Home Improvement: DIY and Save Money

Home Improvement: DIY and Save MoneyBeing new home owners means we’re facing a number of new expenses. These include HOA fees, property taxes, and of course mortgage payments. In addition, we’ve been working on some home improvement projects that have the potential to be an additional drain on our budget.

This is all part of the process of making a house a home, and we’re intent on not going broke doing while doing it. A big way we’ve been saving money has been to go ahead and do some of the work ourselves.

Do your own painting

When we closed, we immediately took the keys and drove to our new place. It was fantastic to have a home of our own, but something was definitely missing — color. The house was plain white on the inside, and we knew that we needed to get some of the rooms painted before we moved in.

Unfortunately, since we had just made the biggest purchase of our lives, we were on a tight budget. We thus decided to host a painting party, and several of our friends volunteered to help. What’s nice is that our circle of friends includes some professional painters who gave us some tips for getting a great paint job.

We bought the paint and supplies while our friends filled in the gaps, such as lending us their ladders. Sharing these sorts of items amongst friends can be a great way to save money.

Here’s what we needed to complete our painting project:


We bought our paint from Sherwin-Williams and Lowe’s. Depending which room you’re painting, you might opt for different finishes.

  • Flat: Bedrooms, Dining Rooms, Ceilings
  • Satin: Halls, Children’s Bedrooms, Family Rooms
  • Semi-gloss: Kitchens, Bathrooms, Trim
  • Gloss: Wood trim, Doors, Cabinets


While people often cut corners when it comes to primer, using it can give you a much better end result. This is especially true if you’re changing colors. For example, when my mom bought her house, one of the bedrooms was black. We had to prime it in order to change it to a very soothing pink for my sister’s bedroom. When we were done, nobody would’ve had a clue about the previous color.

Brushes and rollers

We bought a variety of brushes for “cutting in” and also several types of rollers for achieving different textures. We also borrowed several painting poles for getting to hard-to-reach places.


Finally, we picked up a number of other small items including drop cloths, rags, paint trays, and a paint can opener. You should also be sure to have some basic tools on hand (hammer, screwdriver, etc.) for prepping the room before painting.

Putting it all together

In the end, our painting party really felt like a party, we had the music cranked and were catching up while we painted. We did our best to show our appreciation by having plenty of food and drinks on hand. We also threw a ‘thank you’ party to celebrate moving in and to show appreciation for every one’s hard work.

Installing ceiling fans

When we were choosing options for our house, we asked friends which upgrades we could do on the cheap ourselves and which we should have done professionally. The feedback they provided saved us a lot of money.

For example, we wanted ceiling fans in several rooms, but the builder was asking an unreasonable amount. Instead, we had them install the necessary wiring and we bought and installed the fans ourselves after we moved in.

After searching for the right style and price, I found a great deal on ceiling fan kits at Lowe’s. Unfortunately, when we went to install them, we discovered that the included instructions didn’t match the wiring in our house. Fortunately, we have a couple of friends with electrical experience, and they were able to point us in the right direction.

We now have a ceiling fan in our living room, and will have one in our bedroom soon. We’ll install fans later for the office and guest room, but they’re not a high priority right now.

Buying new furniture

While buying new furniture isn’t technically a “home improvement, ” it makes our house much more livable, so I’m including it here. Since moving into our new place we’ve acquired several new (to us) pieces of furniture.

Our biggest find was a love seat in good condition that fits like a glove in our guest/TV room. Someone in the neighborhood had put it out by the dumpster. Most of the time we only see junk out there, but every once in awhile we’ve seen great pieces that were dumped by neighbors who were apparently upgrading.

Will we be buying new furniture at some point? Yes. For example, my old office desk got broken during our move to North Carolina two years ago. I’ve been using a card table, but will soon be in the market for a replacement. While we’ll look for a good used desk, we might end up buying new.

Another trick that we’ve learned is refinishing furniture instead of replacing it. For example, we repainted our dining room set rather than buying a new one. It really has breathed new life into it, and allowed us to work on rebuilding our savings instead of plunking down a bunch of money on new furniture.

