This post is from staff writer April Dykman.

I’ve mentioned a couple of times that I’m in the process of renovating a house. This includes a complete kitchen remodel, new fireplace, drywall to replace wood paneling, refinishing the ceilings, paint and wall repairs in every room, and more.

Needless to say, this project has kept me extremely busy!

And I’ve had to make a lot of financial decisions in the last four months, almost on a daily basis. Where do we go frugal, and where do we spend more?

Here are a few examples of the choices we made, based on what we spent:


  • Did all of the work ourselves! (Thanks goes to my dad for leading this project.)

  • Repurposed the wood paneling in the living room to replace rotted paneling behind the washing machine.

  • Refinished a free door to replace the one in the kitchen.


  • Used inexpensive white subway tile in the kitchen.

  • Bought off-the-shelf cabinets and used butcher block for the countertops.

  • Purchased paint-and-primer-in-one, which meant I only had to apply one coat.

Paid extra

  • Bought a highly-rated oven, since we cook daily.

  • Installed a chimney-style hood range. This was a total want.

  • Purchased a farmhouse sink, which was far less expensive than most farmhouse sinks, but still cost more than a standard sink.

I can’t say we made all the right choices. In fact, some choices were made quickly because we just needed to get something done! I also quickly learned that no matter how much planning you do, most of the time you’re just solving one new problem at a time.

At any rate, it’s been fun, frustrating, and educational. But enough about my project, let’s get to the links!

Free: Lifehacker U

It might be graduation season, but why not go to summer school?

Whether you need to know the basics of savings and credit or you’re ready to graduate to building portfolios and investment clubs, you can learn everything you need to know in a college course. Only it’s all online, and the tuition is free.

Lifehacker put together a list of free, online courses available this summer from universities and learning centers: “The beautiful thing about taking classes online is that you can pick and choose the classes you want to attend, skip lectures and come back to them later (in some cases — some classes require your regular attendance and participation!), and do examinations and quizzes on your own time.”

This semester, their list includes these five courses in finances and economics: University of Michigan’s Introduction to Finance; Marketplace’s Money 101: Credit, Debt, and Saving; Marketplace’s Money 101: Retirement and Investing; Saylor University’s Money, Banking, and Financial Markets; and The Open University’s Contemporary Issues in Finance.

Frugal: wall art

I really like giant wall art, and I’m sure this is because of my Pinterest habit. The problem is that whether you buy prints or put your own photographs on canvas, wall art isn’t cheap. Even with a DIY job, there’s the cost of the print, the cost of the mat and frame.

But blogger Frugal Babe, who I featured once before on GRS, has a great solution: engineering prints. Funny enough, she first saw the idea on — wait for it – Pinterest!

“[Engineering prints] are supposed to be for blueprints,” she writes, “but you can print whatever you like, as long as you’re okay with blueprint quality.” You can make prints up to 3′x4′, but they can only be black and white, and they’re printed on thin paper. “They end up being a little bit more grainy than a photo-quality print would be, but I think the effect is actually pretty cool,” she says. “If and when they fade or we want to switch to newer photos down the line, we can print new pictures for just a few dollars.”

Total cost for one engineering print and a frame she bought at Goodwill? $9.

Paying extra: conscious consumerism

If you’ve ever asked why a shirt costs what it costs or where exactly it was made, you probably didn’t get any good answers. But some clothing brands want to change that, giving their customers more transparency about their products.

For instance, clothing company Everlane believes in “radical transparency,” like their look inside their Los Angeles factory. And in response to customer demand, Nordstrom is providing factory information and is considering specifying “people-friendly” products on their website.

“New research indicates a growing consumer demand for information about how and where goods are produced,” writes Stephanie Clifford in her New York Times article. “A study last year by professors at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard showed that some consumers — even those who were focused on discount prices — were not only willing to pay more, but actually did pay more, for clothes that carried signs about fair-labor practices.”

Would you be willing to pay more for fair-labor clothing? Share in the comments, and tell us where you pinch pennies and where you’re willing to spend more.

GRS is committed to helping our readers save and achieve their financial goals. Savings interest rates may be low, but that is all the more reason to shop for the best rate. Find the highest savings interest rates and CD rates from Synchrony Bank, Ally Bank, GE Capital Bank, and more.