Happiness is Doing it Yourself

There was a fun discussion over at 101 Centavos last week on his post Are you Worth as much as a Plumber?  Some of the commenters, such as The Biz of Life and 101 Centavos, were big fans of Doing It Yourself.  There was even some mention of Man Points for fixing things.  Others, such as Funny about Money, had hilarious tales of projects gone horribly wrong.  She even called us out by dropping the T word.  That’s right Testosterone.

Since I am an avid Do It Yourselfer (mostly because I am cheap), I thought I would share three examples of where we saved a ton of money by doing it ourselves.  And the projects came out great.  As for Man Points, I have to admit my wife looks at me totally different after I fix something on a Sunday, instead of napping on the couch watching an Angels game.

The Pergo Floor

Mrs. Prosper enjoying the new Pergo FloorHaving cream colored carpet at the beach is just a bad idea, especially in the entry way of the front door.  I had always wanted to put in some bamboo flooring, but budgetary concerns kept me from realizing my dream.  (I was too cheap.)  One day, we were in Lowe’s and my wife pointed out the Pergo flooring.  Since it snapped together, even amateurs like us had a shot at putting it down.  Plus, we wouldn’t have to wax, refinish or maintain it.  It was right up our alley.

We measured it out and bought the materials.  We also bought the little plastic hammer, pounding block and other accessories.  I already had a table and jig saw, so I only needed to borrow a chop saw.  The demolition work wasn’t much fun.  We had to remove all of the carpet, Linoleum, tack strips and nails. We also swept up about 50 pounds of sand that was under the carpet.  Putting in the Pergo wasn’t that hard.  My wife laid down the underlayment; my brother laid down the Pergo; and I made all of the cuts.  One weekend and $1,000 later, we were the proud owners of a beautiful new faux wood floor.

The Truck Bed Swap

Aaron's Toyota TruckNothing brings back teenage memories for a middle-aged man like watching his kid trash their vehicle.  When my son got rear-ended by a speeding BMW, I thought the little Toyota truck was lost.  But, after I inspected the damage, I realized that the frame was straight and only the bed and bumper were damaged.

I figured we could get a bed and bumper at a junk yard and fix the truck, without going to the very costly body shop.  Our big opportunity came when my nephew lunched the transmission on his similar Toyota truck and we bought the parts from it.  We unbolted the two truck beds, picked them up and threw them on the lawn.  Even though the trucks were different model years and one was an extra-cab, the trucks beds were nearly identical.  They were even the same color, so we didn’t have to paint.  We swapped the beds and bolted them on the opposite trucks.  Four hours and $500 later, the truck was as good as used.

The Upstairs Bathroom

Upstairs Bathroom SubfloorNothing is more terrifying to the average homeowner than the two dreaded words, plumbing leak.  This condition is enough to send a staunch man into a quivering state of shock, as he has visions of dry rot and empty bank accounts.  This will immediately affix the wife onto his case, until the situation is stabilized.  She will be having visions of mold and mildew in the walls.  Plumbers and contractors love a situation like this, because it’s practically an open checkbook.  It’s not like a remodel, where you have a choice to do it or not.  It has to be fixed, and it has to be fixed now.  They will be having visions of bass boats and Hawaiian vacations.

It takes some pretty big boots to rip up a sub-floor for the first time.  And, it takes some awesome power tools.  This project created the opportunity for me to buy the reciprocating saw I have always wanted.  The rest of the materials were pretty cheap.  I bought some glue, 2x4s, a sheet of plywood, caulking and some Linoleum tiles.  I finished the job with ten fingers and toes.  Six hours and $300 later, the kid’s bathroom was water tight and looking good.

Tips for Do It Yourselfers

Harbor FreightThere once was a time honored tradition of going into the hardware or the auto parts store and asking someone who worked there for advice.  If you were lucky, they had someone on hand who either worked in the trades or was a solid amateur.  Now days, you walk into a warehouse store and talk to a kid who looks like he changes his clothes, about as often as you change your motor oil.  We still have a downtown hardware store, so I am happy to pay a little more for my building supplies.  Since I live in a military town, I find a kid in the auto parts store who looks like a Marine from Indiana.  If I see a Mustang or a Camaro in the parking lot, I can usually get help.

Thanks to a modern marvel called the Internet, help is often only a couple of clicks away.  I like to jump on YouTube and watch videos of people doing these projects, before I get started myself.  That way, I have the right supplies and I don’t go off in the wrong direction.  Twice, these YouTube videos have completely saved my project when I was stuck in the middle and had parts everywhere.  Something as simple as changing the brakes on a Jetta can turn into a nightmare, until you figure out the how the mechanics compress the wheel cylinders.  Watching the YouTube video is way better than reading through my Chilton’s manuals.


