Do It Yourself Savings. With Help!

The boards were rotting and turning black in spots. A racoon tribe had been digging into the wood for unseen treasures. Some of the planks had split open and a previous deck expansion had made the surface look a bit like a patchwork quilt. Eventually most of the usual husband denial tactics failed and it was time to actually get the deck rebuilt.

Getting the work done by a pro would cost a good $8,000. Enough for a fun trip, 1/3 of a year of university costs, some debt pay down or savings. A do-it-yourself deck replacement was an option, but the thought of prying out 250 square feet of old, nailed-on 2×6’s and replacing some of the framing underneath was a bit daunting. The deck is an irregular shape which would lead to  some tricky angle cuts. The clock was ticking though, as the deck had to be ready for our daughter’s 19th birthday.

Was this a candidate for do it yourself savings?

I costed out the materials and everything could be had for just over $1,000. Time to call my buddy “Rip” – a retired high school shop teacher turned home renovator and get a sense of what he might charge to get the work done. I then offered up myself as a helper, unsure as to whether that would raise or lower his price and whether I would speed or hinder his progress. He agreed to take me on as an apprentice and we booked a weekend for the work. I ordered the materials and had everything on site ready to go. Rip’s skills gave me the confidence that the job would end well. How can you go wrong with a home renovator named Rip? The greater concern was the 56-year-old “apprentice”.

Rip arrived brandishing the nation’s largest pry bar and a pickup truck filled with enough power tools to make Mike Holmes blush.  We filled fresh mugs of black coffee to add some workman vibe, then intimidated the planks off with the monster pry bar. By noon, we were down to the bare framing. Which was great, other than trying to get around on a deck with no planks, 10 feet off the ground. Rip had a good laugh at my knees knocking, even though we had appropriate safety measures in place.

I tried to minimize my interference while he worked

After lunch, we added some more framing underneath and then started screwing in new deck boards in a “frame and panel” approach that had a “frame” of 3 planks all around the perimeter, then boards installed in the usual way inside the frame. This design meant a better looking deck, but more work.

On Sunday, lots more coffee and some tricky angle cuts, which were no problem for us.  Actually, they were no problem for Rip and I tried to minimize my interference while he worked. After a while, we got into a rhythm; hauling planks, cutting and screwing them into place.

By Sunday night, the sun was low in the sky, the deck was beautiful, we were covered in sawdust and aching muscles.  We loaded the last of the tools into Rip’s truck and high-fived our success. A big pile of wood offcuts was next to the garage. I learned a bunch of new skills from Rip and he learned a few old jokes from me. I swept the new deck as Rip’s truck backed up our driveway.

The do it yourself savings weren’t the biggest part of the story…

The deck replacement was a success and saved thousands vs hiring out the whole project. But the do it yourself savings weren’t the biggest part of the story. The fun of learning from a pro, and of building something with my own hands led to a great sense of satisfaction. And there is something about a couple of days of hard work under a beautiful blue sky with an old friend.

Learning some DIY skills can provide major savings, the fun of learning and the buzz of accomplishment. Working with a pro helps you learn how to build things to code and work safely. Skills learned on one project let you take on the next one with confidence.

Where do it yourself savings aren’t an option, always be sure to shop around for price and quality – it works on just about everything  – even veterinarian bills. Pay special attention to recurring monthly costs as I did in a post about commuting costs. Use the freed up cash to pay down debt or build savings.

What do-it-yourself projects have you tried and did you get help from a pro, a book or a YouTube video? Let me know!

Veterinary Savings and the $1,000 Phone Call

Veterinary savings don’t get a ton of press with financial bloggers. But the price of dog spaying forced a bit of shopping around on behalf of little Zara once she reached her 6-month birthday.

You could argue that this is not the sort of birthday present most of us would want, but such is the life of an urban pet. And, as aging humans, we too are subject to various proddings, inspections and other personal violations, all in the name of good health.

The local veterinarian office answered the call and indicated that they would be pleased to conduct the procedure and had some availability over the next couple of weeks. Ah yes, and the costs would be $1,300 plus applicable taxes. Ouch, and I wasn’t even the one going for the procedure.

