Though Kris and I are fairly adept in the yard and garden, we sometimes struggle with home maintenance tasks. When I prune the camellia hedge too hard (as I did in April), it may look ugly for a few months, but I know that nature will erase my mistake in time. A house is less forgiving.

Still, with each passing year, I try to become a little more adept at do-it-yourself home maintenance. If a person is careful and thorough, even modest home-improvement skills can save money.

Though we recently paid a contractor to bring our home’s electrical system up to code, I spent part of this weekend wiring the light fixtures myself. I’m sure it takes me five times as long as a professional to hang a new lamp, but not only do I save some money, I also get a sense of satisfaction.

Over the past few days, I’ve had conversations with several people who are taking similar steps to save (or make) a little extra money. I enjoy these stories because they’re exactly the kinds of things I believe average people can (and should) do to improve their finances:

  • My friends Andrew and Courtney participated in a neighborhood garage sale. They were able to purge their home of some clutter while earning $762 in much-needed cash.
  • I learned that one friend told his co-workers about ING Direct. Some of them moved from no- or low-interest savings accounts to high-interest savings accounts.
  • One of the women in my running group found a job closer to home. She had been spending $250/month on gasoline just for her commute. Now she can take public transportation. She’ll save time and money — plus her new job came with a small raise in pay.
  • My friend Mike is interested in real-estate investing. He has other savings and investments, but is ready to diversify further. After doing some research, he and a partner are negotiating a deal on a rental property. If things go according to plan, this will add to his monthly cash flow.
  • My sister-in-law cut her cable television to basic only and gave up her DVR. She’ll save $70/month or $840/year! (I think she’ll find the non-financial savings even greater. Since Kris and I cut back to basic cable, we watch less television and have more time for other things we’d like to do.)

Kris and I also talked with some friends about how we save money on food. We’ve been tracking how much our vegetable garden costs, for example, and are now beginning to reap the rewards. As another way to profit from our harvest, we’ve agreed to trade surplus raspberries (of which we’ll have many) for a friend’s surplus salad greens (which we cannot seem to grow).

Finally, I’ve been hearing news stories lately that indicate the price of beef (and other meat) is likely to increase substantially in coming months. Maybe this explains why so many people have been asking for tips on how to buy a side of beef — they want to lock in current prices. Kris and I continue to believe that the quality, convenience, and modest cost savings make purchasing beef in bulk a good deal, if you have a place to store it.

All of these anecdotes feature small ways to save money. Nobody will get rich — slowly or otherwise — by taking just one or two of these steps. But when combined together as part of an ongoing campaign of thrift, investing, and self-improvement, small changes like these can lead to a very large change indeed.

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