No wives or other females were harmed during this post.  Any reference to people you know is purely coincidental.  Men are well aware that most women work really hard, but we enjoy acting like the stronger sex.  My wife has helped me lay tile, remove Linoleum, change oil, install Pergo, paint the house dig an irrigation drain and scrape the cottage cheese off the ceilings.

The Bottom Line

The bottom line is that people can save a lot of money by doing some things for themselves.  I have personally saved tens of thousands of dollars and have the satisfaction of a job well done.  But, it takes careful preparation to avoid a failed project.  Some projects are better left to the experts.

“It takes half your life before you discover life is a do-it-yourself project.”

Napoleon Hill – Author of Think and Grow Rich

Recommended Reading

Frugal Dad – Outsourcing Household Chores
The Financial Blogger – Extra Income for Hands On People
Ask the Builder – Water Damaged Drywall

This post was featured on the Carnival of Personal Finance over at Kitten a Go-Go.  If you aren’t familiar with the Carnival of Personal Finance, you need to check it out. It’s the greatest carnival on the net.

This post was also featured on:

101 Centavos – Revolution, Baby! A Bastille Day Roundup
Money Crashers – Round-Up: Don’t Lose Your Footing on Life

Thank you for the links to my blog.

23 comments to Happiness is Doing it Yourself

  • We put in a floating floor into our old appartment, ended up being cheaper than carpet, and super easy to install
    Bankruptcy Ben recently posted..Something about a designer brand going bankrupt delights me.My Profile

    • It was pretty easy to install, except in the closets and around some tight corners. But, I did some magic with my jig saw and it came out great.

      The thing we like about it the most is that it’s so much cleaner. There aren’t a bunch of stains and dust on the ground, like you have with carpet. If something gets spilled, you just clean it up and it’s gone.
      Bret recently posted..Happiness is Doing it YourselfMy Profile

  • Hi Bret, my husband and I rent so we don’t do a lot of home projects anymore. My husband is very handy though, so he used to replace porch stairs or an electrical outlet. He knows his limits though, so we left the slab plumbing leak to the experts.

    One other consideration is time vs. money. Sometimes the experts can do it faster and better than you at a low cost and it’s not worth taking time out of your side business to do it.

    This may be true more in Texas than CA as we have many cheap services. 🙂 For example, we outsource most of our laundry and it costs $30-40 per month, saving several hours of work.
    Jennifer Barry recently posted..From Gunslinger to Monk, Part 2My Profile

    • Hi Jennifer,

      Being handy is a good skill to have, whether you own or rent. One of my brothers has a nice little side-business as a handy man. I hire him a lot for his tools and expertise and I add some muscle to the job. I have learned a lot working with him.

      The time vs. money argument is easy. If I can’t save at least half on a project, I let someone else do it. It’s usually pretty easy to save over half because contractors in my area are in the stratosphere. Even some of the ones I know, who constantly complain there’s no work, want to clear $1,000 per day and head for the bar at 2:30. Unless there are permits or specialized skills and tools involved, it’s usually way cheaper to do it ourselves.

      I do have one small indulgence. I pay for lawn maintenance and it has nothing to do with cost. I used to work for my oldest brother’s landscaping company and I have mowed thousands of lawns. I pay him to maintain our yards and it’s well worth the money.

      Bret recently posted..Happiness is Doing it YourselfMy Profile

      • Hi Bret, I agree, I’m not handy at all. I’m not very mechanically inclined and my parents never let me try home improvement projects because they didn’t want me to screw them up. Now as an adult I’m afraid to try most things.

        My husband is using his skills to insulate the office for his new business. 🙂
        Jennifer Barry recently posted..From Gunslinger to Monk, Part 2My Profile

  • Hi Bret, thanks for the link.
    We have an upstairs bathroom right now that needs a new tile floor. Mrs. 101 is dead set on mosaic tile, which I detest working with. Linoleum and regular tile I can do no problem, little bitty mosaics are just a pain in the rear. I may actually hire that out to a floor installer who we know works pretty cheap.
    Harbor Freight Tools rocks, by the way. Can’t never leave there with less than a hundred bucks worth of tools.

    • Centavos,

      Your plumbing post was great, especially the comments.

