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Sunday, November 23, 2014

The Afforable Home Upgrades

Posted by Tim Stobbs on August 18, 2014

Sorry for the lack of posts last week I’ve been up to my eyeballs in projects around the house.  The major one is my wife’s long awaited cork flooring has arrived so I was doing a small test run on installing it in the front entry.  That way I’m ready for the much bigger project of installing the cork floor in her kitchen.  We also decided to buy enough material to do the same flooring in the back hallway and laundry room.  So while the material wasn’t that cheap ~$1900, it will cover a large area so it should make the house a fair bit more enjoyable once I finish all the installs.  Here is what it looks like so far.

Cork in Front Entry

Yet that wasn’t the only project I was working on.  The other project was completed in a single day for a cost of a mere $155, which is the main subject of this post.  It consisted of rescuing our backyard plant bed from the weeds and putting down two yards of mulch to suppress the weeds from coming back.  I recently learned I previous wasn’t putting down the mulch thick enough to do a good job of weed suppression.  I last time put down perhaps two inches of mulch when in fact 4 or more inches is required.  I learned the hard way on that one here is the before and afterwards pics.





But that project was the perfect example that home improvement doesn’t in fact have to be expensive.  Unfortunately due to media brainwashing everyone tend to think of major improvement like redoing a kitchen when in fact there are a entire class of projects that can make a home more enjoyable which can be done on a limited budget.  The trick to find something that largely requires time to complete it, but you have the skills to do the work yourself and the material costs are low.

So as I already mentioned, mulch is a damn cheap material to work with. So it can be used under trees, in beds to keep down weeds and also look a bit nice looking.  Other bulk materials like crusher dust can be used to create pathways or support patios and if you order is bulk is again fairly affordable.  Also ask friends and neighbours about splitting perennial that already exist in their yards like iris or day lilies. You can often create a nice bed of plants with a bit of labour and some patience.

Inside the house your best friend in the world is paint.  Per can it might be expensive (DO NOT CHEAP OUT ON PAINT YOU WILL REGRET IT – trust me I learned that also the hard way), but your coverage is fairly huge and it can make a big impact on a home.  This is by far the most common reno we do after buying a new property as we can often get a room done in a regular weekend.  Or if you can secure some help for a week it is possible to paint an entire small house in just a week.

Other project that can be affordable include change out light fixtures (as long as you don’t shop for a new chandelier), flooring projects (if you choose an affordable option and keep to a smaller area) and most projects that involve fabric if you know how to sew (new pillow covers or curtains).  Then if you are open to shopping around a bit you can also snag some excellent deals on materials, it just helps to have an open mind and not being bothered by buying other people’s leftovers.  I once got a great deal on oak hardwood just because the people in question decided to sell their house instead of finishing the flooring project they had started.

So in the end, don’t think you need to spend $20,000 to do a reno project to your house.  In fact, you can like make your house a lot nicer for a fraction of that cost as long as you don’t mind doing the work yourself.  Since I like learning new skills I rather enjoy that sort of thing myself.

What was your lowest cost project in your house?  Any other ideas on affordable renos?

Want More Time, Then Give It Away?

Posted by Tim Stobbs on April 12, 2013

So I’m currently taking an online course at on behavioral economics and last night I watched a lecture that has stuck in my head.  It was a guest lecture by Mike Norton from Harvard on money, time and happiness (a wee bit of an obvious hint on why I’m taking the class, eh?).

Now what struck me about his work was he first confirmed what I’ve know for a while.  Making more money doesn’t make people much happier (each additional amount has a declining increase to your happiness). That first job earning less than $10,000 feels really good, you feel a bit better when you get your first career job after university, but after a decade of work the next $10,000 is sort of what ever.  Yet he also commented that making more money tends to make people more selfish, which had not occured to me.  He argues when you win money what is the first thing you think about: what you can spend the money on, not giving it away or spending it on other people. Yet to combat this, they also ran some experiments that if you give money away or spend it on others you feel happier than if you spent it on yourself.

Interesting results, but what really blew my mind was the idea that exact same results apply to time as well. What the #@$?! How could spending your time on others make you more happy?  Won’t that cause you to feel ever more stressed about your time?  Apparently, what happens is if you spend either resource on others it causes you to feel a sense of abundance, so you feel better about your time even if you actually have less of it.

So while this sounds good, I want to actually try this out.  So here is my plan, from April 15 to May 15 I will spend more of my time and money on others.  To be exact I’ll put half of my spending cash or $100 towards spending on others and I will spend at least five hours a week on others.  I will then track my happiness daily on a five point scale and then sum of the results and present it back to you guys.  I’ll spend the next few days before that constructing a baseline of my current happiness.

Insane? Perhaps, but let’s field test this idea prior to writing off the idea either.  Anyone want to join me?

Feeling Poor, Feeling Rich

Posted by Sheryl on November 7, 2012

This is a guest post from Sheryl in Ontario, who is 40 years old with a grown daughter, and is trying to rebuild her retirement dream just 20 years too late for early retirement.

A little while ago, as I was getting dressed, I pulled on one of the belt loops on my jeans to pull them the rest of the way up and heard that awful sound of fabric coming apart.  Upon examining the damage, I found the denim was tearing along where the pocket was sewn, just under where the belt loop is.  This was also my only pair of casual pants/jeans (Clothes shopping has never been a love of mine.  I am 5’10″ and finding pants long enough has always been a problem).

Okay, I figured, it’s just a small tear, most of my shirts are long, I can get away with still wearing these jeans.  I will usually repair my clothes, but this was in a spot that I would have had to pulled too much fabric to the area, which would have not have worked.  I wore those jeans for a few weeks like that, with a long shirt, no problem.  Then the other side tore in the same spot.  Still I wore them, but was a little more conscious of making sure my shirt covered the holes.

I didn’t want to spend money on clothes.  I want to concentrate on reducing my debt.  As the holes got bigger, I liked wearing my jeans less and less. Making sure my shirt was covering the holes distracted me to the point of almost being an obsession. I was more tempted to make impulse purchases to make myself feel better while wearing these jeans.  I was allowing my dis-comfort to affect how I felt about life in general.  My optimism was becoming pessimistic.   I started to feel poor wearing these jeans. Fortunately, I realized what was happening and why.

During this realization, I started thinking about what makes me feel poor, and what makes me feel rich.

These are the things that make me feel poor:  Wearing ripped, stained or worn out clothes (unless I’m doing dirty work or staying in the house), eating poor quality food, going to an event party (birthday, anniversary) with no gift to give, not going to an event because I didn’t have a gift to give, trying to make do with something that has broken, being around people that have all the material things I want, not doing anything during time off work because I couldn’t afford it, having my body ache every morning because my mattress is old

Conversely, these are the things that make me feel rich don’t really cost very much at all.  Most things I either already have had for a long time (and were careful purchases at the time) or are more intangible.  Most are a state of mind.  The richness in my life would include quality home cooked food, knowing my bills are paid, having money left over after the bills are paid, seeing how happy the people and animals in my life are when I see them, using a good toilet paper and not running out of it, having a good health plan at work that covers massages,  feeling warm and secure in my home, and being able to afford new jeans when I find them on sale at 2 for $20.

There seems to be a vitality in me when I’m not feeling poor.  I’m more efficient, more energy, better decision making as well as a general happiness.  I’ve learned from this awareness how easy it is to stop being grateful for the rich things in my life, just by concentrating on one negative one.   I’ve also learned how easy it is to become cheap as opposed to frugal.  What makes you feel poor or rich?  How do you balance it?