Mini Money Challenge for today is to play “Real Estate Agent” in your own home. Walk around, room by room, and write down anything about your house that would need to get spruced up, fixed or repaired if you were to list your home for sale.

Try to look at your home objectively. The stuff you don’t notice anymore, like that crack in the drywall that’s been there forever? Take the time to see it today. As part of the larger umbrella of “your home” think about your car or cars, too, because they need even more routine maintenance than homes.

If your home is larger, or has a lot of areas in need of maintenance, or if you just prefer to keep this challenge truly Mini, just do one room or one zone for now. You can come back for the rest later.

Once you have your Home Improvement List, honestly evaluate what projects or improvements you have the skills to do yourself that you might be tempted to outsource.

Here’s a few ideas:

  • Routine Home-cleaning
  • Routine Yard-maintenance
  • Decluttering and Organization
  • Interior Painting
  • Exterior Painting
  • Pressure Washing
  • Tiling
  • Flooring Installation and/or Refinishing
  • Roofing
  • Drywall
  • Electrical Work
  • Plumbing Work
  • Automotive Maintenance or Repair
  • Woodworking
  • Framing
  • Landscaping design
  • Window Washing

Next to each “Real Estate Agent Task” write down what component of the task you can do.

Try to be as specific as you can:

“Tape off, sand and prime trim. Paint with 2 coats semi-gloss.”

“Remove panel from front of oven. Look for obvious signs of where that burning electrical smell is coming from. Evaluate.”

“Wash exterior windows using microfiber cloth on extension pole.”

“Paint asphalt driveway with 3 coats sealant.”

Not everyone, right off the bat, is going to have the skills or inclination to tackle every home improvement project that comes their way. Homebrew Husband and I are not what you’d call “Handy People.” No, instead we are people who have five linear feet of dictionary. We learned, upon attempting our first drywall project, that mudding and taping is a skill that takes some practice and, frankly, we sucked at it.

We hired a guy to build our chicken coop and it was painfully clear that he was way, way better at building stuff than we ever would have been. Sometimes, professional experience really counts.

On the other hand, we’ve successfully repaired washing machines and dishwashers and have built our edible garden and exterior irrigation system. We’ve re-caulked and re-grouted and stained and painted and more or less succeeded in not making a hash of our house in the process…yet.

Some of you are in flats or apartments or other living situations where you’re not in charge of the domicile’s maintenance. In this case, look to things like your car, if you have one, or your even your bike or your wardrobe – could you stop outsourcing the hemming of your pants?

My friend, the one with the Face Caulk, went on to tell me she also changes her car’s oil, among other things. She told me she likes to do what she can around the house because it teaches her about the systems of her home and helps her understand how everything works.

Those are the kind of values I can really get behind.

What home repair and improvement skills do you have? How much of your home maintenance do you DIY vs. outsource? Are you currently outsourcing anything you could do yourself without a whole lot of time or trouble?


  1. says

    Funny you should write this today. I woke up yesterday to find water leaking through my living room ceiling, dripping from the leaky shower above. Fortunately, I figured out that by actually turning off the shower all the way, we could stop the leak. Unfortunately, turning off the shower all the way is hard because it’s old and cranky . . . which is why my sons leave it dripping. I figured I bought myself a few days of waiting time, but soon I’m going to have to decide whether to give up my weekend to a big plumbing project, or open up my wallet to a big plumbing bill. Drat.

    • says

      Ugh. My condolences. I once had water from the upstairs laundry room dripping through the downstairs can lights. Wasn’t pretty. Good luck!

  2. Bella says

    This is AWESOME!
    Frequently – apparently – we are the friend with the face caulk. We have a handful of hobbies that are just shall we say ‘expensive’. We are careful about our spending – but it’s still a lot of money for something that is totally a want. But yes, we are willing to do almost all DIY home and vehicle projects ourselves. My parents are frequently confused about why we spend on certain things and not others, and usually it boils down to – we don’t pay for things that we can do well ourselves – but we can’t do everything well.

