Some thoughts on the return to traditional skills

I give several media interviews each month. As the economy changes, so do the questions. Recently, as you can imagine, reporters have been asking me what people can do to save money.

This question gets boring after a while. There are only so many ways a fellow can say, “Spend less than you earn by reducing unnecessary expenses.” Lately I’ve been trying to spice up interviews by promoting what I call “traditional skills”.

When I say “traditional skills”, I really mean the do-it-yourself ethic. It seems to me that during the 1990s and early 2000s, as the U.S. moved more toward a service economy, we became so specialized in what we do that we let go of “traditional skills” and began to pay others to do things that we might have done ourselves a decade or two ago.

One example in my own life is changing the oil in our cars. When I was in high school, my father taught me basic automobile maintenance. I could change the oil, I could change filters, and I could even replace my brake pads. I’m by no means a macho auto-shop kind of guy (quite the opposite: I’m an indoor techno-nerd), but I found these sorts of jobs rewarding. Somewhere along the way, I started paying other people to do this stuff for me.

I’m not the only one. Over the past generation, folks seem to have forgotten how to sew, how to garden, and how to perform basic home maintenance.

Obviously there are situations in which it makes sense to pay others to do things. Kris and I are going to pay somebody to repair our gutters, for example. I could do this myself, but I am swamped with work, work that will pay me far more than it would cost to have somebody else repair the gutters. This is a trade I’m willing to make.

In general, however, I think there’s a tremendous money-saving opportunity for people to return to traditional skills, to begin doing some of these tasks themselves again. It pleases me that here in Oregon, at least, there seems to be a surge of interest in this sort of DIY ethic. I am shocked by how many of my friends now grow at least some of their own produce. (And more of them are beginning to raise chickens — and goats!)

But that’s not all. More of our friends are canning now, and knitting, and performing home maintenance. They’re learning to bake bread and to sew and to build their own patios. I think this is wonderful, and I think it’s a great way to save money.

I’ve written about this subject many times in the past at Get Rich Slowly, and am sure to write about it more in the future. I also enjoy covering individual examples of these “traditional skills” in posts like these:

Knitting and sewing, auto mechanics and woodworking, hunting and fishing, baking and canning: all of these are making a resurgence among my friends and family. Maybe it’s just the region in which I live, or maybe it’s just a product of entering middle age, but the people I know seem to have a renewed interest in finding ways to do things themselves.

Have you observed something similar where you live, or in your own life? Have you begun to do things yourself that you used to pay others to do? Which things are worth doing on your own? Do you think it would be a good thing for people to begin doing more of these tasks on their own again? Or will this simply weaken the economy?

105 comments

  1. I have been doing a lot of this lately – learning to bake bread, cooking from scratch, gardening. My husband has always been handy, so we rarely have to call a repairman. And my MIL sews, which I really need to learn. I do think a return to learning these skills is a beneficial biproduct of this down economy.

  2. A lot of people I know want to learn to can, pickle, and dehydrate food for storage, plus grinding wheat, making bread, cooking from scratch, etc. I started a nonprofit group called Preserving Traditions (http://preservingtraditions.org/) that is based out of our local Grange (which is itself a piece of “traditional skills” heritage) so we can find experts in our community and learn these skills together.

    I’ve been blown away by the turnout – 20 people at our first event (noodlemaking) and 35+ at the second event (wheat and home grain mills). This is obviously a good time for coming together and sharing knowledge about this kind of skill.

  3. @Emily (#2)
    Somebody who knows what a Grange is! Emily, are you willing to take a moment to describe exactly what a Grange is and how it operates? This has puzzled me for years (though obviously I haven’t ever bothered to look it up). I see granges referred to (in lower-case) in American lit, and even (I think) in the works of Thomas Hardy. This leads me to believe they originated as rural support societies, but that’s just me guessing.

  4. After spending my working hours on a computer, I enjoy the opportunity to really get my hands dirty or make something tangible. I wonder how many other people feel the same way?

    There’s something satisfying about making my own soup, growing my herbs in my window sill and knitting a good pair of socks. I somehow feel more connected to the world doing physical tasks than I do when I’m on the computer.

  5. I think that the best thing about DIY work isn’t even the cost savings. It’s the sense of accomplishment. A lot of us work everyday in jobs where we show up, do some stuff, go home and get paid, but are sort of left with a feeling of “well, I did some stuff, not sure if anyone really noticed,” at the end of the day.

    It’s so immensely satisfying for me to take something that’s broken and make it work again. I’m an engineer (sort of — software engineer) by trade, and maybe that contributes to my feeling this way, but I usually try to do home and car maintenance and repairs myself. It saves money, sure, that’s an extra bonus, but it’s less important to me than being able to say, “my life is noticeably better because of something I’ve done myself.”

    I don’t do all my work myself. I find oil changes, for instance, monotonous and basically a hassle (you have to get dirty, store the oil, dispose of it properly, etc). Since they don’t cost much anyway, I just pay the dealership to do them.

    But other things I’ll myself just for the sense of accomplishment. I live in an apartment, but if a drain backs up, I’ll take the trap apart and fix it myself if I can, even though I could call the landlord and make them pay someone to do it.

    I’m also restoring an old boat, and watching the condition of it improve from month to month really gives me a feeling of “hey, look at how good that looks or well it works, I did that!” And boatyard labor around here runs $102/hour, so I save a *lot* by not paying someone else to do that work.

    I’ve also learned a *lot* of useful technical skills from all the various repairs and things I’ve tried over the years, and simply having been successful in the past at a lot of things like this makes trying more challenging things in the future seem less daunting.

  6. Your article on making bread inspired me to go out and buy a dutch oven that night. Most of the winter I’ve been baking bread for myself and friends, and especially as a “thank you” if someone does something nice to me or a favor for me. The overwhelming responce from someone who I just gave bread to has been, “THANK YOU! Did you really bake this yourself? Do you have a bread machine? This looks like one of those specially crafted breads from a gourmet store, it’s so pretty.”

    It honestly tastes really good, is super cheap to make and takes almost no time. I’ve gone one step further and found a local Mennonite bulk grocery store that sells a dozen different kinds of flours, some are 75% less than my local grocery store, so I’ve been able to experiment, adding in whole wheat and buckwheat flours. Additionally, the same grocery store carries flax seeds for more than half my local grocery store, so I add those in as well. Even by using different flours, flax seeds and other stuff, they still cost like 35-60c per loaf to bake and people seam to LOVE getting a home-made, good tasting, attractive looking staple food.

    Lately we’ve been using it to dip in olive oil and spices at dinners with friends, instead of going out to eat. Also works really well if you hollow it out for spinach artichoke dip.

    So, thank you for posting that, it’s been a real thrill to learn, improve and enjoy the bread, my friends thank you too!

  7. I wonder whether a lot of what you describe is trend-based or otherwise somewhat fleeting. For instance, most of the IRL people I know who make their own bread or grow some of their own produce or make their own pasta are doing it because they are foodies–mabe foodies on a budget, but just as frequently not. The ethics of eating are getting a lot of ink lately so it makes sense that people would be thinking more about those issues and acting on them a bit more. There’s also been a real trend over the past decade toward various forms of crafts, whether very traditional or very modern or a hybrid of both–magazines like ReadyMade and websites like craftyplanet speak to that. From my vantage point, there have been a number of factors that have made all sorts of crafts (knitting, cooking from scratch, sewing) more popular. Some of it is a prouct of third-wave feminism where younger women are now feeling more comfortable exploring and reclaiming these traditional tasks that previous generations found extremely restricting. Part might be a residual part of the anti-sweatshop movement that had a ton of inroads on college campuses in the early ’00s but then didn’t make much substantive change over time for a number of political reasons. A lot of the make your own clothing folks I know have been involved in one or both of those worlds–but the universe of People I Hang Out With is an admittedly self-selecting sample, so who knows.

