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In boom times it's easy to justify hiring people to do home and lawn-care projects. After all, wouldn't you rather spend summer Saturdays in the park with your kids? But when money is tight, paying someone to do chores you can handle yourself seems imprudent and wasteful. Indeed, the do-it-yourself home-maintenance market is expected to grow by 26 percent in the next four years, according to Mintel International, a consumer market research company in Chicago. "People want to roll up their sleeves and get to it," says David Lockwood, Mintel's director of consumer insight. We came up with nine ways to save by investing some elbow grease.
1. Mow your own grass.
Lawn care is one of the most labor intensive of all outdoor projects. Paying for service is a huge time-saver but it's also a money pit: Spend $40 per week for a half-acre lot and you'll drop $1,120 on 28 cuts from April through October. You can mow your own lawn at minimal expense: the cost of gas, an oil change, and a blade sharpening (even less if you use a hand-operated model). So yank out the mower -- or give the chore to your teenager. Too busy to cut your grass every week? Fair enough. Do it once every four weeks and pay your landscaper for three, not four cuts per month.
SEASONAL SAVINGS: Mow the grass yourself every week and save $1,120 ($40 per cut) up to $1,680 ($60 per cut). Or mow your lawn once a month and save $280 to $420.
2. Tap your inner artist.
Rain, snow, and summer heat cause exterior paint to chip and peel, so every five to seven years you'll need to give your house a facelift. Costs run about $1,500 to $3,000 for an average single-story house but can easily hit $5,000 -- or higher -- for a multistory house, according to costhelper.com, a price information Web site. (The more wood trim, the higher the fee.) But you can do the job yourself for the price of paint ($25 to $40 per gallon), the cost of renting a pressure washer ($50 to $100 daily) to clean the house, long ladders or scaffolding ($20 to $75 daily), and a power sprayer ($50 to $100 daily).
SEASONAL SAVINGS: $1,000 and up.
3. Cultivate your green thumb.
You need to do a variety of chores -- clean beds, prune shrubs, deadhead flowers, and weed -- seasonally to maintain your landscaping. If your yardman charges $30 per hour, you'll pay hundreds of dollars a year. The good news? You don't need a horticulture degree to do routine plant and flower maintenance.
SEASONAL SAVINGS: $600 on bed cleanup, weeding, and pruning for a half-acre property with typical plantings around the foundation and along yard or property borders.
4. Sell your services.
Own a snow- or leaf blower or a pressure washer? Offer your labor to neighbors who would otherwise pay someone else to plow their driveway, clear leaves from their yard, or power-wash their deck. Investigate local rates for those services, then charge your neighbors less. (For example, snow-removal firms may charge $30 to $65 per visit, depending on the job; landscapers may charge $150 to $400 for leaf removal; and contractors may charge up to $1,000 to pressure-wash a deck.) Don't worry: Asking neighbors to pay you isn't unneighborly if you're going to be their "on-call" person and give them a good price.
SEASONAL SAVINGS: It depends. Charge four neighbors $100 each to blow away their leaves and you'll pocket $400.
5. Share rentals.
Are your gutters clogged with leaves? Is mold growing on the side of your house? Does your lawn need to be aerated? Home Depot rents equipment for those jobs and many others and you can save by splitting the cost with neighbors. Rent a 28-foot extension ladder to clean gutters for $40 daily (vs. $150 for a gutter-cleaning service to do a typical-size home); a pressure washer to clean siding for $65 a day (vs. $450); or an aerator for $70 (vs. up to $125). Home Depot staff will show you how to operate the equipment; they'll also rent trucks -- at $19 per 75 minutes -- if none of you have a vehicle that's big enough to transport the equipment.
SEASONAL SAVINGS: $550 and up.
6. Become your own lawn doctor.
Mowing weekly doesn't always cut it. Not only do you need to seed twice a year and fertilize four to six times, but you may also have to kill weeds and bugs. Lawn-care services typically charge at least $60 a treatment. It's cheaper to feed and weed the lawn yourself. Just buy a spreader ($75), seed ($40 to $60 per 20-pound bag), and fertilizer, which may contain weed and bug control ($18 to $22). Ask the salesperson for pointers or visit scotts.com for lawn-care advice if you're still stumped.
SEASONAL SAVINGS: $80 and up.
7. Get sudsy.
Car maintenance isn't just about changing oil and rotating tires -- you also need to wash your vehicle regularly to keep its finish shiny and new. If you get it cleaned monthly at a carwash you'll put out $168 to $1,020 annually: the average price of a basic cleaning is $14, and you can spend as much as $85 if you add in extras like full detailing. Even if it's too cold to hand-wash your car in winter, you'll save money if you commit to doing it the rest of the year. You probably have most of the materials you need (hose, sponge, chamois cloth, and paper towels), but you should buy a dedicated car-wash cleaner because it won't strip off the protective wax (soap will), and a clay bar to remove surface contaminants from the paint.
SEASONAL SAVINGS: At least $112 by doing eight washes per year yourself instead of going to the car wash.
8. Barter with neighbors.
Trade power equipment you already own for stuff you don't have and you won't need to buy or rent it. If you lend your hedge trimmer to a neighbor in exchange for use of her power edger, you'll both come out ahead.
SEASONAL SAVINGS: At least $300 in landscaping fees if your yardkeeping crew charges $30 per hour for pruning and edging, chores that generally need to be done several times a season.
9. Clean your own pool.
If you have an in-ground pool you'll need to do weekly maintenance during swimming season: Check water level, adjust chemicals to maintain a balanced water pH, brush tiles, backwash the filter as needed, and vacuum the bottom. You'll pay from $75 to $165 per month to hire a pool-cleaning service, reports costhelper.com. Or you can do it yourself for $20 to $100 per month (though you'll need to have a service on call to fix the pump in case it malfunctions).
SEASONAL SAVINGS: $260 and up depending on need.
"It was going to cost $4,500 to have the exterior of our house painted. So my husband and I did it ourselves, spending $1,300. It took four weekends but I love the way the house looks."
-- Kym Curto, Redondo Beach, California
"Last year a contractor wanted to charge us $450 to wash and stain our deck, so I decided to do it. I used water and bleach to clean the deck and spent $100 on stain and $25 for a Wagner Deckmate, a moplike tool. Ten hours of work saved me $325."
-- Laura Hunter, Lansdale, Pennsylvania
"I used to pay a guy $1,200 to seed my yard, pull weeds, and rake leaves each spring. I saved more than $1,000 by doing it myself. My only expense was $100 on grass seed, and I loved working outdoors."
-- Lauren Kitchens, Tupelo, Mississippi
Originally published in Ladies' Home Journal, July 2009.