Discover do-it-yourself tricks that'll bolster your budget By Sandy M. Fernandez
There's nothing wrong with paying a professional to do a job for you. But even those experts agree that people often pay-a lot-for services that they could easily tackle themselves. Continue reading to learn the DIY skills that could save you hundreds or even thousands of dollars a year. Photo by Getty Images.
Master the Sewing Machine
HOW MUCH YOU'LL SAVE Anywhere from a few dollars to hundreds per job
Most people can hand-stitch a seam or hem. But when you learn your way around a sewing machine, a world of savings opens up. You can make cushions and curtains, add years to a jacket's life by replacing a zipper, or buy that super-discounted but too-big dress and take it in. Even small projects add up: It can cost $6 to $15 to have a pair of pants hemmed, and $10 to $20 to replace a zipper. Your $80 investment for a new basic sewing machine will be recouped in no time.
WHAT IT ENTAILS Patience and practice. "You don't learn unless you make mistakes," says Claudia Miller, who runs a sewing machine clinic at Fancy Tiger Crafts in Denver.
WHERE TO LEARN
Craft shops and sewing spaces These locations offer camaraderie, plus a chance to use their machines before deciding if you're gung ho enough to buy your own.
Community college and technical schools Classes here tend to be affordable and taught on industrial machines, which are easier to learn on.
Online Miller teaches a free "Sewing Machine 911" tutorial at Craftsy.com, for instance, and Threads magazine (ThreadsMagazine.com) also has a whole video learning series on its site.
Get ideas from our collection of sewing projects.
Related: Check out 10 things you didn't know you could rent.
Unclog a Drain
HOW MUCH YOU'LL SAVE As much as $180 per hour for a plumber, depending on where you live
"Most clogs are something the average homeowner can handle," says Larry Okrend, executive director of the Handyman Club of America. To find out if yours is a DIY project, let the water run. If the sink or tub fills quickly, it probably means the obstruction is in an indoor pipe (not the drainpipe leading away from your home) and you can try fixing that yourself.
WHAT IT ENTAILS All clog removal comes down to one of two approaches: melting it away chemically or physically pushing it out. Start with a plunger. One with a half-sphere shape will create suction on flatter surfaces (a sink or shower drain), while the curve of a toilet bowl calls for a bulb-shaped model.
If that doesn't work, move on to chemicals, some of which, Okrend says, are less caustic than they used to be. For more stubborn clogs, a hand-cranked augur (or snake) may help, but beginners should stay away from power augurs, he says, "because those can really mess up your pipes if used incorrectly."
WHERE TO LEARN
Online Okrend recommends spending a few hours on the forums at TerryLove.com, which is run by a plumber.
Your city's housing department and local home improvement centers These often offer basic plumbing classes suitable for homeowners.
Related: Discover 8 ingenious cooking gadgets.
Fix Small Computer Glitches
HOW MUCH YOU'LL SAVE Hundreds, depending on what's wrong
"On a five-year-old PC, getting a blue screen might mean a hard-drive failure. Take it to the Geek Squad and your bill is likely to be at least $350," says Carlos Martinez, a Fresno City Community College computer teacher. "People say, 'With an extra $100, I can buy a whole new computer.' But with just $60, you could buy a hard drive and fix it yourself."
Even if there's no big problem, learning to handle backing up data, defragmenting, adding memory or dealing with a virus will mean your machine will last longer. "Your computer is like your car," says Martinez. "With proper care, it should last you 8 to 10 years."
WHAT IT ENTAILS A lot of research, and a lot of asking information technology people questions. Often, those in the know don't mind helping, and will trade tips and offer free programs online.
WHERE TO LEARN
Online If you've had an issue, odds are someone else has too, and has posted for help. "Between YouTube, Google and computer forums, most people can solve their problems in 3 or 4 hours," says Martinez. The Dummies.com site is a good place to start, and TomsHardware.com or PCMech.com offer extensive articles, as does Apple's knowledge base (Apple.com).
Community colleges Look for a course with the word troubleshooting in the title, which indicates it is geared to nontechies.
Trim Your Family's Hair
HOW MUCH YOU'LL SAVE It depends on how many people are in your family and how often they need cuts.
The shorter the hair in your household, the more often you pay for trims. A man's monthly buzz cut is about $8, and a 2010 survey found that the average woman spends $195 a year on haircuts. Add kids, and that's even more. Being able to trim hair will allow you to go longer between salon visits.
WHAT IT ENTAILS A comb and a $15 pair of haircutting scissors or clippers, and the patience to practice. The hardest thing to learn, says Martha G. Fernandez, author of Haircutting Basics, is how to coordinate the comb in one hand with the scissors or clippers in the other. Cutting your own bangs is doable for a beginner, but leave trimming split ends off a layered cut for the salon. The key: Don't rush. "Cut small sections," she says. "You can always trim off more, but you can't get back what you've cut."
WHERE TO LEARN
Online Start with YouTube videos by companies that make scissors, such as Braun and Wahl.
Books Two good ones are Cutting Your Family's Hair by Gloria Handel and Fernandez's Haircutting Basics.
Related: Learn which short haircut is best for your face shape.
SOURCES: A.J. Hamler, home improvement author. Melinda Myers, gardening expert.