Do what grandma would do: Fix it yourself

Author highlights common, around-the-house jobs that can be done on the cheap

Looking for ways to save money around the house? Take some advice from Grandma. Instead of paying tailors to do your mending, gardeners to tend the lawn or plumbers to fix dripping faucets, do it yourself.

What? You don't know how? Then learn. (And no whining.)

Free online resources, plus tips to get you started

Before calling repair services, consumers can check out free resources online. offers info on how to do appliance repairs on your own., and list clear, easy-to-understand instructions for all types of projects. Most major appliance manufacturers post manuals and troubleshooting tips on their websites.

You can even fix your own computer or car. At, close to a half-million users offer solutions to technology questions. Computer techies hang out at and provide fixes for error messages, recalls and updates. features how-to videos and guides for simple auto fixes.

Here are a few examples to get you started:

  • To tighten wobbly chair legs, put a dab of epoxy on the loose leg, hold in place with a band clamp or belt and let dry completely. (This Old House magazine)
  • Clean a clogged stove burner by using a straight pin to remove burnt-on food from the holes. Scrub removable parts with a solution of equal parts warm water and baking soda. Let dry and replace. (This Old House magazine)
  • If you've got a toilet that won't stop running (filling), it's often the float mechanism that is the problem. Remove the tank lid and see if the water stops running when you lift the float. If it stops, just bend the arm of the float so that the float is at a lower position. If the float is damaged, replacing it is as simple as unscrewing it, purchasing a new one at a hardware or building supply store and then screwing on the new one. ("How To Sew a Button and Other Things Your Grandmother Knew.")

"People used to think it was great that they could spend money on this or hire someone to do that," Nickell says. "That pendulum has shifted. Now they want to be able to save money and do things for themselves."

Grandma would be proud.

That's author Erin Bried's message in "How To Sew a Button And Other Nifty Things Your Grandmother Knew: A Money-Saving, Heartwarming, Life-Simplifying Guide."

"We have now entered what experts are calling the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression," writes Bried. "Suddenly, not knowing how to cook my own meals, care for my own home and iron my own shirts seemed not only disempowering, but also downright irresponsible."

After years of hiring others to do even simple repairs, though, the Manhattan journalist needed guidance in the ways of self-sufficiency and saving.

What essential life skills had she forgotten or never learned?

Could she actually unclog a drain or toilet, sew buttons or hems, plant a garden, hang pictures and caulk windows and door frames?

She turned to experts — older women who had survived much tougher times than these — for the answers. (Since Bried's own grandmothers were dead, she sought out other nanas and bubbies from across the country.) Their no-nonsense advice encouraged her to roll up her sleeves and get to work.


Grace Fortunato, a Southington, Conn., resident, was one of Bried's frugal muses. After the Depression hit, Fortunato's family moved into a flat behind her father's barber shop and learned to live with very little. For the 79-year-old mother of five and grandmother of three, cleaning, cooking, mending, laundry and home repairs are a way of life.

"You don't pay people to do things for you. You save your money," says Fortunato, firmly. "We learned that early on. If something broke, we fixed it. We didn't run out and buy something new then, and we don't now. That's how we raised our kids and that's still how we live."

These days, more and more people are looking to adopt those thrifty ways.

Prices of goods and services are up; the amount of money most of us have to spend is down. Knowing how to handle even a few basic repairs can save substantial bucks, says Karol Nickell, editor-in-chief of Fresh Home, a magazine that specializes in "easy ideas for hands-on people."

"There's a real change in focus," Nickell says. "People are looking to economize, and they're discovering the satisfaction of accomplishing home repairs and home improvements on their own. It's a very positive trend."

In response to the growing demand from perspective DIY-ers, building supply outlets, paint shops, fabric stores and continuing education centers are offering advanced how-to classes on topics ranging from upholstering and painting to plumbing and siding. HGTV, Fine Living Network and DIY Network feature do-it-yourself shows and Web sites are filled with home-repair solutions and home improvement projects.

Magazines, including Fresh Home, This Old House, Handy and Old House Journal, cover home improvement, remodeling, upgrades, tools and more. Smartphone apps — iHandy Carpenter, Handyman Sidekick and Home Improvement Calculator, available at the Apple store — help you estimate project materials and costs, convert measuring units (centimeters to inches, etc.), and even put levels, rulers and other tools at your fingertips.

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