    Anyway, I think it’s too early to say whether it’s a long-lived phenomenon, though some people writing about this recession and its longterm impact on younger generations certainly seem to think there will be some longterm thrifty tendencies, even if we aren’t sure quite yet what they will be.

  8. There is another good reason not to do repair work on your home on a ladder. It is wildly dangerous, and could easily kill you.

    Before anyone posts about how silly that is. My mechanic, who was probably in the top 5% of handy people, was working on a ladder outside his home, and was knocked to the ground, killing him. It was just a freak accident, the kind of freak accident that doesn’t happen to pro’s who have invested in the expensive safety equipment that the average homeowner does not.

  9. It takes about the same time to change your own oil as to have someone else do it (if you’re just waiting in the lobby.) On the other hand for me, from many attempts while I was a college student with less money, I know that 75% of the time I would end up spending that much time again rubbing kitty litter into the driveway to clean up my spills! So, until and unless I can’t afford it any more, I will be getting my oil changed by someone else.

    OTOH, I don’t think hiring someone to do a task you could do yourself actually helps the economy. From a logical standpoint, there is no extra value being created there – one oil change gets done either way. The only way it helps is if you are creating some value for society during the time you would have spent changing the oil.

  10. I’ve definitely noticed that the DIY movement is picking up steam with my friends and neighbors. Many of the people I know have gardens. I would also say that living a more sustainable, energy conscious life has become more popular with most of the people I know. Another trend I’m noticing – lower meat consumption.

  11. I’ve always been one who loves to learn to do things DIY. Spinning my own yarn was one of my faves. I haven’t done it much in the last year. But I want to get back to it. It feels great to knit with your own yarn or embroider with your own thread.

  12. I know a feel DIY things but have always wished to have learned more. I’m not as hands on as I would like to be and would need to hire someone for most fixes or repairs.

  13. I haven’t noticed an increased DIY ethic in my group of friends and family. In fact, I told my Dad I planned on changing my car’s oil, he then asked incredulously, “Why in the world would you do something like that?” I told him I enjoy it, but he still couldn’t quite understand. My Dad is the most independent-minded person I know.

    Most people have a laissez-faire attitude towards their cars. Aside from a house, what else plucks that much money from our wallets? I say become well acquainted with your car, because it certainly won’t mind acquainting itself with your bank account.

  14. I’ve definitely noticed this in my life and the lives of my friends in their 20s and 30s (although NOT my family, interestingly enough). We’re working to develop skills (canning, gardening) that our parents had forgotten or ignored, and it’s hard sometimes to find the right resources to learn these skills. I just bought Back to Basics – thanks for the recommendation – and it’s great, but a little overwhelming.

  15. We are and have always been huge DIYers. We have never paid anyone to do something we can do ourselves – including the remodeling of our house from flooring to a new roof. In fact the only thing on the house we’ve ever written a check for (other than permits) is the gutters. It was FAR cheaper to have a gutter company replace them than to buy them at Home Depot.

    Although for full disclosure I have to admit that I’ve started taking my car to the car wash a couple times a year. I don’t mind washing the outside myself, but they do a much better job on the inside and for only a few dollars!

  16. I am starting my first ever subsistence farm this year so that I can start living off food I grow myself rather than spending gasoline driving to a grocery store to pay high prices for organic foods that are less fresh than I’d be getting from my back yard. I used to bake bread for fun, but now will be baking it to help save grocery money.

  17. Ugh, no! Why make bread when I can buy 3 loaves of organic name brand bread at the bread outlet store for $3.50 total? I can fill my freezer for less than the cost of the same health food store bought ingredients.

    I don’t even cut my own hair – why would I change my own oil? The dealership I purchased from offers free tires and batteries for life, as long as they do all the maintenance. The cost of one or two free tires more than outweighs the savings of a few DIY oil changes.

    And DH is forbidden from doing any home repairs since the DIY wiring shelves doesn’t stay up. For any home repairs, we use a LICENSED, INSURED contractor.

  18. JD,
    You don’t have human children, and I wish you did because many of the issues that they bring to the forefront of these types of discussions can be important.

    That being said, as a father, one of the things that drives me crazy is when I hear people use the kids as an excuse for outsourcing basic services like housecleaning.

    As in “I could do it, but I want to spend time with the kids.”

    Their mentality is that it is not quality time unless it is specifically devoted to a kid-centric activity. Baloney! Playgrounds are great, but kids will also benefit from learning how to do chores with their parents. And I admit, when they’re young this often makes the work take longer. But my two year old LOVES to “do laundry.” She sits on the dryer, I hand her a piece of clothing, she throws it in the washer. Repeat.
    Parenting is about teaching all kinds of things, not just facilitating and supervising play.

  19. Tyler: “It’s so immensely satisfying for me to take something that’s broken and make it work again. ”

    I am an engineer too. I like to say that I enjoy reducing the entropy in the world. 🙂 I am not very handy except for computers, but I have started cooking the last few years. And I have started considering gardening.

  20. A lot of people I know do these kind of things as their hobbies. It’s a fascinating contrast to people having hobbies where they consume goods or services.

  21. I don’t know if this is a long-lived phenomenon, but it’s something my husband and I (we’re in our mid-20s) can’t wait to do more of: we’re stuck in a Chicago apartment now, so what we can do ourselves is limited: I make all our soup and most of our bread from scratch, he’s always building/fixing things himself. DH and my FIL do all the maintenance on our car and theirs.
    Friends of ours here in the Midwest make their own clothes, grow their own food, etc. Our hope is to get as off-the-grid as possible some day.

    For us, there are so many reasons to provide as much as we can for ourselves (or with neighbors): we like knowing where our food came from (eggs from the back yard, not a scary CAFO), and knowing our clothes didn’t come from a sweatshop. We want to create less waste and do things that are more sustainable.

    And we want to raise goats because… goats are awesome. Any chance the person you know with goats would write a guest post? I don’t need convincing, but some of my friends and family look at me like I’m a nut when I mention wanting to raise goats.

  22. @Ryan, I don’t have human children either but I agree with you … and what’s more, kids LIKE knowing how to do things. My parents put me and my sister to work early. We were always responsible for picking up after ourselves, we helped with the laundry and the cooking and the yardwork. We lived in the country with no compatible families nearby, and we certainly didn’t have household help, so being occupied by something constructive was pretty much a requirement to avoid going nuts.

  23. sh, I doubt the tires provided by the dealership are free, since they aren’t NPOs. Basic car maintenance isn’t really about saving money anyway, it’s about knowing your investment and doing the job properly. Some find learning new skills or completing a task of your own accord satisfying in itself. Hard to imagine, but sometimes money isn’t the motivating factor.

  24. I’m trying to do more DIY. Not so much in trying to save money, but because I enjoy it.

    I have started to make dog biscuits for my dog. She has a sensative stomach so I feel better doing this because I know what she is eating. Plus, it does end up being cheaper and she likes them.

    I have started baking our own bread. We eat rolls almost every night with dinner and it was getting expensive if I couldn’t buy them onsale or with coupon. So I got a recipe from a friend for homemade crescant rolls. I make them and freeze them and they taste fresh when they are then heated up in the oven.

    I also love to bake. So I’ve been gathering recipes to make cakes, cupcakes, icing, etc from scratch instead of buying it. I’m sure buying a cake mix is cheaper, but I get more pleasure out of making it from scratch.

    I also agree with others that there is something to be said for doing things yourself. There is a sense of pride when you are finished. Husband and I bought a new house a year ago April that needed major updating. We started with the kitchen. I’m talking about new flooring, countertops, cabinets, tearing down walls, lights, etc. Husband has never done anything like that in his life. We had our last house built so didn’t do anything with that. In order to be able to afford the things we wanted in the kitchen, we had to do a lot of it ourselves. We did pay somebody to do some of the things were weren’t comfortable with (such as moving electrical wires and plumbing) but we did everything else ourselves. We saved a ton of money, were able to get those granite countertops, and when we see the kitchen now we feel proud of it and proud of ourselves for doing the work ourselves. It was a lot of hard work, it was a lot of learning as we went, but we got what we wanted without taking on any debt.

