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6 Essential Life Skills to Do It Yourself & Save Money

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Have you ever added up how much you spend each year getting your car’s oil changed? Or how much you’ve spent on fresh vegetables, gourmet jam, or having your pants hemmed?

Chances are, it’s a fair amount.

I recently stopped to think about all the products and services I pay for that I could be doing myself. For instance, I spend around $90 to $120 per year paying a mechanic to change my oil. That’s something I could easily do myself for a small fraction of the cost.

Recently, the S-bend pipe under my kitchen sink broke. I had to call a plumber to replace it because I had no idea how to do it myself. When I saw how simple it was, I cringed; I could have easily done it on my own.

Of course, outsourcing some tasks does give us the time to do other, possibly more productive (or fun) things. And taking on a bigger or more complicated task than you’re capable of can cost you in the long run. A simple fix can turn into a pricey repair if you mangle the job.

But taking the time to learn just a few simple DIY life skills can save you some significant money over the course of the year. Here are some of the most valuable, and doable, do-it-yourself skills that will save you money.

Money-Saving DIY Skills You Need to Learn

Learning how to do the skills listed below will save you money. You’ll also find that it gives you something else: a real sense of empowerment and self-sufficiency. It feels good to provide a home-cooked meal for your family, to preserve food you grew in your garden, or to cut your dog’s hair yourself.

If you’re ready to get your hands dirty and learn some new DIY skills, here are the best ones to start with.

1. Basic Car Maintenance

According to AAA, it costs almost $8,700 per year to own and operate a car, and 8% of this amount (or $766) is spent on maintenance.

Some repairs definitely require the knowledge and skill of an experienced mechanic, which is why it’s worth it to know how to find a good mechanic. However, some routine maintenance tasks are easy to learn and do at home.

Knowing how to change the oil in a car is a great first step. Start by checking out a few of the comprehensive car maintenance tutorials on the Web, like this one from Edmunds, or pick up a copy of “Auto Repair for Dummies” by Deanna Sclar. Keep in mind that most cars don’t need their oil changed every 3,000 miles like they used to, even though most oil change businesses still put 3,000 miles on your reminder sticker. The Tappet brothers of Car Talk fame recommend that you change the oil every 5,000 miles. However, they also advise that some cars can go as long as 10,000 miles between changes, so check your owner’s manual to see what your car’s manufacturer recommends.

Knowing how to change a tire is another useful skill. Bridgestone Tires has a great video tutorial that shows you how to do this safely. It’s a good idea to watch a few videos and make sure you have all the tools you’ll need in your trunk, then practice at least once at home so you know what to do. You don’t want the first time you change your tire to be in the middle of the night on the side of a highway.

2. Pet Grooming

I know some people who spend $50 per month taking their dog to the groomer. That’s $600 per year!

Some dog breeds require more upkeep than others. For example, Afghan Hounds are notoriously expensive dogs to maintain because their long hair needs almost daily brushing. Each trip to the groomer will cost $65 to $75 for this breed. Your dog likely doesn’t require this much pampering, but you can still save hundreds each year by grooming your dog or cat at home, especially if you have a long-haired pet. That’s money you could be spending on the other costs of owning a pet.

Another benefit of grooming your pets yourself is that you have complete control over the experience. There are no surprises when you pick your pet up to discover the groomer has not exactly followed your instructions. Plus, many dogs and cats get stressed from a trip to the groomer, and grooming at home is often a more pleasant experience for them. And, of course, no one will take care of your pet as well as you will.

The biggest investment you’ll need to make is for clippers, which usually cost $100 or more for a good pair. Make sure to purchase clippers designed for pets; according to a professional groomer interviewed by Dogster magazine, clippers made for human hair don’t have the power or speed to cut through pet hair and can even burn or cut your pet’s skin. Investing in a quality pair of pet clippers means they will cut more efficiently and reduce the likelihood of your pet suffering from razor burn or cuts.

If your pooch requires some fancy cuts to look great, pick up a copy of “DIY Dog Grooming” by Jorge Bendersky. You can also find numerous tutorials for at-home dog grooming online, like this one from Care.com.

If you live in a larger city, you might be able to take your dog to a DIY dog wash like The Soapy Dog in Asheville, North Carolina. DIY dog washes are set up with everything you need to bathe your dog, including shampoo, tubs, aprons, brushes, and towels. Many DIY dog washes also provide clippers (for a rental fee) so that you can trim your pooch right there.

