9 Ways to Save Big on Outdoor Chores

When it comes to home maintenance, a little sweat equity can equal real savings.
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Tips 1-5

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.

Continued on page 2:  Tips 6-9


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