It’s kind of a personal thing between you and your dog

Now on the one hand, dog spaying is not the type of thing one would think to negotiate. It’s kind of a personal thing between you and your dog. A just-get-it-done-and-move-on kind of a thing. Can’t do comparisons on Kijiji (more on Kijiji techniques here). Not something to bid on over at eBay. And our friends who ship the smiling packages aren’t in that business. Yet.

Second call was to a vet a little further afield, in a neighborhood with fewer Starbucks. Down to $850, all in with the necessary shots included, plus taxes. How can the government add taxes to dog spaying? Hopefully this isn’t a line item somewhere between softwood lumber and dairy in the new NAFTA agreement or we may see duties as well as taxes.

Anyway, with about $500 saved with just a second phone call, I wondered how far I could take this. I reached out to a buddy with 2 dogs to see who he used. Turns out he had paid a similar $850 but had heard talk that the local Humane Society (SPCA for my American friends) will do the spaying for much less. Buoyed by the success of my first two phone calls, I elected to do some online research to pursue this new lead.

Kind of a dial-in lottery for veterinary savings

The Humane Society site indicated that they do perform the operation, but you need to call early on the prescribed day each month to secure your spot. Kind of a dial in lottery for veterinary savings. Not the most high-tech solution. But the price was an incredible $150, all in. Worth a few minutes of aggressive dialing to secure a spot.

The waiting room was less plush than the local vet and there were no dog-eared (sorry about that) magazines on the coffee tables. And no complimentary coffee. But when Zara emerged, she had proudly attained the same infertile status as any of the dogs whose owners had paid nearly ten times as much. She continues to enjoy ball fetching with occasional returns to her master, unproductive squirrel chasing and even has a few doggy boyfriends, all platonic of course.

What unusual things have you been comparison shopping for? Share your stories!

For saving ideas that can add over $2 million to your net worth over the next 10 years, check out Cashflow Cookbook. Available here.

Slash Your Clothing Costs with Junk Mail

Spring is here!

That means it’s time for the annual clothing pilgrimage. The winter gear moves down into the giant Tupperware containers in the basement crawlspace, and the spring and summer collection is liberated upstairs to the bedroom dresser. There’s probably a better way to set up the dusty crawlspace to reduce the head bonking and sneezing, but let’s save that for next year. Actually, that was the plan last year as well.

Everything gets laid out on the bed for inspection. But something happened to your spring togs over the winter. A small moth hole here, a few pieces starting to push fashion boundaries there. Oh, and those pants are looking a bit frayed along the bottom. And it seems they, ahem, shrunk some over the winter. Somehow.

Time to refresh the wardrobe.

Where better to find some new gear than the mall? The trip offers an invigorating traffic jam or two, a rousing parking space hunt, and then the blanching effect of 3 hours of fluorescent lights and some denatured music. Browsing the clothing racks, it looks like the good stuff is all at full price and the sale rack holds only the most garish patterns and XS sizing. Out comes the credit card to load up on the good stuff anyway, because, well, it’s the good stuff! Never mind the clothing costs. It’s worth it. But once the bills are all tallied, let’s just say you won’t be adding much to your TFSA for a while.

When did cashiers start taking email addresses?

Because I don’t want to give it to them. After all the scanning, beeping, and swiping was done, the clerk asks for your email address. Seriously? Who would fall for that one? The last thing any of us need is more junk email. By refusing, you dodged an additional daily onslaught. Nice work.

But what if those emails include something of value? Like real discounts of 30, 40, or 50%? And since they come from the store you just bought from, they are likely to be of interest to you. Maybe it’s worth giving the cashier your email address after all…

The problem, of course, is that clearing out email isn’t a fun task, and adding dozens more from retailers only adds to the misery. Many of the retailers will send out these offers daily, too. For those of us who don’t make daily clothing purchases, this is an issue.

Email rules to the rescue!

By setting up rules you can automatically divert these offer emails to dedicated mailbox folders. You can set up mailboxes for a specific retailer like Banana Republic, or for a category like clothing. And it works for more than just clothes! You can stash away bargain codes for travel, home repair bits, or whatever it is that you buy. The rules scan your inbox for relevant emails and then quietly whisk them away to their new home, ready for you on purchase day. Your inbox stays clear, and your discount codes are ready when you need them.

