Home economics: 4 DIY skills you must know

By Jennifer Rose Hale

Does this sound familiar? You go to work each day, mastering random computer programs, remembering policies and using skills you need to do your job. On a good day, you head home, knowing a little more about your industry and how to be successful.

Then, inside your front door, your confidence melts. Your bathroom faucet leaks. The towel rack falls every time you pass. And that frozen, family-size grocery-brand lasagna you heated didn't taste like a $10 investment.

These problems are small, but they add up to something big: You're losing money, time and peace of mind inside your home--your sanctuary. The best way to restore your home to its rightful place? Learn the basic do-it-yourself skills you need to enjoy your life and save money.


You've heard--and maybe uttered--the excuse before: "I can't cook." In some ways, Food Network superstars aren't helping; their artful creations, seemingly from memory, can intimidate rather than inform. But cooking happily just takes some practice … and a few tips.

Start here:

  1. Hit the books. Although recipes are readily available online (type "recipe:" at the beginning of a Google search), a good, simple book can help the beginner. Mark Bittman's "How to Cook Everything" delivers what it promises with straightforward directions and no superfluous ingredients. The red-checkered "Better Homes and Gardens Cook Book" is another no-frills classic.
  2. Include shortcuts. Combine a homemade entrée with premade sides--store-bought rolls or bagged salad kits and steamed vegetables.
  3. Find guinea pigs. Entertaining at home is a great money-saver. Pick some game friends and invite them over to be experimented on.


A good indicator you're around student housing? No curtains. You've likely spent some portion of your life in a house or apartment without curtains, and fabric for the windows is pretty low on your list of spending priorities. But curtains are one of the easiest sewing tasks--along with hemming pants and skirts. Over time, one of the best strategies for reducing your spending and boosting your savings is knowing how to alter your own clothes.

Start here:

  1. Watch videos. YouTube can provide great how-to instructions on topics like basic sewing.
  2. Borrow a machine. Many casual owners don't use their sewing machines for periods of time; ask around and see if a friend will loan you one.
  3. Score cheap fabric at Goodwill. Like anything else, the best fabric will cost you, so use sheets and materials from thrift stores for practice and first projects.

Minor home maintenance

That leaky faucet. Sure enough, the great divide between homeowners and renters can be found in the bathroom plumbing. One of the perks of renting is making a single phone call if the toilet breaks or a pipe leaks. For homeowners, every fix or flaw is evaluated on a scale from 1 ("Ignore until it's time to sell") to 10 ("Throw money at it without hesitation until it's fixed!").

Some DIY fixes can be best left to the pros, but preventive maintenance and basic DIY knowledge--like how to turn off the water to your house or dishwasher--can save you big bucks and trouble.

Start here:

  1. Those "Dummies" books. "Home Maintenance for Dummies" focuses on prevention--how to care for appliances, your roof and fence and all the systems that make your home comfortable.
  2. A "how to" online search. Type "how to replace thermostat" into your favorite search engine. You'll turn up instructions and videos from a number of sites. A quick survey of results can build your confidence in tackling small jobs--or let you know when you should raid that emergency fund in your online savings account.

Car care

While it's not technically part of your home, you probably can't live without the car parked in your garage or outside your apartment. A decent mechanic and regular care can reduce the likelihood you'll end up next to the highway, hazards flashing.

However, there are steps you can take so those maintenance visits don't turn into huge expenses. Checking your own tire pressure and knowing how to add air, for example, can reduce the wear on your tires, prolonging their life and saving money on gas.

Start here:

  1. Your car's user manual. Find the thick book you may have crammed into the glove compartment and never thought of again. Instructions on how to care for your car's many systems are outlined in the guide.
  2. Ask the experts. Whether you have a friend who works on cars or just a decent mechanic, ask questions about the most important DIY tasks. A good mechanic can also tell you about any vulnerabilities your specific model has.

You manage enough expertise during the work day, but a few new skills at home can save money and make your house a home again.