Anyone can learn new skills. It’s easier if you have someone to serve as an instructor, but “how to” books and videos work great too. An elderly uncle showed us how to do electrical wiring, but we learned how to do plumbing completely from instruction manuals. Both skills were learned out of necessity when we had an empty shell of a brand-new house to finish. The carpentry skills we learned grew out of the same necessity, with trial and error being our best teacher. We have shingled the roof, installed doors and windows, and learned how to make a perfectly smooth wall or ceiling. I have refinished furniture, painted, upholstered, made soap, cheese, slipcovers, curtains, and baskets. We have built porches and sheds, framed rooms, installed drywall, carpet, well pumps, bathtubs, toilets and sinks… first learning how, and working slowly and carefully until we could see we had it right. One of our proudest accomplishments is the way that we took a wild, wooded landscape and rock-filled soil and turned it into a lovely yard with a series of gardens and paths.

One of the biggest ways we have saved money through the years is to “do it ourselves.” Any time we can make, repair, or do something ourselves, instead of paying someone else to do it for us, we can save big. One of our most recent projects, for example, was installing hardwood floors in all of the bedrooms in our house. Somehow that project escalated to include repainting the walls and the ceilings, and of course since we’ve done all the work ourselves, it has taken a longer time than if we had hired someone. But because we saved so much money on the installation we were able to choose a much higher quality of hardwood than if the installation had to be included in the cost. Like all of our projects, installing these hardwood floors was a learning experience. Before we began, we studied all the information and how-to’s we could find on the subject, and then we just jumped in. We “practiced” until we were happy with our results, and then we did our first floor… and then the next… and the next… and the next.

Several summers ago we decided we wanted to build a decorative stone path along two sides of the house. We made the entire path using large flat rocks we had dug from other areas of the property, did all the work ourselves, and the path didn’t cost us a cent. One day a landscaper we knew slightly stopped to ask for directions and he asked what landscaping company had done our path and what they had charged. When we told him we had done it ourselves for zero cost, he told us his company would have charged several thousand dollars for labor and materials. It was gratifying to see his amazement, and there is a wonderful sense of accomplishment and empowerment that comes from knowing that you can do things like this for yourself. That feeling grows with each new skill you master.

You can be a “do it yourselfer” without having to tackle big projects. You can become an accomplished from-scratch cook, for example, or learn how to sew or knit or crochet. You can fix leaky faucets, learn to cut hair, or install a light fixture… and save a lot of money in the process. You can grow and can or freeze your own vegetables, make pickles, bake bread, or make repairs around the house.

Once you get started, there is really no limit to what you can learn to do.