  25. Feeling a bit slighted here – when you said “Or, if you’re a two-wheeled commuter, visit Bicycle Tutor” you forgot about those of us on motorcycles… 😉

  26. DIY is nothing new to my husband and me.

    Between the two of us, we do our own auto maintenance and minor repairs; home repairs, maintenance and remodeling; lawn care; some gardening; sewing; crocheting and knitting; leather work (my husband makes his own leather tool belts and such for work, as he enjoys it and they hold up longer than what he can buy); breadmaking; canning; yogurt making; appliance repair; haircuts; etc.

    Although I don’t do it on a regular basis, I have made my own wine, my own cheese and my own butter.

    We enjoy doing this things ourselves, and yes, it does save money in most cases. But it also preserves a part of our heritage. These skills will be lost if some of us don’t make a point of keeping them around.

  27. @Finance Feminist,
    I laughed when I read what you wrote…

    “From my vantage point, there have been a number of factors that have made all sorts of crafts (knitting, cooking from scratch, sewing) more popular. Some of it is a prouct of third-wave feminism where younger women are now feeling more comfortable exploring and reclaiming these traditional tasks that previous generations found extremely restricting.”

    Of course I think all this DIY stuff is great, learn some skills, save a little money, do something constructive, etc.

    But I laughed because your words reminded me of an Onion article a couple months ago:

    “Grueling Household Tasks of 19th Century Enjoyed by Suburban Woman”

    http://www.theonion.com/content/node/38861

  28. Every time someone comes over to my home for the first time, I show off the ceiling fan that I installed all by myself. I bought the home after a hard break-up and the fan has sort of become a symbol (to myself) of my independence.

    Oh yeah, and it saved money and all that stuff. 🙂

  29. I enjoy my DIY life. I garden, knit, I’m spinning my own yarn, cook most meals, and even though I could change the oil in my car if I needed to, that’s where I draw the line. Besides, oil and yarn don’t mix.

    Luckily, I’m of the generation that if I want to, I could also can and dry fruit (learned it from Mom). I’ve also gone on sewing binges and made my own clothes and quilts.

    I’m passing on as many of these abilities to the next generation (my son & step daughter). You never know when you might need to do these things.

  30. I like to do many so-called traditional skills, like cooking, gardening, knitting and sewing. These I consider to be hobbies of mine.

    However, my husband and I also value our free time. For us, it’s always a balancing act between doing things ourselves and paying someone to do them for us, saving us time. For example, we gladly pay our housekeeper so we can save precious hours and aggravation on our weekends. I would also never consider spending hours a week baking my own bread when I can purchase delicious and reasonably priced bread at the grocery store.

  31. yarn spinners,

    I’ve looked into this but what kind of costs are involved? Is this a craft that the value is in the pride of doing and your own craftsmanship, or do you actually save money over standard yarn?

  32. To answer your question succinctly, “No”. I don’t see more people doing for themselves, but I have tapped into the vein of people that are. For me, as Tyler put it, the joy of accomplishment goes hand-in-hand with the frugal benefits. I am not, in fact, useless. I am getting more and more accomplished every day. My husband is handy, oh, so handy: home repair, auto repair, computers, you name it, he can do it…we haven’t paid for home stuff other than having a house replumbed and carpeting installed…he does everything. As I watched him, I realized I couldn’t do anything. So I set out to learn…now I cook from scratch, I sew, I garden, etc. It may not last for society, but we’ll be passing it along to our children. Yes, Ryan, we make them jump on in too…husband hosts “wood-shop”…

  33. It’s a fact that you are either a hands-on person or you’re not, and I don’t know actually how much this is influenced by parents. I am a do-it-yourselfer and neither of my parents have a creative/artistic bone in their bodies; my husband cannot do even the most undemanding of DIY tasks. I actually cried when he got up on a high ladder to hang our Christmas wreath because all I could do was picture him falling!!
    Why would you change the auto’s oil when it is so cheap and speedy to have the pro’s do it? It’s like dying my own hair- would I rather buy cheap drugstore stuff and have orange hair or leave it to the pro who studied as a colorist in Paris!?!
    ALSO-having 3 young children changes everything. What should take an hour to do now takes five!

  34. I think it’s hilarious that you cite knitting as a way to save money. I’m finishing up a sweater for which I bought $12 worth of yarn (very cheap) and invested at least fifteen or twenty hours of my time. Since I get paid a minimum of $35/hr (usually much more, but let’s lowball) for freelance work, in one sense that sweater has cost me $537 and counting.

    Even if I discount the time investment, good yarn is expensive. The yarn to make a long, heavy cashmere scarf for my partner cost me around $100, which is more than that scarf would cost in a shop. The advantages of hand-knitting are avoiding sweatshop labor, having something fun to do, quality control, and giving someone you love an item you made. Unless you settle for shoddy materials or reuse yarn from thrift store sweaters (a practice I highly recommend), cost savings isn’t on the list.

  35. I certainly have seen this in my own life. I used to like the idea of cooking but my failures, the necessary clean up, and a hatred of leftovers turned me off of it and I ate out at least once maybe twice a day. Now I’m cooking or eating leftovers every day with maybe 3 meals (lunches and dinners) out a week maximum.

  36. @Rose (#36)
    Good catch. I meant to cite knitting as an example of how to save money, but as an example of a traditional skill. I have some very slippers that Kris knitted for me that were probably very expensive. 🙂

  37. I would recommend expertvillage.com for DIY videos. There are so many good clips on there for how to do stuff on your car. I would recommend one guy, Nate McCollough, for car maintenance videos. He takes you through everything in a slow and professional manner.

  38. I’m surprised no one has yet mentioned homebrewing (or winemaking, or meadmaking). If nothing else, we probably have better parties than most hobbyists 😉

    After the initial set-up costs (around $100 when I started 5+ years ago, maybe more now) it costs around $30 to brew 5 gallons of beer (more if you’re getting fancy).
    5 gallons = 640 ounces
    That’s about 53 12-ounce bottles, or about 9 six-packs. That’s the cheapest you will ever come by a good-tasting microbrew.

    My husband and I brew in a one-bedroom apartment, so “no room” is not an excuse. It’s also not particularly difficult. More people should try it.

  39. JD,

    I had exactly the same experience – my Dad taught me basic auto maintenance. I think I stopped once I got a job and places like Jiffy Lube opened up.

    I think you have a good point about DIY. And it’s so much easier now that you can find detailed instruction for almost any DIY task on the web.

  40. @ryan
    “Grueling Household Tasks of 19th Century Enjoyed by Suburban Woman”
    I hear that! Sometimes I when I am, say, handwashing sweaters I flash back to watching 1900s House on PBS where the mom ended up taking her daughters out of school on laundry day because the task was just just too gruelingly hard for her to do on her own.

  41. For those of you who change your own oil, this will make it easier/simpler. For those of you that don’t, maybe this will encourage you. Making an oil change painless is all about having the right tools for the job, and being prepared – both of which are very easy for anyone to do.