    • says

      I think most of us have some kind of proverbial Face Caulk. My perspective on personal finance is, with time and work you can probably have almost ANYTHING you really want, but you almost certainly can’t have EVERYTHING you want, so you gotta pick and prioritize based on your values.

  3. Tara says

    I am not particularly handy, but my husband is – he has saved us thousands of dollars in repairs and renovations around teh house with his skills. As the Sweet Potato Queens say, romance is great, but you won’t be able to think about that if your toilet is stopped up. ;-) I do love my handy man!
    As for my own frugal measures, I do not spend on face caulk – but I do cut and color my own hair and do my own mani/pedicures.

  4. says

    We basically do everything around here, BUT sometimes we decide that it is worth it to pay someone else to do the work. It is a case-by-case thing. Thus far on our farm….we’ve built both barns and a workshop including renting a backhoe and laying pipe and electric to all. The hubs fixes cars and tractors and I’m pretty handy working with wood. We sew, weld, garden, etc.

    Sometimes though we decide that the decreased physical and mental stress is worth paying for. For example, we paid a crew to do the drywall on a workshop ceiling….we figured out what materials and rentals (scaffolding and such) would cost then got bids….we decided that it was worth the $400 in labor to get the job done in one day. We knew it would tax our bodies and be stressful, so it was worth that $400 dollars.

    • says

      Drywall….on the ceiling. Yeah, we would have made the same choice. Overhead taping and mudding = ugh. Often the pros have specialty tools to make the process a lot more streamlined too.

  5. says

    I do almost all of my own electrical (everything except modify the circuit breaker box, although I will replace breakers if I need to – gotta draw a line somewhere). Note – this can be illegal in some states if you don’t have an electrician’s license.

    I do almost all my own painting – we have three areas that require scaffolding to paint, so we hired those out.

    I refuse to touch plumbing – too many bad memories of my father screaming over it, but Dad will do plumbing (and that’s about all he can do in the handy department), so we’re even.

    However, if I made a list of all the little things that need doing around the house, I’d just depress myself :( We just haven’t had the time with Daughter Person wandering around and wanting to “help”.

    • Homebrew Husband says

      I’m so with you on electrical vs. plumbing! I’m completely comfortable with electrical work (it might help that I spent part of college working on 100kv power systems) but am utterly terrified of any in-the-wall plumbing. Appliance replacement or PVC in the garden is one thing, but anything permanent…I’ll pass.

  6. Lindsey says

    I am not handy at all. My husband burns every single thing he cooks and he hates dealing with compost. I feel very, very lucky to have married someone who has alternate, instead of duplicate skills. I don’t care if it is old fashioned and smacks of gender roles. I would rather be making a roast than fixing the stopped up toilet, and am blessed that he thinks nothing of unplugging the toilet but would never make ahome cooked meal.

    I used to feel the need to learn how to do things like fix the toilet, on principle. I don’t anymore and it has made my life easier.

    • says

      I couldn’t agree more! I am perfectly happy with my “prescribed” gender role. It keeps things moving very well here, and with few issues. If my husband tried to make dinner, we’d be subsisting on scrambled eggs, frozen veggies, mac and cheese, and sandwiches. At least if we have sandwiches for supper one night, it’s because we have something going on with me in charge of the food. ;)

      Same thing goes for taking the wheel when we take a road trip – usually, you see the Dad driving. In our family it is because of my extraordinary talent of being able to get us so utterly lost (even WITH a GPS…thankyouverymuch), that my husband has long since stopped trying to teach me to read a map, and just let me be with my directional ignorance. ;)

  7. Bruce says

    I agree totally with the whole concept of DIY. And don’t forget the barter potential with folks that can do what you cannot, or don’t want to, do.

    I hurt myself laughing at the image of “face caulk.” I think I’d rather have the texture.