While a DIY dog wash will cost you more than grooming at home, which is free once you’ve purchased supplies, the advantage is that they clean up the mess and can even provide guidance if you’re new to clipping hair and toenails. If you have access to a do-it-yourself dog wash, it might be worth the cost to go at least once and learn from a professional how to trim your dog’s hair.

3. Sewing & Mending

Do you know how to sew a button back onto a shirt or coat? What about hemming your own pants?

Many people don’t have a clue how to sew. It’s one of those skills that have fallen by the wayside in our era of cheap, fast clothing. However, knowing how to sew can save you quite a bit of money throughout the year. Just think about how much you spent on your child’s Halloween costume last year; how much would you have saved by making a costume yourself? How much would you save if you bought fewer clothes and instead repaired the ones you have?

Learning to sew is relatively easy. If you like learning from books, pick up a copy of “First Time Sewing: The Absolute Beginner’s Guide.” There are also some great online tutorials; check out Good Housekeeping’s tutorial “Learn How to Sew,” which is an easy class for beginners.

Another option is to take a class. JoAnn Fabrics offers in-person sewing classes that cost around $35 each. You can also take online classes through Craftsy, which cost around $20 to $30 each.

4. Canning Your Own Food

Canning your own fruits, vegetables, meats, and soups might sound a bit overwhelming and not worth the trouble. However, I’ve been canning my own food for years, and I can tell you firsthand that it’s not nearly as complex or difficult as it might seem at first. Yes, it’s a lot of work, but knowing how to can your own food has a number of benefits.

First, home-canned food costs much less than the canned food you purchase at the store, especially if you have an organic garden or buy fresh produce from your local farmers’ market or CSA.

Second, home-canned food is healthier because it allows you to know exactly what is going into your food, and you can skip the chemical additives used in some commercially canned food to retain color or texture.

Additionally, in home-canning, you preserve food in glass jars instead of metal cans, which can have a BPA liner on the inside to prevent a metal taste in the food. Scientists are still researching the health risks of BPA. One study found that BPA could be a possible endocrine disrupter, resulting in sexual dysfunction in men, while another study found that the risk BPA poses for humans is low as it’s rapidly excreted in our urine. Regardless, it’s likely a good idea to avoid BPA when possible.

Home-canning is a cost-effective way to start building an emergency food pantry and preparing for natural disasters. You can also use your new knowledge to save on gifts; canned food is a unique and frugal holiday gift idea. Finally, home-canned food tastes way better than anything you can buy at the store.

The easiest way to get started is to learn water bath canning, the process used to preserve high-acid foods such as jam and pickles. Water bath canning requires only a few inexpensive tools – namely, a large stock pot, jars, bands, lids, a jar lifter, a funnel, and fresh ingredients. Ball has detailed instructions for water bath canning on their website. You’ll also want to pick up a copy of “Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving,” a classic instruction manual for home canning.

Low-acid foods such as vegetables, meats, and homemade soups require intense heat to kill the bacteria and spores that cause botulism food poisoning. To preserve these foods, you’ll need a pressure canner.

Pressure canning is a bit more complex than water bath canning, which is why it’s considered the next step up in food preservation. However, as long as you have a quality pressure canner and some detailed instructions – like these from the Ball website – you’ll do fine. I have the Presto Pressure Canner, which costs around $70 on Amazon, and have found it to be a quality and affordable pressure canner.

You can also find USDA-approved recipes and instructions at the National Center for Home Preservation.

One good way to save on supplies is to scour thrift stores and garage sales for used canning jars. Make sure any jars you purchase are in good condition and free of cracks or chips. You can also look for used jars on Craigslist or Freecycle.

5. Growing Your Own Vegetables

According to the National Gardener’s Association, the number of home gardens is growing (no pun intended). In 2014, 35% of U.S. households grew their own food, and Millennial households have seen the biggest increase – up 63% since 2008.

One reason gardening is seeing a resurgence is that growing your own vegetables at home or in a community garden can save you a lot of money. How much you save depends on the size of your garden, the size of your family, and what you grow, but some gardeners have reported saving thousands on their grocery bill each year. If you can, sell, or trade your excess produce, you can reap even more of a financial harvest.

Another reason why more people are choosing to grow their own food is that they want complete control over the quality of their fruits and vegetables. Organic produce can be expensive, but it’s quite affordable if you grow your own.

Home gardening is also better for the planet. Instead of buying zucchini or green beans that were grown hundreds of miles away and flown to your area, you can go into your backyard and pick them yourself. You save time by not visiting the store as often (and money because you’re less likely to splurge on impulse buys while you’re there), you eat healthier, and you get more exercise.

Gardening can be expensive to get into. If you’re not careful, the cost of tools, seeds, and other supplies can eat up the savings you might otherwise see. However, there are several ways to save money here.

