Home Improvement Money-Saving Secrets

If you’ve been putting off updating or sprucing up your home because of the high cost of home improvements, today’s readers are sure to inspire you to do those projects yourself, for less!

HARDWOOD FLOORING. My husband and I wanted a hardwood floor but the estimate of more than $3,000 (which worked out to more than $7 per square foot) was out of our budget. We decided to try 4-foot by 8-foot sheets of veneer plywood at less than $45 a sheet, or about $1.40 per square foot.  We installed the plywood and sealed it with two gallons of polyurethane. The floor is beautiful and cost about $675 total. Jenn

Photo Credit: Curbly

Photo Credit: Curbly

SHOWER CURTAIN RESCUE. In a house full of boys who don’t know their own strength I frequently find the shower curtain torn away from the hooks. To fix this I use clear packaging tape to cover the hole, punch a new hole, replace the shower ring and its good as new.  Double the tape and it lasts twice as long. Maureena

VERTICAL BLIND RENEW. Do not throw away your old, faded, cloth verticals blinds. I didn’t want to pay for new ones, so I painted them with the same off-white paint I was using in another part of the house. Any color latex paint will work. Just allow a couple of days for them to dry. I discovered that with the extra weight of the paint, they hang more beautifully than ever. Dottie

Unclog a Drain Yourself Without Chemicals

A plugged up sink, shower or tub drain sends most people running for either a bottle of caustic drain cleaner, or a plumber’s phone number. But wait. This could well be a job you can do yourself without chemicals or a big bill.

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Assess the situation. Turn on taps to allow water down other drains in the house. If everything else is flowing freely, you can be fairly certain you have a localized clog—and probably near that clogged drain’s opening. If this is involving other drains, you could have a bigger problem that may well require a professional. Assuming it’s only the one drain, let’s move on.

Boiling water. Get a large pot and boil up as much water as it will hold. Now carefully pour boiling water down the drain slowly, in two to three stages so that the hot water can work for a few minutes in between each pour. This is the easiest and quickest way to unclog a drain if it works, which usually it does with a satisfying swoosh.

Reach in. Remove the strainer that is part of the drain plug, then reach into the drain with your fingers (latex gloves would be a good idea here) and pull out any solids. As gross as this might be, it is often all that’s needed to clear a slow-moving or clogged drain.

The Joy of Laundry

Start with one of the principles of living beneath your means: Take care of what you have. Next, add one of the most effective ways to reduce stress: Find an activity that gives you a sense of personal satisfaction. And what do you have? Laundry! No seriously.

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I’m one of those people who loves to do laundry. From the challenge of getting a stain out to the smell of clean when the clothes come out of the washer, to pulling warm sheets and towels from the dryer—all of it appeals to my enjoyment of instant gratification. I love the entire process. Even like the folding part.

One Big Handy Coaster

I have a can of lacquer thinner that I keep handy for one purpose: To clean up any kind of paint spills on carpet, tile or clothes*. It works well, but it is a pain, to tell you the truth. And now it dawns on me. Why not do something clever to prevent the spills in the first place? Yeah, I like that a lot better.

PAINT CAN COASTER. When I am doing a painting job, I always glue a paper plate to the bottom of the paint can before I open it. That way I can pick up the can whenever I need to move it and I know that the paper plate will catch all the drips and spills. Sam

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DE-SALT THE SAUCE. If you find that your tomato sauce or soup is too salty, just add a little brown sugar. It will neutralize some of the salty taste. Janet

NO-STICK BEATERS. Before you use your electric mixer, spray the beaters with some non-stick cooking spray. It will keep the batter or frosting from clinging to the beaters and clogging them up. Sarah

FREEZING BREAD. Whenever I freeze bread or bagels, I always add a dry paper towel to the inside of the storage bag before slipping it in a freezer. The paper towel soaks up the extra moisture and the bread stays fresher longer once defrosted. Carolyn

SOFTEN HANDS. Here’s a fast and easy way to soften hands: Squirt 2 tablespoons inexpensive lotion into your hands. Add a generous tablespoon of sugar, and rub the concoction all over your hands. The sugar exfoliates your hands and the lotion softens them. Rinse with warm water, wash the solution off, and apply a fresh coat of lotion. Soft, smooth hands for pennies! Brooke

A Compulsive Shoppers Guilt-Free Playground and Other Quick Tips

Today I have a bunch of tips for you. These are short, quick, wonderful ways to save time and money every day. I’m crazy about tips. Actually, I collect them, test them, sort them, categorize them, file them and then turn around and share them with friends like you.

