smart spending

5 ways to do it yourself and save

How to figure out what your time is worth
By Jean Chatzky

If Ben Franklin had it right that a penny saved is a penny earned, then saving money by doing things yourself is an income stream you don't want to pass up.

Everyone knows about big do-it-yourself, or DIY, projects such as installing a backyard deck or changing the oil in your car, but there are smaller and easier ways to save money by DIY. Here are five areas where you can do it yourself and save.

In the kitchen

Cooking at home is a lot cheaper than going out to a restaurant, but it doesn't mean you have to sacrifice an excellent meal for a cheap-tasting meal at home. Even novice chefs can make a meal similar to a restaurant's and save a lot of money.

A quality meal at home can cost 30 percent of what it costs in a restaurant, says Tim Harlan, a gourmet chef and author of "Just Tell Me What to Eat!" Harlan says, "Generally you're going to save from 60 (percent) to 75 percent more than the cost of going out for a meal."

One of Harlan's favorite restaurants in New Orleans serves a grilled hanger steak topped with caramelized onions and served with a small side of diced roasted yams for $25. The steak is about $12 per pound at his local Whole Foods store, and the onions and yams are $1.50 each. For $15 he can serve two people a great meal at home.

His top tips for making a gourmet meal at home are to keep it simple, use familiar ingredients that are high in quality, and stick with cooking techniques you already know. A local farmers market is a great place to buy the freshest and best-tasting ingredients for cheap, Harlan says.

Cut a rug

An inexpensive and creative way to either create or replace an old carpet is by using carpet remnants. Chicago carpet designer Tam Vidulich recommends doing it one of two ways: using one big piece and binding the edges or taking several small pieces and sewing them together into a pattern like a jigsaw puzzle.

Sewing it may take a lot of time, but in general the savings from buying remnants from 99 cents to $9 will be worth it. A 6-foot by 9-foot area rug at Ikea costs about $150, while making the same size rug can cost you about $100 if you do it yourself, says Vidulich, who sells rugs that size for $600 to $3,700.

Cleaning -- you and your house

Other items around the house that can be made easily include cleaning supplies and shampoo. DIY author Diana Tenes says she saves hundreds of dollars a year making shampoo by mixing baking soda with water into a paste. She also uses the mixture as a face and body scrub and toothpaste.

"The baking soda is really nice because whenever you get it in the bathtub or sink, baking soda is a natural cleanser, so it helps there," says Tenes, who keeps a big box of it near her sink. "I'm just trying to simplify and just cut down on waste and buying so many different products," she says.


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