DIYing for Dollars$$$

A customer of mine chastised me a couple weeks ago when I mentioned my plans to do some tile work over the Thanksgiving weekend. His perception is that anytime a person DIY’s, they will inevitably spend more money than if they just hired a professional. While I would admit on rare occasions things do go awry, my experience has proven more times than not, DIY is the way to go.



We have small half-bath on the first floor we wanted to tile. The total square footage is just less than 40 square feet. Cost of tile has a broad range; from $2.68/sq. ft. to the ridiculous. Labor also varies based the type of tile and how fancy the layout. For a simple and straight installation of 12″ tiles we received quotes between $4 and $5 per square foot. Then of course there is the grout, cement and sealer. In total we were looking at a minimum of $380 to have “nothing fancy” tile laid professionally. How often do the professionals actually come within their quotes? 

This article was featured in the Carnival of Money Stories. Please check out this carnival for many other great articles about personal finance.

While I have tackled most home projects, tile is not something I have a great deal of experience with. Twenty years ago I tiled a table and then about eight years ago I tiled the counter tops in our old house. Luckily I still had the straight tile cutter from that project. These cost about $40. My nippers had been ground and repurposed as fret pullers for a guitar project last year.

For $18 I bought a kit that contained the bucket, float (for grouting), sponge, nippers and a trowel. We also needed spacers at $3, the grout for $19 and two buckets of cement for $44. We lucked into some free tile but even if we had paid for this it was the $3/sq. ft. basic 12″ tile. All together we had $84 invested in this project.



Taking up the old floor required a putty knife and pry bar and took about 30 minutes. My wife laid the tile as I would cut them. In less than three hours we had the new tiles installed. A day later we came back and spread the grout. Clean-up after grouting was the most frustrating part of the whole project having to wipe and rinse with the sponge what seemed like a thousand times. My wife would say more, but she was the one that did this part. You did a great job honey!

Anyone can do the demolition. Plopping cement and spreading it with a trowel is a breeze and requires no real skill. The spacers make sure you are setting the tiles correctly. The grouting process is messy but not hard.

The most difficult part is cutting tile. If it is your first time, buy a few extra and practice on the pieces you screw up until you get the hang of it. For complex cuts you use the nippers, just don’t try to nip too much at one time. (Here are some instructions)

This is a great project for a couple to take on, it’s a great way to spend time together and to learn something new.

Investing in a few tools now will allow you to save even more dollars in the future. Plus, look at what we saved on this one project. Nearly $300 in immediate cash, but if you have read my perspective on saving money it’s not about these dollars but how much I now don’t have to generate to recover what would have come out of my savings. (For more on this read this article: Breaking down the numbers on frugality – a different perspective)

In my case, with an 18% current savings rate, this DIY project saved me from having to make an additional $1,660!

Over the years I have repaired plumbing, done light electrical work, renovated a kitchen, painted, replaced appliances, installed ceiling fans, removed or moved walls and even refinished the ceilings to rid ourselves of the dreaded popcorn finish. In each case I attacked the job without previous experience. A little research, asking questions of friends or families and reading the instructions that come with the products is all I have every needed. About the only thing I avoid is what I call heavy electrical (220V or adding circuits), simply because I had a bad experience with electricity as a child that still haunts me.

I can only estimate, but conservatively I have saved in excess of $30,000 in my lifetime and continue to develop skills that can be put to further use in the future.

How about you, what projects will you or won’t you take on? Leave a comment below, or better yet send me the story and I will consider posting it for our ETM readers.


I am pleased to say another DIY challenge I took on was building this site. For a novice with no web development background I am proud of it. I am also proud to announce this week that two of my articles were featured in carnivals on other sites. Please check out these other great blogs and their writers perspectives on personal finance.

– The Carnival of Personal Finance hosted by The SuburbanDollar. This is one of the blogs that I routinely follow and learn from. Kyle’s theme of the week is Weirdest Toy Crazes. (I’ll have to admit getting sucked into the beanie babies! Anyone interested in a mint condition Chilly?)

– The Best of Money Carnival host by The Amateur Financier – This is a new blog to me but based on a quick review, I will probably be going back for more!  


If you like to be challenged to see things with a fresh perspective, if you like to learn new ideas and different concepts, sign up for my RSS feed or enter your email address here to receive updates directly to your inbox.



7 comments to DIYing for Dollars$$$

  • Wow, you are quite a handy man! I have to ask my wife to help build furniture from IKEA I have no idea! 🙂

    I like to garden and clean the house myself cuz that’s easy. Chores that requires thinking and expertise is not for me.

  • The LeanLifeCoach

    If you can figure out how to garden you can figure out how to fix the plumbing or lay some tile. Frankly, gardening is harder and takes a lot more time… though I’m sure it tastes much better than sawdust!

  • I really enjoyed this.
    I am not a natural DIYer. I watch the DIY network and have to wonder: there have to be reels and reels of those hosts cursing when projects aren’t going right. They make it seem too easy!

  • The LeanLifeCoach


    No doubt, like anything else, things do go wrong. But like anything else, the more experience you gain the easier it gets.

    Maybe, this has encouraged you to give it a shot?

  • A man after my own heart. I’ll do a lot of my own home projects because 1)I’m cheap, and 2)most of the people I associate with are DIY’ers. I’m sure it takes me a lot longer but I’m way more meticulous than any contractor. Plus, you get to save money and and have an excuse to buy more tools!

    Things are getting harder to fix though. I used to be able to repair a lot of my appliances and gadgets but most stuff you buy today is built to be replaced, not fixed. I wasted four hours the other day trying to replace the AC compressor in my Cirrus but the cab forward design didn’t allow me enough clearance to get to all the mounting bolts, so I’m forced to take it to a garage. But you never know until you try.

    Good job on the bathroom! Looks great!

  • The LeanLifeCoach

    @MBAbriefs – Thanks for the compliment and more power to you!

    You make another good point. When you do it yourself you have more control over the quality of the products and supplies and you also have ultimate control of the quality of the work as well.

  • […] From Eliminate the Muda, here are some tips for  DIY-ing for dollars. […]