    1.) Google “Pela 6000”. Get one of these oil extractors. It’s a manual pump that has a thin tube that goes into your oil pan through your dipstick tube and sucks the oil right out while it’s warm. Read about the use on Pela’s website. Cost ~ $35.
    2.) Buy a box of disposable latex or nitrile gloves at your pharmacy section, or at your Harbor Freight or other home improvement store. Cost ~ $3-5. These can be used for many other gross things as well. Pick up a funnel if you don’t already have one. Cost ~ $1.
    3.) Figure out what kind of oil you need and what kind of filter. Any Napa or Advance Auto Parts will have this info in a book. Buy at minimum 3 oil changes worth of supplies to save time (i.e. 3 filters, and 12 qts. of oil, cost varies – look for sales). Also buy an oil filter adapter for your socket wrench (~$4). This is in case the last maintenance tech over torqued your filter.
    4.) If you don’t know where it is, locate where your oil filter is on your car. For both my vehicles, this can be accessed without any lift or jack. A google search will get you the answer.
    5.) Plan to execute your oil change on *your* schedule, when convenient for *you* (time savings). Plan for 1 hour the first time, 30 minutes thereafter.
    6.) Use the Pela 6000, gloves, filter, oil to do the job. Use a spare pie pan to collect residual oil from the filter. Collect as much oil as possible, and transfer to an empty “windshield wash” 1 gal HDPE jug. MAKE SURE TO RECYCLE THE OIL! I collect 3 jugs worth of oil, then take it back to Napa when I go for more oil and filters (recycling is free, and is the law).

    With this method, I can change my oil with the only risk of getting dirty being getting on the ground to get the oil filter off on my wife’s SUV. On my car, the filter is accessible from the top. I can change my oil in work clothes without worry (if I wanted to).

    Oh, and if your car has one of those annoying “Maint. Reqd” indicator lights, a google search will also reveal how you can turn that off.

    Hope this helps.

  42. It may sound minor, but someone showed me how to replace a window screen using a roll of screen and rubber spline. It’s a snap after doing a couple windows, and now I can fix a window or door screen in about ten minutes.

    I replaced the screens in four windows at my house recently for less than $10 in materials. The cheapest price I could find locally was $20-30 per window (depending on size).

    I taught a couple friends, and one even referred me to a co-worker who paid me $10 per window.

  43. There are lots of videos online demonstrating repairs and the like.
    Sewing is quite diseconomic, given that globalization radically lowered the cost of clothing. That’s why there’s a huge glut of cast-off clothing which gets sent to the third world and resold.
    If you like sewing, go for it. But I doubt you could make a garment for less than it costs unless you’re very talented and it’s a wedding dress or something special.

  44. PS JD-
    have you ever written about food coops? that’s really a way to save money. In our coop in Philly, Weavers Way, you work 12 hours a year for membership. That’s certainly a way to earn a good discount on top quality food, probably more efficiently than growing your own vegetables and baking your own bread.

  45. Holly @ 4:34 pm

    You’re funny. My hair looks great with the L’Oreal hair color I buy. It costs $8-10 at the store, but if I can coupon during a sale, it’s $3-5 a box. I get compliments all the time on my hair. Now, I don’t cut my own hair, though.

    I use to go somewhere to have it permed back when I had big hair. What I spend on my hair these days (cut more regularly) averages to about $34 every three months.

  46. Knitting cost me more money than it ever saved, but I still do it (less frequently now) because I find it relaxing.

    Even before the recession hit I started doing some repairs myself, not just so I could save money, but also so I could save time. For example, a headlight on my VW went out. My mechanic is a 30-minute drive away, and is often booked. Knowing I’d have to wait for an appointment, then schlep out there and wait for the job to be done, inspired me to google the DIY instructions. $10 and 15 minutes later, the bulb was replaced! SO much more efficient. The same thing happened with a toilet repair. I didn’t want to wait for a plumber, so I googled it, bought the parts, and fixed it in less than 20 minutes. I would still leave big jobs to the experts, but knowing I can tackle small repairs makes me feel more confident as a homeowner.

    I think some of the satisfaction stems from the knowing that I’m not at the mercy of someone else when it comes to tasks like these. Both of the jobs I mentioned above would have taken hours of my time had I paid someone else to do them — scheduling, waiting around, etc. But doing it myself was faster and cheaper.

    I think some of the DIY craze creates a need for things that people might not have bought in the first place. I feel like the movement towards canning, for example, leads people to buy a bunch of equipment and enthusiastically can foods that they may never have bought at the supermarket. The cost and time sink make those first jars of food more expensive than store-bought…then in a year the equipment is put out at a yard sale. That’s not to say that canning isn’t satisfying in its own right, but I think the idea that DIY=savings only works if you are truly replacing a service or skill that you were already paying for elsewhere. Like other financial decisions it bears consideration and a look at true cost, time, and the enjoyment factor.

  47. I hate paying somebody to do most things especially when I think I can do many of these things better myself. For instance, car repairs. Recently, I changed the shocks and replaced the timing belt on my Volkswagen. I am by no means a car mechanic. I, however, found a great blog on the Internet with devoted Volkswagen enthusiasts who walked me through the process. I know a few mechanics who were surprised I tackled this tasks.

    I also found that for many home repairs, a person with common sense will often do a better job then a professional. It may take a lot longer, but the home owner has an invested interest in doing the best job possible, were the professional wants to do a good job, but he or she wants to do it fast. That dichotomy eventually results in compromise between quality and time.

    Before I decide to take on a task, I usually research the topic first. I then decide if the task is one I can figure out without too much time invested. I also factor the risk involved in me tackling a job myself.

    Many things like cooking I can do myself often better then others, but there is enjoyment in trying out foods others have prepared for you.

  48. The oil change business reminds me of the time SDXB (Semi-Demi-Exboyfriend) proudly finished up changing the oil in his truck, turned on the engine, and…SPLAT! He’d forgotten to put the cap back on. The entire garage floor was flooded with engine oil!

    Hee heee! It took him the better part of the afternoon to clean up the mess.

  49. Even though we’re a DIY car repair household, I managed to buy the WORST designed car for oil changes. My mechanic said it’s one of their top 5 most-dreaded models for LOF.

    My husband can’t fit his arm in from either the top or bottom, and my tiny arms can fit but I don’t have the strength to unscrew the filter if it’s been installed with tools. There’s no room to fit a wrench for leverage.

    The last time we tried to do it at home, he ended up slipping with a tool and bloodying his hand, plus puncturing the oil filter. We sped to the mechanic, leaking oil all down the highway, and left the car there with a tarp under it. It was a windy night and the tarp was useless; every last drop emptied all over their parking lot. We paid for a professional oil change PLUS a hundred dollars for cleaning up their property and landscaping damage.

    Moral of the story: buy a car with an easily accessible oil filter!

  50. I think it depends on the DIY project.

    I will not (WILL NOT) do anything that involves me doing things with my car engine parts and viscous fluids. It won’t happen. People have tried to teach me — I don’t want to do it. As far as I’m concerned, if not doing it myself means I couldn’t have a car, I wouldn’t care. Give me a bus pass.

    That doesn’t mean I won’t change a car light — that’s not a big deal. That doesn’t mean I won’t do small repairs around the house.

    I’m all for people being self-sufficient and doing their own small repairs. What I think is funny about this is how it flies in the face of the common message (even from sources like Tim Ferris) to outsource the tasks that keep you from being able to maximize on your productivity to save time.

  51. For me, it’s a nostalgic return to the days when my mother and father had time for such things… call it a Gen X rebellion. But I have always been a kinetic thinker… I used to knit in class to help me concentrate, and made breakfast every Tuesday for my entire campus (it was a small college), dashing about and figuring out stuff… and I’ve never understood people who teach their kids to drive without teaching them to maintain their cars. That’s kind of… basic. Shrug.

    Knitting may be “expensive” when figured per-hour (and yes, some of the lovelier yarns can be VERY pricey, $100+ per skein), but it enriches my life immeasurably when I do it… I have ADD, and get so much more out of things when my hands are busy… plus, it stops me from juddering my knee constantly, an unconscious habit of mine, and so keeps my medical bills down when people sitting next to me aren’t tempted to jump up and beat the stuffing out of me….

  52. @ Chris from St. Mary’s:
    Great that you can do your own hair–you must have a knack. A friend in college talked me into it and I DID end up w/orange hair for my good friend’s wedding! Maybe I should give it a go and pocket the difference…besides, 3 hours in a salon is getting old.

    J.D.-I don’t know, but I suspect that the economy is the fuel for the DIY trend, but it’s definitely good for all of us to reconnect w/our own inventiveness (and maybe it will serve to turn this nation back into a producing nation instead of the all-consuming nation we have become).