First, find a local seed library or seed exchange in your area. You can often find information on seed saving and swapping programs at your library or local gardening supply business. The library can also be a great source of gardening how-to books. One of my favorites is “Gardening When It Counts.”

Scour thrift stores, garage sales, and sites like Craigslist for used gardening tools such as shovels, rakes, and hoes. You can also ask family members to loan you their tools if they’re not using them.

Your garden will produce higher yields if you fertilize it with good soil and compost, which can also be expensive. Save money on these by getting into vermicomposting (using worms to turn your wasted kitchen scraps into compost), making your own compost, or asking your city if they provide free mulch (many cities do if you pick it up).

You can also save money if your area has a local extension office of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Extensions bring the knowledge and experience of master gardeners to others who need a helping hand as they learn to grow their own food. Most extensions also have annual plant sales. These are a boon to gardeners because you can pick up very inexpensive, locally started fruits and vegetables to plant in your own garden. You can find your nearest extension office on Gardening Know How.

If you don’t have a yard, you can still grow a garden by finding a community garden or starting one of your own. You can also explore container gardening. The book “Grow All You Can Eat In Three Square Feet” is a great resource for small-space gardening.

When I started my own garden, I found a ton of valuable tips on Backyard Gardener.

6. Cooking At Home

Cooking at home is an easy way to save hundreds or thousands of dollars a year. One Money Crashers writer even manages to eat for under $4 a day by cooking at home.

Cooking at home is also much healthier than eating out, according to research conducted by Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. The study found that people who cook at home consume fewer carbohydrates, fewer calories, and less sugar than those who eat out. Another study, published the journal Obesity Reviews, found that food eaten outside the home is lower in micronutrients. In short, when you eat out, you’re paying more money for food that’s lower in quality than the food you’d cook at home.

Eating healthy meals together as a family can also start your children on a path to good eating habits later in life. A study published in the journal Public Health Nutrition found that the vegetables served to kids at dinner significantly predicted their intake of vegetables five years later.

Additionally, at-home meals can lead to more positive experiences within your family. A study published in the The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that at-home meals resulted in more intense positive emotions and less worry than meals eaten away from home.

The evidence strongly suggests that eating at home is better for your health and your wallet. So, how do you get started?

If you’re not used to cooking at home, or you just don’t like being in your kitchen, one of the best things you can do to get started is to make your kitchen a room you want to spend time in. Declutter the countertops and cupboards and donate or sell any kitchen appliances, tools, or gadgets you don’t see yourself using anytime soon. Go through your pantry and get rid of any food that’s expired or hasn’t been touched in months. Make your kitchen feel clean and inviting so you’ll want to go in there to cook. If you’re feeling ambitious, give the room a new coat of paint, hang up some artwork, or put in some brighter lights to give it a fresh feel.

Next, set some achievable goals for cooking at home. If you don’t cook at all right now, then commit to making one meal at home each week for the next month. If you need help getting started, The Spruce Eats has a comprehensive list of basic cooking tutorials.

You might feel more motivated to cook at home with some new recipe books. Your library can be a great source for cookbooks, and borrowing them first is an affordable way to find the ones you’ll eventually want to buy and use over and over again. You can find also plenty of used cookbooks on eBay and Amazon.

If you’re in the mood for some delicious (but not really healthy) comfort food, check out “Cravings: Recipes for All the Food You Want to Eat” by supermodel Chrissy Teigen. For recipes that are both delicious and healthy, see Kathryne Taylor’s vegetarian cookbook Love Real Food: More Than 100 Feel-Good Vegetarian Favorites to Delight the Senses and Nourish the Body.” If you want super-fast recipes for busy weeknights, try “The Pioneer Woman Cooks: Dinnertime – Comfort Classics, Freezer Food, 16-Minute Meals, and Other Delicious Ways to Solve Supper” by Food Network personality Ree Drummond. 

Final Word

Learning new skills can save you money and build your self-confidence. Yes, it may be hard and frustrating in the beginning. You will probably fail, sometimes spectacularly so. But the benefits of learning a new skill will far outweigh the frustration of your early failures. You’ll learn from your mistakes, and eventually, it won’t be so hard. So keep going; you’ll be glad you did.

What do you consider the most valuable money-saving DIY skills? What would you add to this list?

Heather Levin
Heather Levin is a writer with over 15 years experience covering personal finance, natural health, parenting, and green living. She lives in the mountains of Western North Carolina with her husband and two young sons, where they're often wandering on frequent picnics to find feathers and wildflowers.

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