Here are the steps:

For Mac Apple Mail

  1. To set up mailboxes, go to mailbox/new mailbox, then pick its location and give it a name.
  2. For the rules, got to Mail/Preferences/Add Rule and unleash your inner programmer. It’s not so hard — just pick “From”, copy the email address from one of your offer emails, and tell it what folder to send it to.
  3. Repeat for all the different offers you’re getting, and you’re done! Your offers will be ready and waiting in their new homes.

For Microsoft Outlook

  1. To set up folders, go to New Items/Folder and give it a name.
  2. For the rules, go to Tools/Rules then click the “+” to add a rule that moves emails from specific senders. Pick “From”, copy the email address from one of your offer emails, and point it to the right folder.
  3. Repeat for all your different offers, and you’re done! Your offers will be ready and waiting in their new homes.

Not working right?

Recruit a tech-savvy friend or family member for some help or check your basement for a teenager. They know how to do these kinds of things.

Once the rules are in place, your inbox stays clear and the latest offers are at the ready to help you cut down on clothing costs. Of course, let’s not squander the savings on extra gear! Get them working for you by paying down some debt or increasing your savings.

For some great tips on how to do that, check out my book, Cashflow Cookbook. It’s jam-packed with recipes for savings that can save you millions.

Let me know how it goes!

Why Are You Paying Double For Everything?

What if you could have 50% off everything you ever wanted?

Oh, and what if there was also no sales tax? Of course, this sale has existed forever with people selling things that they hardly used. How different is a well-maintained, year-old tennis racket from a new one? What’s likely to go wrong with a 3-year-old coffee table? Fender Guitars claims that 41% of the people buying new guitars are beginners and that 90% give up playing within a year. That’s a lot of beautiful guitars on sale at about 50% off. And with no tax. There’s just one issue: how do you find this stuff?

Yard Sales are Hit or Miss.

One approach is to hunt yard sales in the spring. The bargains are all there, often at more than 50% off. But the logistics are bad. Driving around, sifting through lots of salt and pepper shakers and ashtrays (remember those?) to find that vintage turntable you’re after. Then there’s the issue of buying extra junk that seemed like a good idea at the time. You know, the type of junk that makes it to the curb of your own yard sale a year later. Yes, the pricing is often 50% off, but good luck finding exactly what you want. And if you want something in the fall, you need to wait for the spring. Painful.

Craigslist and Kijiji Have the Goods. Somewhere.

As yard sales moved online, the driving went away and the selection blossomed. Maybe too much though. Searching for, say, exercise gear means reading dozens of online pages, combing through each one for exactly the right equipment. Getting the full picture involves clicking into each ad to get the details, the location and the item condition. Not so fun.

And then you need to actually contact the seller, hope they respond, and set up a time to actually see and test out the stuff. How is this better than a yard sale again?

Then, when you inevitably fail at finding what you’re looking for the first few times you check, you’re stuck continuously checking back for new listings. And what about trying to keep track of the listings you found earlier. Is the stuff still available? Oh, and did you already respond to that one out in the West end?

Put Your Online Shopping on Autopilot

Buried somewhere in most of these online classifieds is an Alert function. Beautiful. Do some digging. It is in there on most of the online classified tools. Once you find it, you can start a search for exactly what you need (or want). Maybe it’s a pre-1969 Dylan vinyl, or a KitchenAid blender, or a log splitter for the cottage, or a set of 205/55/17 Michelin X-Ice snow tires on VW factory rims. Or maybe you’re hunting some vintage gold jewelry for your anniversary. Whatever it is, you can set up the Alert just how you like it. It only takes about a minute. Then you can go about your business, whatever it is that you do do.

Call Me When It’s Ready

A week or a month later, up it will pop in your inbox. A little alert that someone has the thing you crave. Have a peek! Delete it if something isn’t quite right, and maybe refine the alert. But sooner or later it will arrive. Exactly what you wanted. Just like my Fender Stratocaster with the maple neck and the Sienna finish. It took about a minute to set up the alert, and just a couple of weeks for the good news to arrive. After an hour of driving and $1,000 cash, voila! I saved $1,400 on my new guitar. An amount that continues to grow in my TFSA.

Buying high quality pre-owned items is a great way to free up cash to invest and build a path to financial independence.

If you really need a new one or can’t find a used one, maybe think about shopping off-season. Learn more about that here.