Budgeting for home improvements

I’ve read and have been told that you should set aside 1-2% of your home’s value for ongoing maintenance and improvements. We haven’t been homeowners long enough to say if this is accurate or not, but it seems prudent to automatically set aside some of our cash for little projects. And if you don’t end up using it all on household projects, you’ll have a handy savings account that you can use for other projects in the future.

I should also note that we’ve really enjoyed these little projects. While it’s technically work, getting these things done has made us feel incredibly productive, and has allowed us to spend some quality time together

Your take

So now it’s your turn to share… What types of home improvement projects have you tackled? And what tricks have you learned for saving money along the way? Do you have any funny stories to share from your experiences?

20 Responses to “Home Improvement: DIY and Save Money”

  1. Anonymous

    Last summer my central a/c went out and I was shocked to learn how much the repair bill was going to be- over $400! The technician said that I needed a new contactor and capacitator, but I googled these parts and saw that they were only $10 – $30 each. I told him no thanks and called around, but all of the contractors I called either refused to tell me how much they would charge or quoted high numbers like the first guy.
    After some more googling, I found a website that showed me how to locate the problem parts myself, and how to change them. They even responded immediately to a question I submitted, and helped me locate replacement parts less than 15 minutes from my home. I followed their instructions and had my a/c up and running for less than $40. The website is http://www.brokenthermostat.com, and is definitely worth bookmarking in case you ever need it.

  2. Anonymous

    I think one of my favorite DIY projects was pouring our own concrete patio. We dug out the area by hand (great exercise in the Georgia heat), put down the gravel ourselves, and poured our own concrete with a little help from Lowe’s.

    We made even used plastic landscaping borders to shape the end into a semi-circle and put small hanging lanterns right into the cement around the edge.

    A hand-me-down re-sealed table and a few chairs later, we have an outdoor area we use and enjoy daily.

  3. Anonymous

    My family and I have tackled many home improvement renovations, as part of our small business. Like your friends, we have also helped some of our neighbors for almost no-cost. We actually hooked up our friends with a portion of the wholesale carpet that we bought, and it was way cheaper for them, leaving more budget to buy nice decorations for the house. They have been so thankful ever since, that they always treat us to dinner, snacks, and even watch our kids when we go out on dates 😉

  4. Anonymous

    “The hardest part of the carpentry work is making things square and plumb when the house itself is not so.”

    HAHA! I hear ya!!! NOTHING in our house is square and plumb!! We have decided that when we tile the dining room & kitchen floor, we will use a diamond pattern instead of a square pattern – so if the rooms/walls are not even (and I fully suspect they are not even!), it will not be as obvious. Forget where I heard this tip from – maybe HGTV.

  5. Anonymous

    I’ve tackled installing 3 ceiling fans (one of which was in a stairwell), some minor wiring, installing a pocket door in a new wall, laying a ceramic tile floor, and some drywall work.

    As for the drywall, I’ll put up the sheets, but leave the “mud” work and finishing to someone else. They’ll get the work done much more quickly and nicely than I ever could.

    (#13 – “…know your limitations.” Well said!)

    The hardest part of the carpentry work is making things square and plumb when the house itself is not so.

  6. Anonymous

    On the other side of the argument, I say you should also know your limitations. I like to do repairs around the house. I even like building things. But my brain and body just aren’t wired to do these things well. When I try, the whole process just costs me more than hiring someone else would have.

  7. Anonymous

    we have two roomba’s as a DIY vacuuming so we don’t have to.

    i prefer the built in primer paint. i’m a fan of benjamin moore Aura paints, and don’t think i will ever use anything else.

  8. Anonymous

    What haven’t I tried: painting, wallpapering, wallpaper removal, furniture refinishing, furniture recovering, carpentry, removing cork tiles a previous owner masticked to a 14-foot-high wall, replastering (that would be lath-and-plaster, not drywall), drywall repair, minor plumbing repair, planting, tree trimming, minor pool repair, all pool maintenance, burglar alarm installation….ooooohhhh ugh!

    Funniest story? To the extent that fruitless drudgery is funny: During a past recession, Former DH and I moved into a vast old house that had been allowed to run down by its nearly bankrupt owners. It needed a lot of work, most of which was to be done by the Little Woman…i.e., moi. This place was in an upscale neighborhood; the previous lady of the house was a Junior Leaguer, and though I was not the sosh type, my corporate lawyer hubby did run in those circles.

