Thursday, July 16, 2009

Thrift and profligacy

I know I've snarked here before about the breathless "Did you know you can save $425 a year by asking your friends to drive you around instead of driving your own car" type thrift-stories.

But it's actually kind of interesting to read about and think about what some people think are good ways to save money. And about what they're willing to spend on (Though there seem to be far fewer stories about how people treat themselves in a civilized manner during this recession).

I get "Real Simple" magazine. (You may laugh at me if you want; I am really not part of the DINK or alpha-mom crowd which seem to be the main demographic base of the magazine. Still, there is something about it that I like).

They featured a story this month featuring ways to "Do It Yourself and Save Big!"

So, here are their ideas, plus my comments:

1. "repair" (actually, unjam) a garbage disposal. They claim a savings of $100 for doing it yourself (it involves pushing the reset button, unplugging it and trying to pull whatever is jammed out with tongs if possible).

I've done this very thing myself. But it is not to save money: it is to save time. Where I live, getting a workman out can be a several-days-long ordeal, even for something as simple as this. So I do it myself, not because of the money issue, but because I'd rather not take a day off, or cancel office hours, or something, to wait on some guy to show up.

2. Groom your dog yourself.

Not applicable; I don't own a dog. Though if I did, I think I'd go for one of the lower-maintenance (all around) mixed breeds, or something like a black lab, that you can pretty easily bathe yourself and that doesn't really need trimming or frou-frou cuts. (And I'd let the vet deal with its nails. Too much chance of hurting the dog if you don't know how to do it right yourself). Besides, black labs, all the ones I've ever known, have been pretty cool dogs.

I don't think I'd want to have a dog that had to go to the hairdresser more often than I do. (Just as I'd never date a man who was prettier than I was.)

3. Rescue jewelry that has fallen down the drain.

Again, done this myself. And again, done it to avoid the agonizing wait on a plumber.

(I have also changed the wax seal on a toilet, and replaced the entire interior "flapper and handle" mechanism myself for the same reasons).

4. Repair a small crack in drywall. Actually, I've repaired a larger-than-small crack. It just takes different supplies: drywall mud and that fiberglass stuff that looks like gauze and provides a sort of base for the mud. It's not that hard.

5. Replace a dead spot on the lawn. Never had to, but I'd rather do it myself. And I'd be more likely to do it by cutting a patch of turf from somewhere inconspicuous and replacing it that way. (I have a St. Augustine grass lawn, which is actually pretty much self-healing. Which makes it awesome. I've never had bare patches in this lawn.)

6. Fix a faucet that spits. Actually, I've used an even easier fix than what they recommend: if you live in hard-water country, you can tie a baggie full of full-strength vinegar over the faucet (or take it apart and soak the aerator in it) and let it dissolve the scale for you. This also works very well on showerheads that don't seem to be giving as much water flow as they should.

7. Replace a doorknob. Never had to do this but if it were an exterior (i.e., security) door, I'd hire someone. I suppose it's not hard but I think I'd rather have a locksmith do that.

8. Secure a window that slides down. Never had to do this, though I'd probably go for an even lower-tech, cheaper solution: get a block of wood the right size to prop the window open to the extent I want it propped open.

9. Brighten stained tile grout (they warn that you will have to do the whole dang room): This is something I'd hire someone for if I wanted it done. I lack the patience necessary to crawl along the floor of my 15' x 10' kitchen scrubbing grout with a toothbrush full of bleach. Or, more likely, I'd just leave the stains be. (I have tan-ish grout in the kitchen; it doesn't show stains too badly).

10. Replace a torn window screen: Done it, don't enjoy it, but would probably do it myself again if I had to.

11. Change a burned-out headlight bulb: Done it, burned my hand badly doing it. From now on, I will let the nice man at my mechanic's do it and pay him.

12. Install new windshield wipers: This is not that hard. I do it myself. Don't most people?

13. Replace a worn-down heel tip: It shows a pair of spike heels the like which I have never owned. I have had "heel taps" replaced on oxfords but as it costs $15 or less to have it done, I take my shoes to the shoe repair shop for that.

