My Week of Manual Labor: Saving Money Via DIY Home Renovations

About 20% of the ancient carpet that I ripped out of our new home

We closed on our first home at the end of March, and I took off the entirety of last week from my job to get the house ready for us to move into by mid-April. That ended up being 9 days in a row investing 8 or more hours per day, and a “half day” on Sunday.

I pretty much recovered physically after taking it easy on Sunday. But wow, what a juxtaposition from my regular office job to be working the equivalent of a manual labor job for over a week straight. By the end of day four or so, it’s just a different kind of tiredness at the end of the day.

Most of that time was spent removing wallpaper, ripping out a bunch of carpet, and starting on painting. My suspicions that the carpet was older than we are was confirmed when I found a newspaper fragment from the 1980’s under the padding!

Getting those gross carpets out of the house was a huge improvement. The 80 year old hardwood floors underneath need to be refinished but are otherwise in good shape. There’s a bunch more to do, but it’s already beginning to look like a new house.

We would have spent several thousand dollars if we hired contractors to rip all of that old junk out of the house. Which isn’t even skilled labor; anyone who is able-bodied can get it done after watching a couple YouTube videos.

I’m going to DIY as much stuff as is practical, which probably doesn’t come as a surprise since I’m always preaching frugality and self-sufficiency. The one thing we’re going to be paying contractors for in the immediate future is to install and refinish the floors, since we’d like to get that done before moving in and there’s no way that we can get that done ourselves this week.

We mostly knew what we were getting into by buying a fixer-upper. I’m glad that we’ll get to make it ours instead of paying a premium for someone’s gray, soulless, vinyl-planked home flipper special. But I foresee myself dedicating many weekends and evenings before the project is done and we’re simply in “maintenance mode.”

The tradeoff between time and money is common wisdom in society. We saved on the purchase price of the house because the previous owner didn’t put time or money into updating it (although he did maintain it quite well, which is one of the things I liked about this home). Now we need to invest our time into doing those improvements if we don’t want to pay for other people to do them.

Still, the cost of materials and tools even for DIY jobs can be significant compared to renting. We spent about $800 on tools, materials, and paint for last week’s adventures. Garbage removal was free after we hauled it back to our apartment complex dumpsters, which I don’t feel bad about because the dumpsters at the rear of the trash area are usually nearly empty.

There’s definitely a rewarding feeling of tangible accomplishment inherent to hands-on activities, something that I often feel is missing from contributing a small part to a massive project in a knowledge field at work. So I’m actually looking forward to more home improvement projects because I really enjoy that aspect of it.

Financially, it’s not clear yet what the recurring maintenance portion of home ownership will cost us. I know that my half of the monthly PITI (principal, interest, taxes, and insurance) will run about $560 per month more than renting our apartment. A common rule of thumb is to budget 1% of the home’s purchase price for maintenance, but that seems very high to me for a DIYer, so more data is needed.

A semi-related thing that I’m excited about is getting back into the credit card churning game. I’ve done a couple of credit card bonus offers over the past few years, but I wanted to be careful about the number of new accounts and inquiries that I was adding to my credit report while we were looking for a house. Now that our mortgage is funded, I don’t have to worry about my credit score too much and can be more aggressive with opening cards. My goal for this year is to collect $1,000 in credit card bonuses to make up for some of the cash flow that I’ve lost by taking on a bigger housing payment.

If I only end up posting once per month on the blog for the next few months (rather than my goal of 2–3 posts per month), it’s probably because I’m spending a bunch of time doing house stuff. I’m going to try and keep a good balance with divvying up my personal time between home repairs and hobbies, but I also know that I have a tendency to get sucked into projects like this.

One thing I’m really liking about having a mortgage is the ability to see the remaining balance; it’s a quantitative measure of how much money we would have to put towards the loan to get rid of our housing payment (sans property taxes) forever. I’m not sure yet what my long-term plan will be to mesh the mortgage in with my FIRE plans; I think that’s pretty dependent on what interest rates do and whether we’re able to refinance the 5.875% mortgage anytime soon.

Thoughts? Questions? Leave a comment below!