In a consumer driven society you are basically supposed to have your one specialization that you work at and then you are supposed to buy everything else you need. Thus while you might be a great ‘insert job title here‘, you are suppose to suck at everything else. Too often this is exactly what happens and people really don’t have a skill set to address many of the minor repairs or jobs that could significantly reduce your costs. By having additional skills you can save on a large number of minor things that when compounded can help you retire earlier.
So what skill set should an early retiree have? Basically there is no limit on what you should have other than as many as you can learn and have an interest in. In my life I’ve noticed the following skills to be very useful so far:
- Cooking. Now cooking isn’t just a single skill but rather a spectrum of skills where you start at boiling water and work yourself up to inventing supper from the leftovers in your fridge with no recipe. Perhaps the most useful skill I’ve learned so far in this is the ability to substitute items in a recipe. From experience (and Google) I’ve learned how to take a recipe as a template and reinvent most of it based on what I have in the house. So rather than going shopping to make supper I end up using what I already have in the house. For example, if a recipe calls for buttermilk more often than not you can use sour milk instead (milk with a splash of white vinegar in it). The pay off of this skill for an average family would likely be reducing your food bill in half.
- Clothing Repair. While I don’t have a sewing machine (I’m not that good yet) I do keep a little basket in the house with needles, thread, pins and other useful items. To date I’ve fixed countless little things that were 98% useable except for one minor rip or fallen off button. For more complex projects like a new set of curtains or a cover for a bench I get help from friends or family who can do the project for me. While I can give an exact estimate of savings here, I’m fairly sure I’ve saved over $100 in clothes in the last six months. Mainly because I’ve got two boys that seem to be fairly skilled at wrecking pants and shirts.
- Minor House Repairs. This is a broad category with lots of sub-skills to it. Some examples include carpentry, plumbing, electrical, tiling, painting and installing new flooring. In general I grew up fairly clueless on how to do most of these things, but from various people over the years continue to learn how to do things and skip paying someone else when I have the time to do the project myself. So know I’m to the point I’ve leveraging my skills to fix other things like broken toys. I can’t even begin to calculate the thousands of dollars I’ve saved over the years because of these skills. But over two house I’ve likely saved at least $10,000 in flooring and painting projects alone.
Now there are other skills you can continue to learn depending on your interest and natural skill set. Other examples of skills include hair cutting, stain removing, deck building, patio installation, auto repair, electronic troubleshooting, computer repair … you get the idea.
If you have a spouse or partner feel free to leverage what the other one is good at to round out your combined skill sets. For example, when painting I’ve determined my wife should never be allowed to cut in the ceiling, but I’m good at it. Yet she is great with a roller, while I suck at it. So we split our paint jobs according to what we do best.
Perhaps the most important skill of all if don’t be afraid to try something out. For example, if the item in question is already broken and heading for the trash: try to fix it. Even if you fail, it only cost you a little time and if you make it work again you have saved some money.