Introduction: Baby Steps -- and a Few Giant Leaps -- Towards Saving
Lots of subjects have been covered in this money saving contest, including my favorite dumpster diving, saving old stuff for parts, or just consuming less. Here are a few of the things I do which I haven't seen (and I apologize for the repetitions if you already have described some of my tips and secrets).
Not all are DIY -- some involve products to buy which will save you money in the long run -- but I've only included those if they really save you a lot, and might even change your life like the next step changed mine....
Step 1: Selzer!
This is the one thing in my life which I could never give up... Even though I broke my back and hurt my hands carrying the bottles up the stairs, even though I felt guilty about the absurdity of using all the energy and materials necessary to produce the innumerable bottles I'd consume and the gas necessary to ship them, even though the modest cost of a bottle was adding up to several hundreds of dollars a year, I could still not give up the habit.
I'd thought of building some sort of seltzer making set-up, and found a few descriptions of how to do it, but they all seemed too involved, (and dangerous) to be practical for me. Then I found the soda club, and it did, literally, change my life. In a way it is DIY because I now make the selzer... I don't need to carry the weight or pay for the water. I use tap water (transported via the force of gravity) and just pay for the bubbles -- about 20 cts per liter. Not only do I save a whole lot, but I don't have to carry the water and I never run out! Safe, easy, cheap. What more can you ask for?
Step 2: Renovation
Although renovation costs do seem to balloon uncontrollably, there are some ways to keep them in check:
Reuse. When I tore down the bathroom walls I saved the old tiles and used them as a backsplash in the kitchen. I also saved the accessories (toilet paper holder, etc) and put them into the new wall.
Give away. When I tore out the kitchen cabinets, even though they weren't so great I found somebody who would take them for free. I found a scrap metal guy who picked up the huge old bathtub. Not only were these people glad to have the stuff, I saved hundreds of dollars the contractor would have charged to cart them away...
Find free stuff. There's the aforementioned dumpster diving, online resources such as Craigslist, but if you make friends with your architect and contractor (or if your friends and family happen to be architects and contractors), ask them for stuff they're tearing out of their other projects. I got a free stove, dishwasher and a butcherblock countertop (in addition to smaller things like door hinges, handles, mirror, light fixtures, doorbell, etc).
And of course, do as much as you can yourself... but beware of false savings! It would have cost me more to rent the floor sanding equipment and supplies than it cost to pay someone else to do the job (better and faster, too). That might be because I would also have had to rent a car to get the equipment. Still, figure in all your costs before you decide to do everything yourself.
Step 3: Hope
This tip and the next come from Obama -- remember when McCain mocked him for suggesting these economy measures? Boy was he wrong....
Put your power warts onto a power strip and turn them off when you don't need them!
Step 4: Car Tires
and fill up your car tires, for those of you who are forced to drive.
Step 5: Bike Riding
but if you can, ride a bike or use public transportation
Step 6: Excercise
but give up the gym. Who needs a stepmaster? Walk up the stairs! Forget the elevator. You'll be saving electricity too. Chances are it won't be your money saved, but it'll still be good for your heart.
Step 7: Weddings
Don't do it! You can still get married (the so-called marriage tax isn't true, being married does save you money), but elope instead of hosting a bunch of people you don't even know.
I used to edit wedding videos -- what some people spend on weddings could buy them a house! I know first hand because I was living off of them...
You might think now it's what you've always dreamed of, but in less than a year you'll be shelving all those pictures, the video, and you'll never think of that extravaganza again (unless you're still paying off the debt). It's not worth it.
(Update: you eloped but you can still celebrate with a DYI wedding cake!)
Step 8: Washing
Front loader save water and energy, but I recently discovered they start smelling moldy after a while. Apparently this is a problem inherent to the design. You can buy super expensive tablets or use bleach and run them in an empty machine, but then you're wasting all the water and energy you'd saved... A much cheaper solution is to add borax to the wash with your clothes (20 Mule Team can be found next to other laundry detergents).
I also make my own cleaning products. It's quick, easy, cheap and green!
