Do This: Save Money With a DIY Self-Reliance Mindset

Although I live outside Chicago, our winters  in recent years have been decidedly mild. 

For example, in the 2012-2013 winter, by January 31st, we had only received 3.5 inches of snow TOTAL.  This year, winter was back with a vengeance.  By January 31st, 2014, we had received 48.5 inches total of snow for the winter.

Add in many days of sub-zero temperatures, and well, it’s been a rough winter.

When we had a 50 hour stretch of sub-zero temperatures (one of those days had a high of -16 degrees), I knew that we should let the water drip to avoid having our pipes freeze.  However, when I went to take a shower, the water continued to just drip even though it was turned to full strength.  I called a friend who told me the pipes were likely frozen.  My husband set up space heaters in the basement where the pipes are, and within 5 hours, our water was flowing again.

That night, I saw on the news that we weren’t alone.

Many, many people had burst pipes or pipes like ours.  I was surprised to see that some homeowners paid good money to have someone else come out to their houses and run a heater by their pipes to thaw them.

This situation just illustrates how far we’ve come from the do-it-yourself roots our grandparents and even parents had.  Now, we work hard at our jobs and call someone else to do everything for us.

Develop a Mindset of Self-Reliance and DIY and You Can Save Yourself a Lot of Money

Save money with a DIY self reliance mindset.

What Does Self-Sufficiency Look Like?

I’m a big fan of Alaska: The Last Frontier.  I realize it’s a reality show, so not every part of it may be realistic, but even so, I love how the Kilchers rely on themselves.

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If they need a bridge to cross the river, they make it themselves.  If they need a building to store their machinery, they build it themselves.

Need meat for the winter?

They hunt for it or kill one of their cows on the farm.  Then, they don’t take the animal to the meat locker.  Instead, they process all the meat themselves.  They grow large gardens so they are able to can their vegetables and store others in the root cellar to last the family through the winter.

That used to be the way that our grandparents and great-grandparents did things.

But now, we work harder just so we can pay people money to do things we could do ourselves.

Outsourcing Things We Choose Not to Do Ourselves

For some of us, that’s good.  We don’t like doing certain tasks, so being able to hire someone to do them for us is a nice advantage to our current economy.

For instance, I don’t think I could ever learn enough to make it worth my while to do all of my vehicle’s maintenance.  My mind just doesn’t work that way, and I’d be afraid I’d put my family in danger with my shoddy work.  I’m glad to be able to outsource that work to someone else.

Lawn care companies thrive because people are too busy, or just don’t care, to maintain their own lawns.  Likewise, you can outsource your actually grocery shopping by having a company like Peapod delivery groceries right to your house.

It’s not that we don’t know how to do these things, we just choose not to.

The dry cleaning companies thrive on our laziness or lack of time, depending on your situation.  Ironing is not difficult, yet many people drop off men’s dress shirts rather than iron them themselves.

Frozen food makers and fast food companies thrive because we even outsource our cooking.  Whether it’s because we never learned how to cook or we’re just too busy, we choose factory-processed food over making it ourselves in our kitchens.

But too many of us (me included) outsource everything instead of learning how to do something. 

I’m thinking specifically of the family I saw on television that had to call someone just to heat up their pipes when this is something they very easily could have done themselves.

Rather than trying to tackle something ourselves, our automatic instinct is to outsource.

Learning Is Easier Now Than Ever

In our grandparents’ generation, people learned essential life skills from their parents.  Now, so many of us have lost the ability to be self-sufficient that we don’t know how to do even the most basic things that would save money.

However, we are very lucky to live in a time where learning is as easy as having an Internet connection. 

For instance, my computer key was sticking.  A simple You Tube search helped me find a video that explained how to take the key off and clean it.  Voila, problem solved.

My neighbor’s washing machine stopped working.  She googled what problem the washer had and discovered a certain part was probably broken.  She ordered the part and relied on a You Tube video to explain how to replace the part.  Now her washing machine is back in business.

Unfortunately, too often in our society, our first inclination is to throw away something that is broken and just buy a new one. 

It would have been easy for my friend to decide to call a repair man instead of investigating the problem herself.  Often, the problem is that the repairman may be as expensive as just buying a new item that we need, so we just go buy a new one.  Instead, with a little ingenuity and internet sleuthing, we may be able to fix the problem ourselves.

The Best Skills to Learn to Save the Most Money

Of course, some skills that we’ve lost over the generations are no longer valuable.

Eighty years ago, sewing was an essential life skill because creating clothes was much easier than buying them new.  That’s not the case anymore, though knowing how to make simple sewing repairs can extend the life of our clothing.

However, there are other skills that came naturally to our grandparents that we now struggle with.

Master these skills, and your finances will be much stronger.

1.  Only buy what you can afford.

Before the days of credit cards, most people could only buy what they could afford.  People scrimped and saved for months, often years, to get the items they wanted.  Needs always came before wants.   If you can develop the habit of only buying what you have cash to purchase, you’ll be in a sound financial position.

2.  Learn to cook.

I love to cook, so I’m a bit biased, but when I hear people say, “I don’t know how to cook,” I’m confused.

Why not?

There are literally hundreds of internet sites with recipes and video tutorials for making meals.  There are hundreds of cookbooks available.  Just follow the recipe.  Otherwise, you’re wasting a lot of money on food.  “People who don’t cook pay top dollar for meals.  Cooking and financial planning may not seem like they go together, but people who cook can eat very inexpensively. If you learn to cook three or four meals you enjoy and make them regularly, you can save thousands of dollars a year on food costs” (Forbes).

Recommended: The 4-Hour Chef: The Simple Path to Cooking Like a Pro, Learning Anything, and Living the Good Life

3.  Grow a garden.

During World War II, the government encouraged citizens to grow victory gardens to avoid a food shortage.  “At their peak, there were more than 20,000,000 Victory Gardens planted across the United States.  By 1944 Victory Gardens were responsible for producing 40% of all vegetables grown in the United States” (National WWII Museum).

Imagine how much more self-sufficient we would be if we learned once again how to grow our own food?  Think of how much you would save at the grocery store.

4.  Learn how to find answers.

Lastly, learn how to find answers.  If something is broken, learn where to look or who to ask to find out how to fix it.   The more you learn to do on your own, the more likely you’ll be to rely on yourself or friends rather than calling a repairman and paying top dollar every time something breaks.

Being self-reliant is a skill many of us have abandoned. 

However, learning to depend on ourselves and learning how to fix things can save each of us quite a bit of money.  The key is to learn what skills are still worthwhile to learn and which ones (like sewing) are no longer as important to our society.

Glen’s Note: There is so much information on how to do-it-yourself out there that you are doing yourself a disservice if your first instinct is to call in help.  I’ve figured out lawn problems, repaired windows, fixed my sun roof, solved car issues, and so much more by finding out how to fix things on my own.  It used to be you had to check the library or call up a company in order to learn how to fix something (OK, that was quite a while ago).  But now a few keystrokes and you have answers on the internet, many times in the form of an instructional video.

How self-sufficient are you?  Do you try to repair items on your own, or is your natural instinct to pay someone to do something for you?

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Published or updated July 6, 2014.

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