    This house had a big country kitchen and an adjacent breakfast nook, separated by a bank of hanging cabinets. Whenever you’d walk in there, you’d feel a little disoriented, for reasons that were unclear. Toxic fumes? Asbestos seeping from the ceiling?? Ghosts? Finally we realized it was the ceiling, all right: someone had papered the ceiling and soffits with busy floral wallpaper that had a pattern. This pattern went one direction in the breakfast room and another direction in the kitchen–90 degrees to the pattern in the breakfast room.

    Nothing would do but what, after I coated the deep royal blue wall in the master bedroom with four layers of white paint and made new curtains to replace the dirty monsters that were in there, BUT WHAT I had to peel off the wallpaper in the kitchen and breakfast nook, and then repaint the walls, cabinetry, and ceilings.

    So I started to peel. And peel. And peel. And….so on to infinity. There must have been eight or ten layers on the damn walls! The ceiling had only two layers, but the stuff was horrible to get off–it didn’t pull off in sheets but chipped off in little pieces. No amount of steaming or squirting with wallpaper remover gunk helped. Most of the work had to be done while balanced on top of a ladder holding a hot steamer overhead in one hand and a scraper in the other.

    Came a day the doorbell rang. I clambered down from the ladder and stumbled to the door.

    One of DH’s partner’s wives was standing there. She looked at me blankly and asked, rather haughtily, if the previous owner was home.

    I said no, she didn’t live there any more (these people were so embarrassed about losing their shirts that they folded their wallpapered tent and snuck off into the night, telling none of their friends where they were going). Only when she heard my voice did she recognize me from the last firm retreat or Bar association shindig or art museum to-do or whatever torturous event we had last attended together.

    “Oh!” she exclaimed. “I’m so sorry! I though you were the cleaning lady.”

    Yup. Said a lot about my life as a society matron. 😉

    When it came time to peel the chartreuse and silver giant plaid-patterned wallpaper off the family room walls, I hired a guy to do the job. He didn’t charge much. He got the gunk off in less than a day and did a better job of painting the walls than I did in the kitchen. No money was ever better spent.

  9. Anonymous

    I like this bondark. He’s got it down pat.

    I would say. Never do anything that you’re going to get jailed for if someone dies. Hence I don’t do electrical, structural or gas work. Appart from that everything is up for grabs.

    Tiling, painting, laying floating floors, are all pretty easy.

  10. Anonymous

    I have done basic electrical (changing switches, adding grounded plugs, switching out lights).

    I have done some plumbing — seating toilets, replacing p-traps for tubs and sinks, replacing faucets and gaskets.

    For anything major we like to get a contractor for because I don’t actually know the building codes, and an inspector will come to check the work. If you don’t get a building permit for remodeling work, your home insurance may not cover it when it breaks.

  11. Anonymous

    My favorite not-as-hard-as-it-looks project: vinyl siding. I actually enjoy the cutting and fitting, one piece atop the next. I think it strikes the part of me that enjoyed lego bricks as a kid. But I hired pros to do the aluminum soffit and fascia. Bending long pieces of aluminum requires serious tools.

  12. Anonymous

    CRAIGSLIST! Between Craigslist and garage sales, I’ve completely furnished a house and made it into a home.

    I think it helps to start off with a “wish list”, but don’t be set on the specifics and have an open mind. For example, if you want curtains for the kitchen, don’t be set on the color, style, size, etc. Be open to possibilities–like a piece of fabric, or lightweight sheet or blanket that can be made into curtains.

    When searching for items on Craigslist, move outside the “normal” headings and instead consider other categories of where items may be placed for sale. For example, I was recently looking for a dehumidifier for my basement. Was it listed under Appliances, or even Household? Nope–try furniture (go figure). I frequently browse through the ads on Craigslist to catch these hidden gems.

    Also, use the internet to learn just about anything. There are many sites which provide free videos and written details on how to do anything from change out a ceiling fixture, to replace a bathroom sink. Don’t forget to read the comments! Often these comments can provide “first hand experiences”, or details the original post may have excluded.