  53. I enjoy doing things for myself as hobbies, but I don’t think that I typically save money doing most of them. In fact, I shouldn’t if economic processes in the United States are working. Specialization means that I don’t change my own oil exactly because I make more during the same amount of time than I pay the mechanic to do it for me. I like many of these things, but I do them in my leisure time; they are not saving money, but they are less wasteful than many other sorts of activities (and I am also proud when/if I am successful).

  54. I have never been a DIY sort of person but I intend to start now. Friends of mine are big into this. I realize the ways things are going, this is a path we all will have to follow.

  55. It’s annoying when what you’ve been doing all along becomes “trendy”. I’ve been maintaining cars since before I could drive, fixing broken stuff around the house, cleaning gutters, spreading mulch, painting, refinishing furniture, shoveling snow, doing basic plumbing, cooking for myself, taking on home improvement projects and pretty much doing everything I could to avoid hiring out. I’m not opposed to hiring a person who knows exactly what’s going on when the repair is beyond my skill set (or has a high risk of, say, burning down the house or destroying the car engine), but generally most stuff is pretty easy to figure out.

    I just called it life, now someone’s gonna come along and put some label on it and act like it’s something new.

    Michele — look into getting a filter relocation kit, they aren’t expensive and will make your life considerably easier. Also, there may be a “better” way to get to the filter. On one car I owned, the easiest way was to remove the front passenger wheel and there was all sorts of room, but trying to do it under the car was an exercise in frustration.

  56. I do a little bit of DIY, but I call it a hobby…knitting. If you figure in the cost of decent yarn, needles, and the time involved, making a sweater is a whole lot more expensive than buying it. If you go with cheap yarn, then it’s going to itch and you won’t wear it. I love knitting, but it’s a hobby and doesn’t save me any money :o)

  57. Well, I am still living with my parents at the moment (I’m in the middle of a frustrating apt hunt) but I do a lot of DIY things at home which require almost no cost like making bread, pretzels, cakes, cookies etc.

    Sure you can buy a box of Super Pretzels for what, $2. I can spend an hour and about $0.50 making my own and saving a whole $1.50! That would be great if my time was free which it isn’t always. The real great thing here is that I can have freshly baked delicious pretzels that taste as good as anything you’ve ever had.

    I just laugh at those who turn their nose up at making their own bread because it’s too much work. Seriously, what were you doing with that time? Watching TV? Surfing the net? Working 20+ hours unnecessary OT to support your lifestyle?

    A coworker told me the other day if the whole IT thing ever pans out I could always be a cook/baker.

    I don’t have kids (thank God) but if I did I would be introducing them to as many different baking skills as possible. It’s a good family activity and (if you take a tip from Alton Brown) you can put a lot of education and science into it.

  58. I know this is a somewhat controversial topic for some readers, but in my family, the men are big deer hunters. They enjoy the sport of it, but the main objective is to hunt for food. My family consumes a LOT of venison, and they process it all themselves using extremely sanitary practices. The only thing that is “outsourced” is the grinding of some of the meat into burger. They did that themselves for awhile, but discovered that it is much more cost effective to let a butcher shop do it. Between my father, brother, husband and others, there is quite a bit of meat to go around. It is very good tasting, organic meat with no hormones and very little fat. My friends who have tried it have been amazed, and most can’t tell the difference between the venison and beef. And what’s even better is that the only cost involved is the hunting licenses and supplies – a price they are very willing to pay for the delicious meat and a hobby they enjoy.

  59. I’m not sure I would peg the loss of traditional skills on decades as recent as the ’90s. I grew up in the ’70s and ’80s. My mom was an excellent cook and seamstress, and she also did some crafty things like crochet and embroidery, but she didn’t can or bake bread or make cakes from scratch… and I really don’t remember any of my friends’ moms doing those things either. I don’t recall my dad doing home repairs or car maintenance.

    I did my best to do as little cooking and cleaning as possible, seeing it as a feminist rebellion against domestic slavery. I was really sorry that I didn’t bother to learn these things and that my mom didn’t force me to learn them. I’ve since worked on learning not only the basic domestic tasks that I shunned, but more “advanced” tasks like sewing. Problem is, I really don’t seem to have much talent at using my hands. I took a sewing class about 5 years ago, and it was all I could do to keep my machine needle threaded!

    I would love to know which tasks really save money and which tasks don’t. My sewing class instructor said that if you were learning to sew to save money, you were mistaken. My mom, now that she has more time on her hands, has picked up new crafts, including making her own greeting cards, but I’m pretty sure she spends more on supplies than she would on just buying a card, but I think that for her, like for so many people commenting here, the point is the pleasure of creating.

    I can’t resist one other comment, related to the bit about kids enjoying domestic tasks. I think they do, but the parents have to share that enjoyment with them when they are young. I’m a working mom with a husband who is even more domestically challenged than I am, and my daughter has grown up hearing me complain about housework — I’d rather not do it after a day at work. Now she’s a preteen, and while she does occasionally want to bake with me, my attitude towards domestic work has pretty much “caught.” Just consider me a good warning for parents-to-be and new parents.

  60. I think there’s a big difference between doing something for pleasure and doing it because it’s a necessity. I think hobbies like quilting, scrapbooking, woodworking, etc have seen a general resurgence in the past decade or so which has nothing to do with the economy. Materials, tools and time are expensive.

    Ditto with home renovations. In many cases, they aren’t a necessity. Doing them yourself often means you can do something nice you might not have been easily afford otherwise.

    As for cooking, cleaning, home repairs, car maintenance, etc… I wouldn’t be surprised if more people are doing these tasks now to save money. Many of us have been doing these things for years as a way to make ends meet. It’s just that now “rich” people are catching on to our strategies 🙂

    As with coupon clipping, I think economy has changed our thinking and removed much of the stigma we have about doing things ourselves, and cut down on the pride of people who have money. (i.e. “My time is worth too much to do this…”)

  61. When you are employed and making good money, the opportunity cost to do it yourself is too high in many cases. When you have been laid off or your pay has been cut, there are more cases where it makes sense. If the economy recovers, we will return to a more specialized economy, and that does advance everyone’s standard of living.

  62. I totally agree with Jason! It’s annoying when someone turns your way of life into a novelty or trend. Sadly, it also means that there’s more competition for buying used items like clothing and furniture.

    But on the flip side, it’s nice that people have finally caught on. For example, my friends want to eat-in more often, so I no longer look cheap because i can’t afford to eat out a lot. The sacrifices I make to build an emergency fund and save more retirement are suddenly prudent financial decisions. Go figure!

  63. I’ve been doing woodworking for a few years now and was raised to do the majority of home maintenance, auto work, cooking, remodeling, etc. myself. I have found that even in this bad economy, people are willing to pay me a small amount of money (not near enough to live on) in order to do some small things for them. Knowing traditional skills doesn’t just save money, it can MAKE money.

  64. Sewing clothing is not generaly cost-effective. I have found it cost-effective to sew my own curtains, though — commercial curtains are freaking expensive, and sewing your own gives you a much wider choice of fabrics.

    Shara: Spinning your own yarn is probably less expensive than buying other people’s handspun, but that’s about as far as I’d go.

    On a per-yard basis, the spinning process itself is time intensive. If you buy a raw fleece, your material costs will be lower, but raw fleece takes a lot of time to prep, especially if you don’t buy a drum carder. Basically, you have a choice between prepping your own fiber (higher time costs) or buying commercial preparations (higher material costs).

    If you plan on spinning in any significant quantity, you’ll want a spinning wheel (at least in my opinion). I got a Hitchhicker (http://www.themerlintree.com/the_merlin_tree009.htm) and I’ve been happy with it — but it was $300, and it’s one of the less expensive wheels out there. Add in a swift, spare bobbins, a skein winder, dyeing equipment, or a drum carder, and you could end up with $500+ in fixed costs pretty easily.

