6 skills that save you money

There’s something inherently satisfying about do-it-yourself. However, many skills we used to learn at home or at school have fallen by the wayside over the years. With a renewed interest in saving money, many people are rediscovering the joy of working with their hands and taking on projects they might have paid someone to do instead. Some people are even turning their skills into a profit with a side business

Whether you’re looking to learn something new or are eager to pass along your knowledge to your kids or grandkids, here are some skills that can save money in the long run.

Cooking and baking

Experts agree: preparing your own meals is healthy for your body and your budget. Not only will you dodge the high costs of convenience foods and restaurant fare, you can learn new techniques and recipes to master low-cost choices like legumes and cheaper cuts of meat.

Already covered the basics? There are many ways to upgrade your skills. Try learning a new technique or type of cooking — like Italian cooking, artisan bread making or cake decorating. Save on gourmet goodies by making them yourself or making tasty gifts. Get outside the kitchen and visit farms, wineries and farmers’ markets to learn about quality and choice.

Cooking is also a fun activity to do with the kids in your life, plus they learn some healthy habits too. (Need some ideas? Browse our Recipes section.)

Gardening and landscaping

While we love to help things grow, the constant up keep of gardens and lawns can add up if we rely on professional help. Mowing the lawn and weeding are straightforward tasks youth and teens can do to boost their allowance or even earn some spending money helping the neighbours.

Knowing how to keep your yard looking its best — like which plants work well in which areas and in which soil types — can save wasted money and effort. In addition, frugal steps like growing your own plants from seeds or cuttings can trim the costs of having a lush garden.

If you plan to grow your own grub this year, you may find it to be a labour of love at first until you have the equipment and setup you want. However, avid gardeners love the control they have over what goes on their plate — and there’s no beating the convenience of heading to the garden for fresh veggies. (For some tips, see Grow your own grub and Gardening on a budget.)


Sadly, many people don’t know what to do with a needle and thread. Even though most of our linens and clothing now come from stores, sewing skills can still save cash — like doing your own hemming and alterations, making clothes last with simple repairs and making inexpensive items like children’s clothing or purses.

Then there’s home décor: keep an eye on the sales and you can create custom items like table runners, placemats and cushion covers to suit any season or style. Make your own pillow cases or whip up some simple curtains from a flat sheet, or “make down” clearance items like sheet sets to fit a spare bed.

Sewing is also a fun way to explore your creativity with projects like crazy quilts that make great group efforts and capture memories.

Home repairs and renovations

It seems there’s a home improvement store on every corner these days, and for good reason! With tight budgets and an interest in upgrades, many people are saving on labour costs by tackling repairs and renovations themselves. While major tasks like plumbing and electrical should often be left to the experts, more people are learning how to install new floors, retile their bathrooms or build a deck.

Many updates also increase the value of your home, like creating an outdoor room or updating the kitchen. Energy efficiency is also top of mind, and many money saving measures can be done by anyone — like caulking windows, plugging leaks and installing a programmable thermostat.

Car maintenance and repairs

Gas and insurance aren’t the only ongoing costs of owning a vehicle: maintenance and repairs can also add up. While not everyone has the equipment or space to work on a car, there are some basics that can save time and money — like changing a flat tire, changing the air filters and detailing. Even something simple like tire pressure can affect your gas mileage.

Even if you opt for the cell phone and automobile club membership to see you through, some car savvy can prevent you from being taken for a ride. For example, do you know what maintenance your car needs and what repairs can wait? Do you know enough to ask questions at the repair shop — and understand the answers? Do you know when to call for help versus when a quick fix will do? (Need a little help? Start with Simple roadside fixes for your car and Top 5 simple secrets to car maintenance.)

Personal finance

How money-savvy are we? Not very, according to a report from the Canadian Task Force on Financial Literacy. Nearly half of all Canadians don’t have a budget, and many people don’t know what tax breaks they’re entitled to and what financial products (like mutual funds and insurance) are best for them.

While kids can certainly learn money basics at school, there’s nothing like having a good role model at home. Some essential skills to learn include budgeting, saving, balancing a chequebook, preventing fraud, planning for retirement and researching financial products.

If you’re already money-savvy, there are ways you can kick it up a notch. Look for investing and financial planning seminars in your area or offered through your employer, union, professional organization or bank.

Tips for success

Take a class. Make the learning more fun by going with a friend or family member. There are many places that offer classes like colleges, stores and community centres.

Join a group. Up for some informal learning? Try a crafting or gardening group in your area, a guild or other community group. In addition to sharing tips and advice, you can also attend seminars and swap materials.

Learn from (or teach) someone you know. Got a friend who’s a great chef, or a cousin who fixes cars? Swap some time and skills with your own expertise or add some lessons to your wish list at Christmas.

Go online. Need to see how to bake salmon or cast on stitches for a sweater? There’s no shortage of videos online. Look to hobby websites as well as video services like Youtube.com.

Also look out for forums, communities and networking sites around your favourite skill. Between blogs and online magazines, it’s not hard to find experts to follow.

Attend a demonstration. Not sure where to find them? