Money/Investment Tips: (Part Three) Fix things yourself

Learning to fix things yourself will pay huge dividends throughout the course of your life.

Life works in mysterious ways. I never intended or dreamed I would be a contractor to support myself and my family. As I have pointed out in other sections of this blog, I wanted to be a writer or marine or wildlife biologist. Fate had it own ideas, though, and I took a turn early in my twenties that propelled me in a completely different direction.

Without going into detail about how I ended up as a contractor, the fact I made my living this way proved beneficial in many ways. Though I never loved contracting (it was never my so-called passion), I have reaped numerous rewards from this humble profession: one of them being self-reliance, a phrase that should be “front and center” in any person’s vocabulary who desires to get ahead in life.

Learning to fix things yourself mostly involves repairing household items or doing maintenance projects related to your home and property. To illustrate, let me share one of my recent DIY projects: fixing my Whirlpool electric dryer.

About six months ago, after tossing freshly washed clothes into the dryer, I went to check if they were dry or at least partially dry. Being single and male, I don’t sort clothes by color or separate delicate items like underwear from sturdier ones like jeans—I just toss everything into the washer together.

But when it comes to the dryer, I know the more delicate clothes—like underwear—will dry sooner than, let’s say, a pair of work jeans, so I wanted to check what I could pull out that had dried. While the dryer was still running, I opened the dryer door expecting it to stop, like it always did. This time it kept going, never having done this before.

That’s weird, I thought, and quickly shut the door before the clothes had a chance to shoot out the dryer opening and fall to the floor. After a couple of seconds of thought, wondering what just happened, I waited a few seconds and opened the door again, but only part way, to see what would happen: same thing.

I unplugged the dryer; this, of course, stopped it, but now I knew I had a problem: my dryer was broke, at least when it came to the dryer not stopping when I opened the door. Since I knew I could stop the dryer by pulling the cord out of the socket (inconvenient to say the least), I did not consider this particular situation that big of a deal.

I’ve learned something about home repairs: they are rarely, if ever, simple in nature that one can fix, say, in a few minutes. In fact, I have developed a proverb which expresses this phenomena: “Changing a light bulb takes eight hours.” In other words, nothing is simple—even the most simplest of things like changing a lightbulb—when it comes to life, and there is hardly anything when dealing with home maintenance issues that can be solved easily and quickly.

Knowing this repair would at least require me to spend much time just in researching the problem to determine why it was suddenly doing this, I put it on the back burner of my never ending “to do” list. I had bigger fish to fry and, since this did not demand immediate attention, I dealt with it and rarely opened the door to check on my clothes like I used to.

Months passed, and every time I used the dyer, I remembered this issue; today, I decided to tackle it and found a video on Youtube that showed me how to replace it. I started to disassemble the dryer a bit to reach the part and have ordered it off Ebay. It is not a difficult repair to make and looks easy, but again, you have to take the time and have basic tools to make the repair happen.

Could I have called an appliance service company to fix the problem? Certainly, but the cost would no doubt be over $100. The replacement part is going to cost me less than $6.00 and I don’t have to go through the angst of calling multiple service companies, getting quotes, arranging a convenient time for them to come, have strangers coming over, bracing myself for the inevitable “up-sells” and getting scammed, etc.

Now, I have been fixing things all of my adult life. I have amassed a decent amount of tools as well as a fairly deep depth of knowledge of construction know-how. And most of this knowledge was gained the hard way, through trial and error and reading books; my dad never sat down with me and showed me anything about how tools work. There was no marvelous Youtube videos out there where one could learn from some true pro’s and even have a tool and material list available—with links—as an added bonus.

I’m a firm believer in self-reliance and, as much as possible, I don’t like relying on other people to get me through my days. A person is at a horrible disadvantage when they don’t know how to troubleshot and then fix the myriad of things which always go wrong or need maintenance as a property owner. And the cost to hire professionals—post Covid—is skyrocketing and is not going to get any cheaper.

