Do It Yourself – Discouraging Words

Money saving DIY_Project

I was somewhat surprised on one of my web surfing jaunts to see a blog dedicated to ways of saving money weigh in against the notion of doing odd jobs and building projects yourself. Because for my homestead – and very likely yours as well – if we didn’t do our own odd jobs and building projects, then no needful jobs or building projects would ever get done.

The article is Saving Money – Or Not – With DIY Projects, and it’s worth a read if you’re genuinely unsure of whether or not you’ve got the ability to tackle a project on your own. Of course for big projects it’s very important to understand going in exactly what will be necessary – time, tools, materials and a certain degree of skill. Homesteaders already know about budgeting their time toward the “work in progress” that describes our way of life, as there are always a dozen or more projects and repairs that need doing. Most of us, if we’ve been living this way for some years, have amassed more tools than many city-folk even know exist. In fact, for most projects the primary concern is coming up with the money to purchase the materials, and making sure we’ve got every little nut, bolt, pipe, sealant and extraneous parts before we start.

do it yourself

Perhaps the author is speaking more to urbanites than those of us who live out in the boonies on purpose and strive continually to be ever more self-sufficient. When the faucet washers wear out and start wasting our precious water supply (and driving us crazy with drips), or the drain clogs or cracks, or the windows break or the door needs replacing, we aren’t usually inclined to call a plumber or contractor. Heck, many of us would laugh at the very idea of paying some stranger extra to drive from town to our property and repair or replace what we could repair or replace, for ten times more than we could do the job for. But even urbanites with some tools, patience and an ability to turn screws/wenches could fix a leaky sink or hang a door without breaking the budget.

DIY disasters can cost big money to fix. Before starting any home improvement project you will need to understand each step from start to finish. Research potential pitfalls and problems you may encounter along the way to determine if the project is over your head. Be honest with yourself because your enthusiasm will quickly wear thin if something goes wrong – and if you don’t know what you’re doing, things can head south quickly.

That paragraph in the Money Bucket article made me chuckle. Sure, the author is talking about ‘home improvement’ more than simple repairs, but we homesteaders are quite used to those type of projects. We remodeled our kitchen last summer, which included replacing a window and door, re-siding the exterior wall, re-plumbing so we could move the sink, re-wiring, installing new cabinets and countertops, removing a bar to make room for the dining table we inherited, drywall installation, re-framing, flooring and insulating the attic space, and even reinforcing the main load bearing beam. It cost a pretty penny for all the materials, and we did have to replace the drill twice (old chestnut and locust beams are literally hard as rock). And of course things discovered along the way once we got into the walls and attic weren’t planned for but had to be dealt with anyway. Such is life.

Hiring a reputable contractor to complete an upgrade at your home generally gives you the peace of mind that the job is done right the first time. You will pay dearly for that peace of mind, but in some situations it can be worth every penny.

Heh. That’s kind of a surprising bit of advice to give to people described in the first paragraph of the article as “…planning to sell and need to update your home to make it more attractive to potential buyers…” I mean, if you have to pay dearly to upgrade your home in order to sell it to somebody else, then your improvements aren’t likely to cover the costs in this awful real estate environment. If you’re already underwater on that mortgage, digging yourself in deeper isn’t going to help.

It’s a little different if your home is where you plan to live for the rest of your life, but not much different when money’s tight. I had no kitchen all summer (it wasn’t officially finished until Thanksgiving), had to cook on the grill out back while a big sheet of plastic served as a front wall to my house. We all worked very hard, this is not the kind of project that allows much time for other things, and it involves everyone. It even upset the dogs and cats. But if we could have found a contractor to do that much structural damage to a hundred year old chestnut cabin with a crew of a dozen, it would have cost more than we paid for our entire homestead. Literally. And no, that would NOT have been “worth every penny.”

Sure, those kind of huge projects – new roof and/or installation of solar panels/wind or hydro generators, reworking the entire water supply (my next big project), tearing out walls or floors to get to wiring or plumbing, building a barn, etc. aren’t things one undertakes lightly. Or often, if you can help it. And it certainly helps to build up your confidence in the meantime by tackling small repair and replace projects first, learning to handle all the tools, and such. And exercising your mind about how to plan clever ways of getting around serious issues that may be encountered.

