Learning 4 life skills can save you hundreds of dollars

Audra Fordin with students at Women Auto Know.
Courtesy Audra Fordin, Women Auto Know

One savvy way to save money is to learn how to handle certain home- or car-related tasks, so you don't have to pay for services you could perform on your own. Here are four DIY skills you could learn so you can free up more cash for other areas of your life.

1. Chop your own food

Why it's important: You will have the confidence to buy produce knowing you can cut it to the right size without the extra charge. Some shoppers buy prechopped goods to save time, but as you strengthen your skills you'll be able to work quickly and be done before you know it. "I always find myself chuckling in the produce section, when I see those prechopped vegetables," says Jennifer Perillo, founder of In Jennie's Kitchen and recipe developer for meal-kit developer Marley Spoon. "As long as you know how to do a proper chop, chopping is chopping."

How much you can save: A 12-ounce pack of sliced mango at a Manhattan Trader Joe's was priced at $3.49 in mid-August, while a typical mango, yielding a little more than a pound of fruit, cost only $1.79. A 1.5-pound container of sliced celery went for $5.99 at Westside Market in Manhattan, whereas you could get almost 3 pounds, unchopped, for $5.

Where you can learn it: Perillo offers a post on chopping an onion. You can also find knife skills videos featuring Jacques Pepin and Jamie Oliver on YouTube. And the online Milk Street Cooking School offers an Advanced Techniques: Vegetables course for $39.

2. Paint your own walls

Why it's important: "This is 100% something virtually anybody can do if you have the right tools like frog tape [painters' tape], and the best quality brushes and a good quality paint," says Laurie Jennings, director of Good Housekeeping Institute.

How much you'll save: Task Rabbit lists painters starting at $65 per hour for the service alone. Painting an 11'x12' bedroom can take 4-7 hours including prep and cleanup, according to So even for a small bedroom, if you tackle the project yourself, you could save $260-$455.

Where you can learn it: Jennings says you can find information on Good Housekeeping and Popular Mechanics. And, she adds, "You just have to be prepared and focused. You can do it."

This is 100% something virtually anybody can do if you have the right tools.
Laurie Jennings
director of Good Housekeeping Institute

3. Unclog your own drain

Why it's important: You don't want to risk flooding or have to scoop water out of your sink until the plumber arrives. "Sometimes the liquid product is a great place to start, but it doesn't always work," says Laurie Jennings, director of Good Housekeeping Institute. Besides, liquid cleaners can damage your pipes. Grabbing a drain snake instead is a good move, she says. Or improvise: "I have used a wire hanger, though I don't recommend it for a toilet, just a drain."

How much you'll save: You could spend between $100 and $275 for a pro to come and fix a basic clog, according to Angie's List, whereas a snake will run you under $20.

Where you can learn it: Jennings says, "Good Housekeeping has great instructions on that on our website." She also recommends going to a trusted site like This Old House or Popular Mechanics. To stave off clogs before they happen, grab a hair catcher, which can be found in classic and cute options.

Audra Fordin with students at Women Auto Know.
Courtesy Audra Fordin, Women Auto Know

4. Check and change a blown car fuse

Why it's important: In your car, the fuses control the electricity, which means your windshield wipers, lights, and more, says Audra Fordin, who runs the automotive educational program Women Auto Know. "If you can tweeze your eyebrows, you can change a fuse," she says.

How much you'll save: An electrical system diagnosis for a 2019 Toyota Prius C in the area code 10025 costs $106 to $135, according to Fordin says you'll save time if you can do it yourself, and you'll be taking steps to be safer, too: You don't want to drive a few miles for a diagnosis while caught in the rain with broken windshield wipers.

Where you can learn it: Audra's company teaches a how-to. She says you can also read about it in your vehicle's repair manual and watch videos from Eric the Car Guy and Faye Hadley on YouTube.

Words of caution

When choosing to DIY, make safety your first priority, and remember that sometimes you will need to call a pro. Don't risk fire, electrocution, or other serious repercussions, should you slip up. Robert Sinclair Jr., manager of media relations for AAA Northeast, cautions that changing a tire or handling brake jobs, while doable, can be more dangerous than they seem.

Your worst case scenario should be, "How will I fix this mistake?" If your drain clog is too complicated, you'll want to bring in a plumber. And if you're sensitive to paint fumes, there's no need to suffer through doing the work yourself.

It's also important to make sure you have the right tools. For example, when chopping, Perillo says to make sure you're using a sharp knife. "Most accidents will happen because of a dull knife, which is prone to slipping and sliding. If you feel that you have to do a sawing method to cut, your knife is not sharp enough." Many kitchen stores offer knife-sharpening services, she notes, and the average home cook probably only needs this twice a year.

Ultimately, your health and safety are worth more than any amount of savings, so choose your DIY projects carefully.

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