Like anything else of value, learning how to use tools and repair things comes with a cost. First, you have to put in the needed time to begin to learn about construction or how to repair what you need to have fixed. This can become a significant investment in time. Then, you have to have the needed to tools to be able to fix and maintain your stuff. This can be frustrating and expensive because it seems one never has all the proper tools necessary to do any job correctly and—just as importantly—easily.

But all the time and expense required to be able to handle such repairs and maintenance needs are well worth it. And you don’t have to know everything, of course. One thing I have always detested is working on my vehicles. When I was younger and much poorer, I was forced to do as much as I could on my own, like changing my oil or doing tuneups. My most ambitious and time consuming auto repair project was successfully rebuilding the engine—by myself—on my 1971 VW van, a story all of its own of victory followed by defeat.

Part of my frustration with repairing my own vehicles was twofold: lack of the needed tools and lack of knowledge to do the necessary jobs. Again, this was all before the internet and Youtube which has made auto repairs so much easier. The cost of having even a small arsenal of critical, quality tools was also beyond my reach at that poverty heavy portion of my young adulthood, adding to my frustration because it seemed I always needed “one more tool” to get any job done.

Perhaps the greatest obstacle for me in successfully being able to fix my own vehicles was an almost complete lack of interest in the subject of auto mechanics. In high school, there was an excellent course students could take in auto mechanics which several of my friends took advantage of. But I was uninterested in the subject and was bored to tears whenever my friends would gather together with the inevitable discussion turning to something that had to do with their cars and fixing them, unable to contribute nothing substantial to any of these conversations.

Another problem I had with auto mechanics and the construction industry was my lack of native skill or comprehension in either of these areas. Many guys interested in “mechanic-ing”—or working in construction—had natural talent and native interest in these subjects. Some of them seemed to born with tools in their hands and using them came as natural to them as walking. Not so for me. I have never been a “natural” when it came to working with my hands and it has always been challenging for me to master even the basic fundamentals of certain tools and grasping basic principles of construction or specialized subjects within construction like electrical work, building block walls, or figuring out angles in carpentry (math has never been my strong suit).

These challenges, though, did not keep me from trying, and one of my strong suits is my tenacity in sticking with anything I set my mind on accomplishing until I finish it. One of my favorite quotes that perfectly sums this up is from William Carey: “If one should think it worth his while to write my life, I will give you a criterion by which you may judge of its correctness. If he gives me credit for being a plodder, he will describe me justly. Anything beyond this will be too much. I can plod. I can persevere in any definite pursuit. To this I owe everything.”

The effort and investment in tools I’ve put in to fix and build things myself has paid off in numerous ways, saving me tens of thousands, if not more, over my lifetime. Rather than depending on experts (or supposed experts) to construct, fix, or maintain my possessions, I’ve been fortunate to handle much of these tasks myself. Beyond the money saved, there’s an immense satisfaction in being self-sufficient and not relying on others to accomplish what’s necessary.

Some practical ideas: if you are just starting out in your adult life, or have recently purchased your first home or are planning on doing so in the near future, make an inventory of the kind of tools you have. If you don’t have any, start collecting them now by going to garage sales, swap meets, or buying some at Lowes, Home Depot, or Harbor Freight.

Harbor Freight has some good deals—and inexpensive—but their quality is not always the best. Like anything, tools can be purchased for cheap or expensive, depending on the brand. Tools you will use all the time—like screwdrivers, ratchet sets, hammers, etc.—should be of the best quality you can afford.

I have another saying: “The best time to buy tools and equipment is when you don’t need them.” The worst time to buy tools and equipment is when you must buy them because then, you have no time to do the needed research on what is the best bang for your buck and you usually go to a big box store like Home Depot and plunk down your credit card to buy what you must have to complete whatever project you are working on.

I was able to fix my dryer with no problem; in fact, it was easier than I thought. I ordered the part from Ebay after poking around the internet to find the best price (it can be astonishing the difference in prices you will find), it arrived, and I set out a block of time to tackle this project. I had the few tools needed to do this particular job and finished it in less than an hour.

It was satisfying to start up the dryer after I replaced the part, open the door, and have it stop again. And for $6.00 or so for the part, it was an inexpensive fix, saving me the time, hassle and expense of having a technician come out and do it for me.