It’s all good for you, and just puts that much more of yourself into the overall Being we lovingly call “Homestead.” Good planning works too, so that several projects can be tied into one – the solar panels at the same time the new roof goes up. Replacing the old water-guzzler toilet with a low-flow at the same time you replace the sink and shower. Going ahead with the better insulation when any section of wall comes out. Things like that deserve the time it takes to plan ahead.

Money Bucket is correct in their bottom line that doing things yourself doesn’t always save you money, especially if you’ve got more money than time, skills and tools. But for those of us who have dedicated ourselves to a broader, more expansive and involved way of life that highly values self-sufficiency, doing things yourself is simply another aspect of the life we’ve chosen for ourselves. And we’ve usually got way more time, skills and tools than money to spend. Plus at least one friend with enough time, skills and tools to help us out if we need it.

In an economy like this one, sometimes a friend will help just for the nightly cook-outs, fresh garden veggies and fruit, refreshing cool-down at the swimming hole after swinging a hammer and wielding a circular saw all day, and maybe some iced beer and story-telling around the fire while the fireflies rise.

Money, after all, isn’t everything.

Senate Passes Outrageous New Farm Bill

New_Farm_BillYep. As of this writing, February 4, 2014, the U.S. Senate has passed a new Farm Bill that has gone way out of its way to exclude any real farmers as well as more than two million people who rely on food stamps to eat, and channels all the supposedly ‘saved’ money back to Big Agribiz as crop insurance rather than crop subsidies. As you can see clearly on the chart over there on the left, no money is actually “saved.” All these new non-subsidy subsidies and millions of hungrier Americans will cost us all 58% MORE over the next 10 years.

The cuts to SNAP benefits (food stamps) in the bill are $8.7 billion over ten years (about 1% of the entire program). It also repeals $4.5 billion in annual direct cash payments based on acreage – planted or not – and put that money into subsidized crop insurance that benefits the big players. The Environmental Working Group estimates that just 10,000 policyholders receive over $100,000 per year in subsidies for the insurance (some over a million dollars), while 80% of the rest of the nation’s farmers will receive a mere $5,000.

Another program that will suffer under this new bill is Price Loss Coverage, where farmers are guaranteed a baseline price for 14 crops if the prices dip below a certain level when it comes time to sell. The raises the floor price, guaranteeing that the bigger players will receive more no matter how much of a glut there may be in the market. Another part of the bill will cover ‘shallow’ losses not covered under crop insurance deductibles, thereby ensuring full coverage for any crop losses suffered.

Moving away from direct payments and toward indirect insurance subsidies is an example of what author Suzanne Mettler calls “the submerged state.” So many federal social programs lurk underneath the surface that the public cannot get a good handle on who benefits from government largesse. “Appearing to emanate from the private [insurance] sector, such policies obscure the role of government and exaggerage that of the market,” Mettler says. And the vast majority of these programs benefit the wealthy, refuting the conceit that the rich boldly succeed without a government safety net protecting them

The bill is also cleverly crafted to ‘lock-in’ an overall rise in commodity prices that will be paid for by the taxpayers on April 15th and at the grocery checkout line. The disconnected political class probably thinks they’ve brilliantly crafted yet another shift of costs onto the middle and working classes in this country, while at the same time reducing government aid to the working poor, disabled, retired, and very poor so that they can pay more for food too. Just never forget, There Is No Inflation (our government tells us regularly). And since they refuse to count the costs of food, clothing, shelter or transportation, it works out great on their balance sheets.

But not to worry, some say, because all those “food insecure” children who can’t get enough to eat at home get all those free lunches at school, right? And sometimes breakfast, though many state legislatures are trying to impose severe budgetary limitations on that sort of thing as well. And then there’s the kids of working people who don’t qualify for free school meals, but who have trouble paying for them anyway. Why, just last week in Salt Lake City, Utah, 40 students at Uintah Elementary School had their lunches taken away from them after they’d sat down to eat, and promptly thrown in the trash. That’ll teach ‘em!

Honestly, it looks like the more the ‘haves’ in this country have, the less they want the ‘have nots’ to have. It’s a mean, mean climate out there, about which most of us can only shake our heads in despair. Still, things like this just make it more imperative that we homesteaders and small farmers and other independence-oriented folks make efforts to reach out to each other and our broader communities, work together to ensure the well-being of all even in our limited environs. Please check out some of the posts linked below about the political maneuvering, and about ways to help deal with hunger in your community…

Informative Links:

“Peak Food”?
Politicians Harming Americans. Again.
Hunger in the Heartland
Feeding The Hungry [3-parts, linked]