    Spinning is relaxing and enjoyable, and my family is fascinated by gifts that I spun the yarn for myself. But it doesn’t save me money. If you’re looking to save money on yarn, try Knitpicks.

    If you’re planning on trying spinning, I’d suggest starting with a drop spindle first. For buying fiber to spin, you can get better selection and better prices at your local fiber festival.

  65. In the Little House books, Ma always said:
    Wash on Mondays
    Iron on Tuesdays
    Mend on Wednesdays
    Churn on Thursdays
    Clean on Fridays
    Bake on Saturdays
    and REst on Sundays

    I loved that, and really, having a day of the week to devote to certain tasks helps me. I do our family’s laundry all on Monday and Tuesday, and hang it all in or out to dry (a great rack for this is available at IKEA), and fold on Wednesdays. Sheets and towels are done later in the week. Wednesdays are saved for baking, as I don’t work on Wednesday due to cutbacks, so it’s become baking day. I bake 2 loaves of bread, double batch muffins or pie or cake, plus dinner is always soup to go with the bread. We rarely eat out, as I really prefer the taste of my own cooking. Thursdays and Fridays I usually do our shopping and in the summer, garden and freezing/canning fills those days well. Saturday, everyone pitches in with chores…we have 4 main chores (cleaning bathrooms, washing kitchen floor, dusting, and vacuuming)that we change every week so that we aren’t always doing the same thing. Plus, it gives our daughters(15 and 10) the opportunity to learn how to do these tasks that will still need to be done when they are on their own. Teaching these kids to do things like cleaning, baking and laundry only makes sense. I teach Sunday school, and one Sunday we were talking about helping our parents without them having to ask. Well, one little boy said “I don’t have to help out at home because our housekeeper does everything for us!”
    I kinda feel sorry for the kid…as wealthy as that family is!
    I also am a Girl Scout leader, and have over the years, tried to incorporate self sufficiency as part of what activities our troop does. We’ve done sewing, cooking, and we want to try knitting next year. I really think that my generation grew up without the advantage of someone at home doing these kinds of things…it’s hard to bring back a skill set if you never learned it at your parent’s knee.
    It’s great that some of them are coming back.
    Oh…one more thing…if you have a history museum or organization in your area, it’s really interesting from the perspective of DIY to see all the work involved in our ancestor’s lives…think about visiting one soon!

  66. Part of the problem with raising my own chickens and goats is that I would never be able to slaughter them and eat them. I could eat the eggs though. I’m not a vegetarian by any stretch of the imagination. I have gone hunting and fishing, but you don’t get attached to deer or fish. I would get attached to chickens.

    I believe there is also opportunity to be had in the diy movement. Maybe if I paid someone who has a passion for a certain diy thing, but isn’t necessarily a pro, then I could be getting a deal better then going to a pro. Likewise, if there is something I like to diy, maybe I can do it for someone else for a modest sum rather than having them go to a pro. There is also opportunity for skill barter. Of course, the local economy suffers a bit for this, but then again, maybe not since I am still local anyway.

  67. Also wanted to add – I *really* enjoy brewing my own beer, although it has nothing to do with saving money.

  68. In Japan, there is almost no DIY culture here. Virtually everything is hired out. I have never heard of anyone painting their own house, trimming their own trees or doing maintenance on their own cars.

    It probably helps the economy, by hiring out everything. However, it can be very expensive as well.

  69. I am going the other way. I want to do less and less things one my own. I hire a CPA, mechanics, bike repair, etc.

    Why, so that I can focus my time on things that I am enjoy the most, get the most satisfaction, and is the best use of my skill set.

    That strategy only works if you are continually seeking growth and have a healthy dose of go get em for the things that you love. If you pay others to do things so that you can watch more Lost and and American Idol or play more games then get out of the chair and and DIY.

    That’s my two cents.

  70. Wow, all this stuff makes me wish I was competent at anything. I can’t even grow tomatoes. Our yard looked so bad last year people knocked on our door to ask if we needed help with it. We could probably do ok by our yard if we had more time – if we gave up school, sports, and volunteering, which neither of us particularly wants to do. I’d like to learn to maintain my bike, but that would cost $150 for the class – I tried learning out of a book but it did not go well.
    I guess we’re doing our part for the economy and keeping people employed. 😉

  71. @63 & 72

    You hit the nail on the head… until I’m laid off or otherwise making McDonald’s wages, I will continue to outsource menial tasks to others.

    Developing my intellect, creativity, and spirituality; that is how I want to spend my time.

    Some of the above activities might fall into those categories (knitting, cooking, other artisan activities). But changing car oil? Cleaning gutters? Vacuuming?

  72. just a quick reminder for those of us with long car warrenties: It might be voided if you don’t have proof that you get your oil changed. Doing it yourself makes A LOT of sense, but only when it won’t cost you more then you could save!!

  73. My boyfriend is German, and can’t figure out why I would actually go to a tire place for new tires – and to have them put on my car by the shop.

    He said that back in Germany, he would comb through junk yards (for 5 or 6 hours), seeking 4 similar tires that would fit his car, haul them somewhere where he could mount them. He liked the cheap price.

    He didn’t seem to understand how I didn’t have the time or desire to search through filthy, dirty junkyards to seek tires that matched, nor was I interested in jacking up my own car on all four sides to mount them, unbalanced, and deal with the consequences from those tires and the mounting.

    It’s far more cost-effective for me to work – and to buy tires that are mounted and arranged by a company that, later as I drive, will provide several years of maintenance on those tires as part of the deal. It’s worthwhile for me to spend $200 extra for the service NOT to do what he suggested.

    That being said, Germany is also well-known for being frugal, economical, efficient, and producing less waste than America.

  74. I’ve always enjoyed doing things myself, and I’ll probably do even more now because of the economy. I took a course in electrical wiring a few years ago, and would like to learn plumbing.

  75. When comparing homemade to storebought, there are more considerations than bottom line.

    That homemade sweater that’s upwards of $500: if you use your spare time to make it, you are probably reducing your blood pressure by doing something enjoyable, exercising your mind by creating something and giving something of yourself. Depending on your materials, you could also be supporting a local farm, reducing factory farm pollution and trucking costs.

    The homemade bread with freshly ground wheat is fresher and therefore healthier than the storebought variety, even if the storebought is organic.

    My main focus these days is local. If I can make it, grow it, buy it from a farmer I know, I do. Probably my biggest money-saver is cooking at home, three meals a day, seven days a week (with the exception of Saturday night dinner.) But all my “hobbies” (soapmaking, candlemaking, homemade cleaners, homebrew, homemade fermented foods like pickles and sauerkraut) are geared toward the local economy.

  76. My friends think I am crazy for struggling with repairs and stuff as a 40-something year old woman who hates to spend money on simple repairs. Sometimes they are right, I think, when I am ready to scream at the idea of crawling on my belly in a nasty crawlspace. But, I have saved many hundreds of dollars and when the jobs take far longer than 1 hour I know I saved significant money. and it all started with cooking! I got into cooking at home a few years back due to a love for good food but no love for restaurant prices. It is amazing how much you can save and how handy it is to have something in the freezer you can pop out and defrost and eat in the same amount of time it would take to blow a lot of money eating out. Then I looked at what it costs to call repairmen, some of who are not timely anyway or blow you off. One friend said she spent over $200 on exterminators when they got mice. When I got mice I did all the caulking, stuffing steel wool, etc., and got rid of mice. They still have mice. I draw the line at car repairs. I learned to change out light fixtures which turned out to be easy. You can save lots!

  77. @JD-

    The official name of the national organization is the “National Grange of the Order of Patrons of Husbandry,” and it’s a fraternal organization of farmers (and now, more broadly, rural folks in general). It was founded over 130 years ago and is the closest farmers (notoriously independent folk) ever came to unionizing.