  13. Anonymous

    You can do any home repair yourself, just read up first. And always remember:
    *Gravity – she never sleeps
    *Double check the breakers – the electricity is still on
    *Uncover and have the wrench next to the water shut off BEFORE you start your plumbing
    *Write your measurements down, you will catch Alzheimers on the way to the saw
    *Start every project at 0600 when Home Depot opens. If you are done before 10pm when they close, you were succesful.
    *Have beer/wine/booze on standby for completion ceremony

  14. Anonymous

    Bedbugs are back with a vengeance! (In NYC at least) I would not take any furniture left curbside, way too risky.

    Of course before you do any plumbing work, you should make sure you know where the main shut-off valves are.

  15. Anonymous

    You’d be amazed at what you can fix/upgrade around your house. I have a few Home Depot 1-2-3 books which are real nice to get started. Here are some relatively easy (skill wise) projects I’ve done to upgrade my house:

    – Painting: Time consuming but easiest way to make something old look nice and new
    – Replace light fixtures: These can be inexpensive but really add some pop
    – Replace sink/counter top: This is simply a matter of measuring and ordering. The only tricky part is if you attempt to cut the sink hole yourself. Most places do it as part of the purchase.
    – Replace doors/hardware: Prehung doors make this on easy but time consuming. If you can measure and cut you can easily replace a door without having to replace the entire door frame.

    Of course friends can certainly help and I’ve called a few to help with wiring and plumbing and learned sometimes thing’s aren’t as hard as I thought.

  16. Anonymous

    I have a brother who knows how to do just about ANY thing when it comes to home maintenance/repair (he is currently laying tile in his laundry room). We used to just pay him to do repairs/upgrades in our house (MUCH cheaper than a contractor) – but in the last two years, now that I have *some* spare time, I have asked if I could help & learn also. We still pay him, but now he teaches me what he’s doing (I’ve learned how to install gutters, drywall, siding, flooring, and even a toilet!). When we had an addition built (too much for my unlicensed brother – especially since we were messing with/moving exterior walls), I asked the contractor what we could do ourseves to save money on the project. Doing our own Caulking & Painting saved us THOUSANDS (and one of the contractor’s guys even stayed behind an hour or so one day to teach me all the tips & tricks for a good caulk job – REALLY nice of him to do!). We also did the flooring ourselves and saved probably at least another thousand or two (I didn’t find out exactly how much on that one). My oldest daughter was surprised to hear I had never done any flooring before, saying “you made it look so easy when you put the floor in.” (my brother did all the cutting, I installed it). It was work, but it was FUN – and a learning experience. It also feels good to look at it and know we all helped pull it together 🙂 (even my 7 year old helped paint the outside – and she did a great job!)

    I gotta say – I’ve gotten REALLY good at painting! That contractor’s guy also gave me more tips & tricks on painting – including what types of rollers & paint brushes to use when. I’ve also figured out that if you learn how to use them, some of those sureline tools can REALLY cut down on painting time! But the downside to me painting – I’m a bit of a perfectionist and will not allow ANY one else to paint certain areas (like the trim on the newly installed windows). As a result – it takes FOREVER for some things to get painted! My husband keeps offering to finish the jobs, but I keep telling him NO! I will try to ease up a bit this weekend when my mom comes to help paint my daughter’s room (mainly only because I won’t spend enough time in my daughter’s room to notice any imperfections! ha!)

    Our professional painter friend swears by Sherwin Williams – good choice there.

    I’ve loved doing these projects (just wish I had more time to do more!). I’ve joked around that if anything happens to my husband, I swear I will meet my next one at Home Depot! (which is dangerously close to our house! 2 minutes away!) OH – another trick – if you wear short shorts and a tank top to HD, you can easily get more tips & tricks from just about any off duty contractor who is shopping there. At least, it’s worked for me 😉 I LOVE it! 🙂

  17. Anonymous

    Painting is certainly one of the cheapest things you can do to make an improvement to a room. Also, lighting choices and ceiling fans are another area that does not have to be costly. Both these are easy to tackle on your own.

    The more you can do yourself, the more money you can save. Stores like Home Depot offer “classes” on Saturday that are free and can show you many things – such as how to tile a floor.

    I am a big fan of do-it-yourself home improvement.

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