      We laid down 600 square feet of our own tile and it was a lot of work. My back and knees still hate me. The mosaic tile is no big deal if you get them in the big squares with a mesh backing. Then, you just lay out the squares and grout them in. You can even do the cuts with a pair of scissors, unstead of a tile saw. I don’t think anyone lays out the little individual mosaic tiles any more.

      If you can get a professional to do it cheap, I say go for it. I still enjoy walking over our tile floors, knowing we did it ourselves. But, it was hard work and there are a lot of little imperfections.
      Bret recently posted..Happiness is Doing it YourselfMy Profile

  • I’ve saved a bundle of money over the years doing projects myself. The biggest thing I did was finishing my basement. The key is you have to know what tasks you can take on yourself and which ones you just need to pay a pro on.
    The Biz of Life recently posted..Quote of the Day: Matt RidleyMy Profile

    • I happily paid to roof and paint the exterior of our house, even though I have done both in the past. We have a two-story house and it is way up there. Safety is one of my biggest considerations when deciding to hire someone or go it alone.

      I sure wish I had a basement. We just threw down some carpet in the garage, since we rarely park in it. That’s pretty common in Cali, since the weather allows you to keep your cars outside year-round.
      Bret recently posted..Happiness is Doing it YourselfMy Profile

  • Daniel L.

    I haven’t done much do-it-yourself stuff. But your wood floor looks very nice. I wish I could do this kind of stuff in the near future.
    Daniel L. recently posted..Infographic : gagner de l’argent sur internetMy Profile

    • Thanks for stopping by Daniel.

      We were really happy with how nicely it turned out. As Bankruptcy Ben stated above, it’s not that difficult to put in one of these floors. The only issue for us was that we floored two closets, along with the room. And, I wanted the wood to flow seemlessly into them. So, that was a little tricky. But, for a big square room, it’s a piece of cake.
      Bret recently posted..Happiness is Doing it YourselfMy Profile

  • Hi Bret, thanks for the links!
    “It takes half your life before you discover life is a do-it-yourself project.”
    I totally love this quote! This will serve me as an inspiration in starting my DIY project at home. Many Thanks!
    Shannon@Internet Business Strategies recently posted..Web Marketing StrategyMy Profile

  • Bret,

    In the new place we have been doing most of the work, but hired out the install of a large amount of the floors (1,608 feet total – carpet and laminate). We figured doing those two things would probably take us around 2 weeks as a two person team – even *with* stealing our friends’ time for labor, so were happy to hire it out.

    On that note, I usually do things myself not just for the price savings (or the testosterone fueled bragging rights!) but rather because in most instances I feel that even though I may not quite equal the quality of work of a contractor, I will do things to the quality I want, and make only the trade-offs I feel like making.

    On that note, nothing we’ve done so far we regret, so I might be singing a different tune in the near future!

    pkamp3 recently posted..On Automatic Investments… and Coming Up ShortMy Profile

    • Paul,

      I don’t regret any of it either. It’s kind of cool when I walk around my house and see all of the hard work we have poured into it. It makes it more of a home than a house.

      Bret recently posted..Happiness is Doing it YourselfMy Profile

      • Bret,

        I have to admit, we recently broke down and hired someone to paint the living room – with the clerestory windows and 15′ ceilings. (I couldn’t get good coverage on the ceiling).

        The room looks great, but it’s not the same!


  • The water in the walls is the worst. A burst toilet water tank on the second floor in a relative’s home means that most of the entire inside of the house had to be gutted down to the beams… pretty insane stuff. It’s been four months now and the work isn’t done yet.
    Invest It Wisely recently posted..What Would You Do with a Million Dollars?My Profile

    • Kevin,

      I was very lucky the water went into the floor, instead of the wals. Also, this bathroom was over the garage. So, there was virtually no drywall damage. I jumped on it quickly to avoid any long-term problems.
      Bret recently posted..Happiness is Doing it YourselfMy Profile

  • Hats off to you for your DIY skills. If only my boyfriend was as adept. I get a lot of enjoyment from painting or redecorating rooms. For my boyfriend it’s his idea of absolute hell. Will have to convert him somehow…!

    • Thanks for stopping by Harri.

      Everyone seems to have their own favorite activities and projects. I would much rather crawl under the cars or use my power tools than paint. But, my wife loves it. It may just not be his thing.

      He will probably convert to DIY quickly, once he gets his first bid from a contractor. When someone wants thousands of dollars for a couple of days work, all of the sudden, painting doesn’t seem so bad.
      Bret recently posted..He who Dies with the Most Toys is DeadMy Profile

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