  8. Kallie says

    DIY projects have made me love YouTube. Both my hubby and I are more visual learners. You can find a lot of videos on how to do just about anything around the house. I will be using this challenge to identify the small things around the house, like the loose handels on my pots, my mixer seems to have a screw loose somewhere, I seem to have done something to my food processor and haven’t taken the time to figure out what I need to make it work, since everything it can do, I can also do with another kitchen gadget. In the past we were toss it and replace it kinda people, but we are far more likely to give a repair a try when we are calm and have minimal distractions.

    • Kallie says

      I forgot to mention, many of us just lack confidence or just don’t enjoy the DIY projects. When we started doing things like builiding the chicken coop or my industrial strength trellis system my husband really didn’t want to do it, so we invited friends with skills to help and we feed them as a reward. I was amazed at how many people wanted to pitch in to help, some had no more skills than my hubby and fortunately we had one friend who works construction notice the postings on facebook about our adventure and came over at the perfect time, we were having great difficulty getting the coop square. I was surprised at how much fun it was, it reminded me of an old fashioned barn raising.

      • says

        I love this point – larger projects especially CAN be a huge community building experience. We have a good friend who has basically flown all over the country to help out friends with various home improvement projects. It’s one of the way he keeps relationships with his friends from school close AND there’s bonus productive stuff that gets knocked off to boot.

  9. Angela says

    This is so true. I was spoiled because I grew up with a dad and grandpa who, between them, could fix anything — including electrical, plumbing, carpentry, and HVAC — and can still ask my dad for assistance with the big projects and advice on all the small ones. But it’s amazing how many projects around the house are way easier to deal with than we are led to believe. My husband isn’t an overly mechanical guy, but he took our vacuum apart after it broke and discovered he could replace the drum for $12 or so, which is way cheaper than a new vacuum. I’m not terribly handy, but I can patch a screen or a hole in a wall, or replace an old leaky O-ring, and often that’s all you need to do.

    Two things to be aware of — one is to look for “Fix-It Clinics” in your area. Our county held their first one recently and it was great! You brought in your broken appliances or torn jeans or problematic computer and they had volunteers with fix-it skills to help you find what was wrong and fix it, for free! And you could volunteer if you had a skill. The other thing is to do some networking, even if you don’t have friends or relatives to show you how to do something — a bunch of chicken owners in the area where I live worked with an electrician recently to put together a very cheap workshop on how to minimize the cost of having your coop wired by doing all the prep work like digging a trench, which was a great solution to the problem of cities starting to require expensive professional coop wiring for chicken permits.

  10. says

    I’m handy enough, and my husband is very handy. In a nutshell, if we can do it, or have a reasonable idea that we can do it, we will. We tackle almost all minor jobs, even electrical or plumbing. Major electrical work would be something we’d outsource (if possible, my husband, who has lots of construction connections, would hire a buddy who knows the work and would help him just for the chance to learn). Major plumbing would probably be outsourced, as would major auto repair. On the other hand, we have a great mechanic who will tell us what’s wrong and how to fix it if he thinks Shane can tackle it himself.

    Some of the things we’ve done are bathroom remodeling (twice), bedroom remodeling (new sheetrock, carpet, etc.), window and door replacement, laying laminate wood floors, installing built-in appliances, ceiling fans, whole house fans, etc., shed construction, repairs to our RV, some car repair, some mower repair, garage door and opener installation, sump pump installation, concrete work. I could go on, but these are what come to mind easily.

    We had Lowe’s install our dishwasher because Shane was out of town at the time, and we had them install our carpeting (4 rooms and hallway), mostly because we were in something of a hurry. However, we did all the rip-out/disposal of the old carpet and “de-squeaking” of the floor underneath so we saved some money that way.

  11. says

    The hubs and I do most of our own work around the house…although we also draw the line at drywall! ugh. it is just too much effort to do it right, when there are people that do it for a living. So our basement family room is still not finished….cause we are saving to afford to hire it out! We do build our own coops (two in one year in fact), minor electrical and plumbing repairs/switch outs. Painting is my department. I come from a long line of DIYers, I have a reputation to live up to….


Leave a Reply

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

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>