I'll be testing my own high borax mix for h.e. washers and I'll publish that when it's ready....
Update: don't try the high borax mix! In high concentration, borax will form crystals -- you don't want those clogging up your washing machine pipes.
Step 9: Drying
There are some good instructables for building a clothesline, but they are all addressed to those lucky enough to have a yard... For apartment dwellers (albeit those lucky enough to have laundry in their apartment or building), the commercial solution pictured here no longer exists, but I found this similar one:
This can go anywhere, you don't necessarily need a laundry room... a very large closet, a hallway, the bathroom, even your bedroom. I wouldn't put it in the kitchen though, unless you never cook.
I'm sure this could also be a DIY project... after all, it's only a few pulleys, a couple bars, cable and a crank... But that last item was why I opted for the commercial solution. You could theoretically replace the crank with a cleat and pull your bars up and down, but the crank makes it much, much easier. When you're doing laundry every two or three days, it makes a difference. A bar full of wet clothes is pretty heavy. Plus by the time you've bought all the separate items, I'm not sure you'll have saved that much money...
As you can see I do still have a dryer, but it uses gas (more efficient and cheaper to run), and it's useful for sheets and towels. Hang the rest!
Step 10: Cleaning
Don't go for all the specialized sprays and nonsense which are marketed all over.
Make rags -- cut up your old Tshirts and moisten them with warm water... that's all you'll need for dusting (trust me, I live right next to a highway so I know all about dust...).
Don't buy softener -- plain white vinegar works just as well (and it won't smell)
Forget the $10 carpet cleaner (even though I'll admit the foam is kind of fun) -- spray your carpet with water, sprinkle it with Borax (20 Mule Team is in any supermarket with the laundry supplies), wait for it to dry and vacuum. Not only will you get the dirt, you'll also kill the fleas...
Click here for some good and very cheap cleaning supply recipes.
Step 11: Learn to Cut Hair
There are several instructables with different techniques in this subject, so I would just look up the method which suits you best. Another way to learn is to have your hair cut professionally and pay close attention.
Just two pieces of advice:
The fist time you cut someone's hair, choose a subject who is older than 14 (younger than that they tend to move and jump around too much), not too vain, and preferably broke. That way you'll be forgiven for any mistakes.
If you don't want to cut your own hair, don't enlist someone who appears to be nervous. I was once left with half a haircut after my improvised hairdresser panicked and refused to finish the job...
Step 12: Don't Sponsor Hallmark
Step 13: Don't Sponsor Big Pharmaceutical Companies
I tend to be cautious when it comes to medication, but if you have heartburn I'm confident this recipe is safe and will save you A LOT of money.
Step 14: And Also Make Your Own Toys
No battery-operated plastic toy will ever be as fun as a huge refrigerator box, or even any oversized cardboard box. Packing peanuts are great fun too, but I will never allow them to be used as playthings again -- those styrofoam peanuts are evil! They literally jump out of the scoop as you try to throw them out. You'll be picking them up for months.
Check out these ideas for turning empty bottles into toys.
If you like paper craft, you can download my popup kitchen to make a very cheap and portable toy. Or go all the way and make a whole pop-up paper house, sturdy enough for real play. It also comes apart and folds flat for storage (this one isn't free, but it is a whole lot cheaper than any other fully furnished doll house you can find).
Here's another cheap toy idea: I used to play this game surreptitiously during class on notebooks or scrap paper, so I was horrified when I saw "Battleship" for sale as an expensive toy with hundreds of small plastic pieces -- all you need is a pencil and some paper, but drawing the grid can be tedious so I made this PDF file which can be downloaded and printed.
Step 15: Let There Be Light
Step 16: The Next Generation
Think long term. Pass on your conservative values (as in "conserve energy") to the next generation.
A few years ago, when the boy in this picture was only 5 years old, he became very angry at me. He went around the apartment, turning on every single light.
"What are you doing?" I asked, trying not to sound as annoyed as I was.
"I am wasting energy!" he said, furiously. He knew that it was the best way to get back at me -- and he never guessed how much his answer had pleased me.