    As a group, they had some big clout in the 19th century: busting railroad control over the shipping/prices of agricultural commodities, lobbying for rural mail delivery, etc. And then there’s the social angle: dances, potlucks, and events that combine work and socializing and often equipment (think grain harvests, quilting bees, cider milling, hog butchering).

    Today’s Grangers have “been there and done that,” not because they’ve studied these skills, but because they’ve lived them when there was no other way to get the work done.

    I’m really happy this group is going to be housed at the Grange. I hope we can learn from folks who remember these skills, but in our area, the original Grangers are quite elderly and not in the best of health. In any case, we hope to keep skills like pickling, canning, gardening, bread-making, etc. alive, and teaching more folks how to do them, as part of the effort to re-skill America.

    -Emily

  78. I’d also like to toss an idea out to everyone that no one person can do everything herself really well. Instead of self-sufficiency, perhaps we should be thinking of community-sufficiency.

    For example, I will never, EVER spin my own yarn and knit my own sweaters. Knitting is one of the most stressful, crazy-making tasks I’ve ever set out to learn. I just can’t sit still like that. I’d rather shovel 8 yards of manure than knit a sweater. But I tell you what – I’ll build your garden and you can give me a sweater you made from the sheep up, and we’ll both be happier. 🙂

  79. @ryan 18

    I am a definitely a DIY kind of person. I garden, brew my own beer, fix our car. I even built our house. I learned the skill and confidence to do most things from my father. While I enjoy most of these things, I do them all now out of financial necessity (except beer brewing, that doesn’t save money). I am in graduate school with three kids and my wife works part time to be home with the kids.

    Ryan commented that people use the “excuse” of spending time with their children to outsource. I definitely agree that kids need to learn these skills and I will pass on the skills to my kids that my dad gave to me, but I think there has to be some balance. Randy Paush said in his “The Last Lecture” speech that when possible, you should trade money for time because you can never get time back. When I was growing up, my dad was always working on something, and subsequently had little time to do things with us.

    Right now, it is not possible for us to change money for time, but when I finish graduate school and start making more money, I will definitely be looking for ways to do this. My job will probably require most of my time during the week so when the weekend comes I would rather go to my kids soccer game than mow the lawn to save $40.

  80. I can change the headlight bulb and the tire, but that’s the extent of my automotive DIY. Both of those procedures are documented in the owner’s manual. I also know how to plug a tire but decided it’s not worth doing myself because the plug doesn’t always last.

    On the domestic side, I learnt how to sew at a young age and I still use that to repair clothes. That’s only worth doing if it only takes a short amount of time because otherwise, I could just go to a discount clothing store. I can also cook by looking up recipes on the web.

  81. Thanks for the background on the National Grange of the Order of Patrons of Husbandry, Emily. Most of my extended families live in areas where the Grange still figures significantly.

    In rural Humboldt County, California, my grandfather, a former pig farmer, (and now my aunt) lived across the dirt road from the Grange and as such had responsibilities for the building. Ranging from keeping a schedule of what was happening when, to organizing the community to make necessary repairs, also a great way to learn those DIY skills (I discovered I’m not cut out for roofing this way).

    We’ve used the Grange hall facilities for wedding and funeral receptions, celebrating anniversaries and graduations, reading groups and more.

    Up north in rural Willamette Valley, Oregon, on the other side of the family, great-grandfather was part of the Grange organization there and we used to hold family reunions at the local hall.

    The Grange was a huge part of our communities. When I moved to a metropolitan area, I actually had to adjust to not having a local Grange. Granted, it wasn’t an earth-shattering adjustment, but people just didn’t know what I was talking about.

  82. I love to cook and bake at home, so that’s my biggest DIY area. I also know how to sew/alter clothing, but I don’t really have the time to work on things unless it’s a repair or alteration. I like to make my own cards to send to grandma on her birthday etc. I know how to do basic car maintenance, but I still pay for oil changes and I get my tires rotated and balanced for free.

    I like doing things for myself when they save me money or I can feel accomplished, but not if it’s a hassle or takes up too much of my time. That being said, I would totally hire someone to clean my house if I had enough money to do so. I’m a FT college student, work 24 hours a week, spend 6 hours a week commuting to school, and I’m married with a house to take care of. Cleaning the house is low priority and it is often neglected…

    But I think it is good for people to be able to be able to take care of some things without being totally dependent on others.

  83. The last time I paid someone to cut my hair, was in Fall 1998, and cost $20.

    After that, I went and bought an electric trimmer (with all the guards, scissors, brush, etc) for $25 and have been using the same trimmer and cutting my own hair since.

  84. very interesting and productive response to tough times. I use a simple cost/time/satisfacion ratio to decide what to take on myself and what to outsource. For example I don’t have a washer/dryer but I can get 2 weeks worth of laundry wash dry and fold for about $15 which to do by hand would be a pretty low cost/time never mind lack of enjoyment factor, but it costs $3 per dress shirt or dress pants to dry clean so I wash and hang those by hand at home. I consider that I am effectively making a pretty good hourly as a washer man with my office wear. Enjoy your site.

  85. My husband who is an engineer doesn’t balk at taking anything apart. Last year, I was about to junk my Kitchenaid mixer before we moved (it hadn’t worked properly in 6 months and they wanted $165 to “look” at it). He took it apart and after about an hour of tinkering figured out that a certain connection wasn’t being made.

    Also we change our own windshield wipers and air filters in the car and we don’t have very much knowledge of cars. I overheard my dad recently (who is getting poor slowly) that he’s at a point in his life where he’ll pay someone else to do these things for him. And yet there’s still no retirement savings. It always seems that those people who are wiling to do a little more are also those who are willing to save a little more. Almost an all or nothing approach?

  86. Goats? Unless somebody wants dairy goats, I’d highly recommend sheep instead. Sheep are tasty, provide fiber for spinning and felting, and you will never go outside to find a flock of sheep standing on the hood and roof of your new vehicle.

  87. Goat meat is tasty (go get a caribbean curried goat roti and you’ll see), goat milk is delicious and more digestible than cow’s milk, and mohair goats produce warm and silky- mohair! And they’re way more intelligent than sheep- which may or may not be an advantage I suppose. Goats have a wider range of preferred food as well. As for goats standing on your vehicle, well, pen them securely and that wont be a problem!

  88. The other advantage to doing a lot of this stuff yourself is the two-for-one end. I don’t think I save tons of money brewing beer with my friends, but when you count in the amount we would have spent if we’d gone out together instead of getting together to brew … that is when social crafts really add up.

    Today I came in from a (slightly too long) day of working in my community garden and was thinking about how lunch always tastes really good when I’m tired. If you can entertain yourself and get something useful done, it is a huge bonus.

  89. I was just reading this article from Newsweek about how Americans need to start spending again to get the economy going again. It makes me so mad because people that haven’t woken up to the real problems we face, and why, will believe junk such as this and take it to heart.

    http://www.newsweek.com/id/189232

  90. This site is retard. Seriously, goats? Other sites are talking about investing and new tax laws and stimulus bill and you’re talking about raising goats and eggs. Jesus fucking Christ this blog is fucking stupid.

  91. I think there’s a step beyond DIY. Part of DIY is overcoming our American consumerist/individualist society.

    But remember, a barn raising or hay threshing were generally community events. So I think we should be looking not just at Do It Yourself but Do It Together.

  92. I have been wondering myself lately whether the whole “homesteader” mentality was catching on larger scale, or just that I am noticing more because of our interests.

    I agree with several of the previous posters that DIY has to balance between saving your money, time, and your own interests/skill sets. I don’t buy that a DIYer has to do EVERYTHING themselves–we can’t all be good at everything! We even touched on this some in my latest blog http://www.cabinstartup.com/?p=236

    And I’m hoping that the whole DIY/Back to Basics mentality IS catching on–that is what our site is focusing on…just a couple of yahoo’s trying to make their dreams come true!