14. Repair a broken necklace or bracelet clasp: Yes, but only on costume jewelry. Jewelry with actual value (I own only a few pieces) I would take to a jewelry shop and pay a pro to do it. And if my string of pearls broke, I'd take it to a pro for re-stringing (they are the traditional "knot between each pearl" so restringing would be a major pain)

15. Style your hair in an updo: I don't generally "style" my hair. If I had somewhere REAL fancy to go, that needed a good style, I'd probably pay someone to do an updo for me. Because I'm kind of cack-handed at it.

16. Trim your bangs. I do this, but I prefer to pay someone to, because a few times the result of my doing it myself has been "six-year-old playing with the scissors"

17. Get a reflexology treatment: If I wanted one, I'd have to do it myself. No practitioners in town.

18. Do your own pedicure: More or less, yes. I don't always put polish on, though. But I do it myself not to save the bucks, but because I've heard scary stories of people contracting foot-fungus from poorly cleaned tools. And I don't like strange people touching me.

A couple things they don't list:

changing your own oil - I know how to do this, but I'd rather pay the nice man at my mechanic's the $25 or so to do it for me. Because they can easily safely dispose of the oil. And because the nice man at my mechanic's also checks the other fluids for me while he's at it, and lets me know whether everything looks OK or not.

cooking at home - I do this most all the time. But not because it's cheaper; because I like home cooked food better, and you know that the food you're eating hasn't been spit in, or cooked up by someone with Hep A, or made with some kind of cheap-trust-us mystery oil from China.

cleaning house - lots of my friends hire cleaning people. It is not something I can do. I don't think less of them for it; it's that I personally have privacy issues and the thought of someone else touching and arranging my stuff makes me twitch

yardwork: I could see hiring someone, except I have a super tiny yard, and it just seems easier to take the half-hour or so each week and do it myself.

And then there are the things I choose to spend money on:

1. Fresh fruit and vegetables: If there is something I like, I will buy it. Even if it's expensive. This week sweet cherries are in at the store. I've eaten a pound and a half of them in less than 2 days. I figure, the food is good for me, and I enjoy it, and frankly, it's a treat to have fresh fruits and veggies after having often to depend on stuff in cans or frozen (when things are out of season and either aren't available or are not very good).

2. Packaged salad greens: So I don't have the unpleasant experience of biting down on spinach that I washed and realizing I didn't get every last bit of sand out of it. I wash the supposedly "pre washed" greens but I don't have to do sand and grit patrol on them.

3. Good chocolate. Well, I don't buy Valhrona or Scharffen Berger, partly because I can't find them for sale here in town. But I do buy good dark chocolate and enjoy it.

4. Good tea: I mostly mail order this, but tea is one of the pleasurable things in my life, so I'm willing to spend the money on it. (I'd rather mow my own lawn and be able to afford good tea.)

5. Good soap: I often buy the "artisanal" soaps that some of the frou frou gift shops sell. Because they smell nice. And because they feel nicer than plain old Ivory from the drugstore.

6. Craft supplies: Truly, making stuff is one of the great joys of my life. I think if I didn't do crafts I would be a much less happy and content person. So purchasing quilting fabric when I want to, or buying yarn for a new project - I let myself do it. I have a (slightly flexible) budget I don't go above, but I do buy supplies when I need something or see something I want.

7. Books: Yeah, I know: the library is free. But I have sometimes-somewhat-esoteric taste in books (want to read all of Marjorie Allingham's mysteries? Good luck at finding them in a typical strapped-for-space small town library; most of them probably went out in a book sale 15 years ago). And I sometimes can take a couple months to read a longer book, and the whole "yeah, I'm not done yet, I need to renew" process is a drag.


Kate P said...

Yeah, I like the pictures in Real Simple but their product recommendations in the past were usually outside of my budget. I am impressed that you can do the plumbing! I'm afraid to screw that kind of stuff up if I did it myself.

Re the car ones: I can NOT for the life of me change my windshield wipers. But I have done the lights, verrrry carefully, because I was warned the oil from my fingers would break the bulb. I usually break a nail or two, but it's neat to do anyway.

Point #7 on your last list is right on the money for my library. Actually, this past week I found brand new copies of a YA series in the donation room, so I don't know what was up with that. The next used book sale is gonna be fierce.

Mr. Bingley said...

if you had a black lab you would have lots of experience with bare patches in your lawn...

and great big gobs of hair blowing about the house like tumbleweeds west of the Pecos.

wv: "amphrooe" - an ancient greek drinking cup