You might find yourself asking, “But Mary, will any one of these ideas really save me any money?” Probably not very much if you consider only one tip, but many tips applied over a period of time can result in serious cumulative savings.

Photo Credit: infomatique

Photo Credit: infomatique

Library. What a fabulous place the library is. There you and your kids will find current newspapers (perhaps you will need to explain to your kids what a newspaper is), magazines, children’s books, adult books, videos, audio books, DVDs, CD’s and wonderful storytellers. You get to take home something new and it doesn’t cost anything. If you like to shop for fun, satisfy the impulse by visiting a library.

Some libraries have begun adding household items you can borrow—things like coffee urns and cake pans in the shape of characters. You can check them out for an event to host a family reunion and make your kids’ birthday cakes in the same way you borrow books.

Secrets of a Cheapskate Gardener

I love a beautiful yard, but I hate spending money to get it that way which explains why I am always looking for do-it-yourself cheap ways to kill weeds, grow flowers and feed lawns.

I have come across some very clever tips and tricks, not the least of which is to reclassify the dandelion as a low-maintenance, hardy ground cover!

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While you ponder that suggestion, take a look at these clever ideas to make your own landscape supplies.

LAWN FOOD: Mix four pounds magnesium sulfate (Epsom salts) with a bag of your favorite lawn food that covers 2,500 sq. ft. Now feed your lawn only half the amount of this mixture as recommended on the lawn food bag You’ll save a lot of money because you’ll be using less than half the normal amount of fertilizer and this formulation cuts down on the nitrogen which makes your lawn grow so fast. You’ll have the wonderful deep-green color, better root structure and you won’t have to mow as often.

LAWN SNACK: Try this on your lawn every three weeks during the summer. (With every third snack, add 1/2 cup clear corn syrup or molasses to the mixture.)

Pour the beer and shampoo (and corn syrup when it’s the third snack) into a 20-gallon hose-end sprayer jar; fill up the jar with ammonia and apply, following the instructions on the hose-end sprayer. You’re going to have very happy grass.

Backpacks That Wear Well and Look Good, Too

Have a messy outdoor job you need to tackle? How about those crummy, cheap backpacks that don’t even last through the school year? Today your fellow readers have tips for how to deal with those annoying problems and so much more!

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BACKPACK SOURCE. My sons had terrible problems with backpacks. Even the expensive ones would not last an entire school season. Then one day we went into the Army/Navy surplus store. We found military backpacks (rucksacks) that wore like iron! In fact, the boys carried them for years—all the way through high school. And, they thought they were very cool. Carole

TRASHY APRON. If you have a particularly dirty job to do like cleaning the outdoor grill, taking down dirty window screens or hosing down the patio furniture before storing away for winter, make yourself a disposable apron: Take a large garbage bag, cut holes for your head and arms and slip it over your clothes. You may look a little weird, but you’ll protect your clothes and save yourself a lot of time and trouble later. Roy

STORAGE DESIGN. If your storage space is limited and you have to stack several boxes on top of each other, make a diagram on an index card and keep it in a handy place. When you go to look for something you’ll know exactly where it is. Store items towards the front that you’re more likely to use often with less-used items at the back. Lucille

Tips to Outsmart Retailers’ Clever Tricks

I blame my suspicious nature on my neighborhood grocery store. The store used to be a logically arranged market with bright lights and clean floors—a basic, friendly, functional place to shop. Then the bulldozers morphed it into a big fancy supermarket complete with mood lighting and cushy chairs.

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I have nothing against beautiful spaces and modern conveniences, but I’m no fool. I knew all of this effort was to one end: to get me to spend more of my hard-earned money. Take the “Three for $6!” special of the week. Why not just say $2 each and drop the exclamation mark? I muttered to myself as I placed one jar of spaghetti sauce in the cart. Before I could wheel away I had my answer: I saw several customers dutifully place three jars in their carts. Not two, not four, but three jars.

That response was no accident. In fact, that’s a simple example of how retailers use tricks to persuade consumers to buy more. Retailers hire experts like Paco Underhill, author of Why We Buy, and his company, Envirosell, to follow thousands of shoppers a year in person and on video, observing their every move. Using this information, the stores find ways to get people to shop longer, spend more and return often. Underhill and his crew are so good at what they do, they can tell retailers what will entice people to enter the store, which way they’ll look once they’re inside, and more.