    JD–I LOVE your site! You have truly been an inspiration to us on so many levels!

  93. JD, your question, “Will [people doing things for themselves] simply weaken the economy,” has a different answer depending which economy you are referring to.

    It appears quite obvious to me that the “economy” we are being told to boost by spending is an economy designed around corporations, not humans. This “macro-economy” (my term, maybe not the best one) is absolutely indifferent to whether people like you and me live fulfilling and meaningful lives.

    The modern “macro-economy” was engineered by tycoons for tycoons, but at first it was a hard sell to the rest of us. When most Americans were subsistence farmers, the realization of industrialists’ dreams were hindered by the lack of reliable factory labor.

    An incentive was needed to convince farmers and artisans to leave the occupations and the rural life they (mostly) loved, move to crowded, crime-ridden cities, and build and operate the machines which promised to make most manual labor (and manual laborers) obsolete. Mass advertising provided that incentive by gradually creating a perception of personal deficiency in the minds of those exposed to it.

    Once Americans were convinced that their standard of living was insufficient, they were ready to apply for factory jobs that might generate the income needed to buy the luxuries which advertising dangled before them. One by one, they threw in the towel and became consumers. The “economy” boomed and the industrialists’ dreams came true.

    Unfortunately, personal quality of life and national prosperity depend primarily, not on the health of the macro-economy as measured by stock-market indexes and GDP, but on the health of the micro-economies we build within our families and local communities. These economies are driven more by relationships and skills than by money, they have been on life support for decades.

    People who recommend spending for things we don’t need, thus gutting our individual economy in the dubious interest of the macro-economy, are buying the myth that the latter can exist indefinitely at the expense of the former. It can’t.

    So my opinion is that we should turn an absolutely deaf ear to those who recommend spending money as our patriotic duty. I intend as much as possible to use the resources I do have, not to prop up Best Buy or Wal-Mart, but to invest in ways that promise solid benefits to those I love and to society as a whole: long-term friendships, learning and using new skills, being a peacemaker among my acquaintances, spiritual growth, creative manual labor and the satisfaction it brings.

    As long as individuals yield to the pressure to be mere consumers, any apparent prosperity in our national economy will be temporary and ultimately destructive.

  94. Oops. Paragraph 6 of the above comment should read “These economies are driven more by relationships and skills than by money, *and* they have been on life support for decades.”

    I hate it when people do that.

    [Click to Edit? Why didn’t I see that before?]

  95. When I was growing up my dad did all his own car maintenance, only using a garage for complicated jobs. I used to enjoy helping him, and also helped my boyfriend repair our first car. I went to night classes to learn car maintenance, but with modern cars there seems to be less you can do. If the engine isn’t running right, it’s no longer a question of checking the spark plug gap. You link the car to a computer and have that tell you what to do, and there seem fewer opportunities to repair, rather than replace. These discourage DIY, but I would never pay anyone to change my oil or do other basic tasks outside of a regular service.

    I also wash the car myself. Not only is it cheaper, I can check the bodywork and I get some exercise.

    Here in Greece many jobs that I wouldn’t think twice about doing are passed to ‘specialists’ – I’ve known Greeks call the plumber to connect up a washing machine, and even ask an electrician to change light bulbs!

    That said, at the gas station the attendant will fill your tank, wash your windows and check the oil if you ask, and all for free. I’m happy to accept this as part of the service.

  96. Wow, it seems like so many of these DIY things take so much time. I’d love to be that way, but honestly, finding the energy is my issue. I’m a single parent to two kids half of each week and work full time. My main focus right now is cooking mostly from scratch (or trying to) and freezing food. This summer I’d like to try canning. I’d love to garden, but I need someone to show me how first-I tried reading books, and I really need hands on lessons. I like making things on the computer (like cards, or art with photographs, magnets, etc). These aren’t hugely time consuming and I enjoy them. Right now I’m working on a family cookbook with pics of the kids to give out at Christmas. It combines my computer skills and amateur photography skills. And it’s fun.

  97. I think DIY and going back to basics is driven by a number of things: economy, desire to know where our food is coming from and what we’re eating (for both gardening and cooking), dissatisfaction with quality of products available, personal satisfaction with completing a project, etc.

    I don’t think sewing is a money saver any more for making your own clothes, but I do think it can save a lot of money for home decorating like curtains, pillows, etc. I made all my own curtain and they are either traditional curtains with tiebacks or tab curtains with tiebacks. I used sheets that look like white muslin. They turned our beautifully. It’s also great for repairs.

    We just ripped up our carpeting in our bedroom and replaced it with hardwood flooring this past weekend. (Granted, my husband lays hardwood floors on the side. So he already had this skill, plus the leftover wood, nails, etc. from previous jobs.) Tomorrow night’s project is replacing our oven’s heating element. In the past, we might have hired someone to do it. But, I ordered the part online and googled the instructions for installing it.

    I was baking and cooking almost all our meals long before I found out I need to for the most part because I am gluten free. Most restaurant food just rates okay these days anyway.

    Our son has already learned to change the oil in his motorcycle. 🙂

    I don’t think we have to learn to do everything for ourselves, but why not be more self sufficient when it works for us?

    Shirley

  98. For those who are saying that sewing is not a money saver, I just wanted to add that it doesn’t have to be an expensive activity.

    The biggest expense is the machine, but decent machines can be bought for less than $100 new; a good used one can be had for much less than that.

    Patterns can be bought for as little as $1 each when on sale at places such as Hancock Fabrics or Joann, etc. Patterns often include more than one garment and can be used many, many times.

    Fabric and craft stores also have wonderful sales on fabrics and sewing notions, sometimes as much as 40-50% off regular prices. Most of these stores issue coupons in the newspaper and often take their competitors coupon.

    With these sales, I can make a one-of-a-kind garment for less than I can buy a run of the mill item elsewhere.

    Another option is to buy pretty skirts in good condition at thrift stores (I sometimes find NEW ones there) and use the fabric in them to make adult tops or children’s clothing.

    There is time involved, as with any activity, but if one enjoys sewing, the cost does not have to be prohibitive.

  99. It’s about time!

    When I was a kid, I remember the fathers on the street cutting and fertilizing their own lawns, repairing their own cars, and painting their own houses. Whole families worked on vegetable gardens . . . Mothers cooked, baked, and tended to their own kids.

    Now, people look at me like I have three heads when I discuss my DIY projects from the weekend . . . all I know is I save money and I will never be helpless in the event of a real crisis.

    This country went nuts somewhere in the last 25 years . . . America was once the land of the rugged individualist–what happened? We got fat and happy. We came to expect everything to come easy.

    We used to do-it-ourselves, now we call someone and pay through the nose. As someone on a limited budget that just isn’t practical. Certainly some jobs need to be done by a professional, but many can be handled by an individual willing to take the time to figure it out or with a little assistance from a capable supplier. As an example, do you need a room painted? Do some research on the internet for tips, tricks, and techniques. Ask your local paint store for advice on how to use the paint, brushes, rollers, and tools–pick their brains. Getting a room painted could cost hundreds of dollars where I live or it could be less then fifty bucks for supplies and some elbow grease. This is true of almost everything.

    http://divorceddadfrugaldad.com/2008/08/17/what-happened-to-selfsufficiency.aspx

  100. there has been a pick up in business for me as a result of the diy becoming hip. which is aweomse!

    My parents and I are a weird blend of diy. My dad (a doctor) still changes the oil on my car, for example (we have the set up to do it safley and to dispose of it properly). I am much more diy than they are though I think.

    Much of it is not just because we can or because it saves money, but because it is a good alterntive- canned fruits with no preservatives, fresh bread, etc.

  101. I LOVED this post, I can’t believe how much people are complaining. Learning how to change the oil is about 5 minutes or less according to the video that JD posted.

    I’d love to learn how to change my oil so I can spend less on maintenance for my car and save the rest for retirement. Thank you JD for posting the traditional skills post.

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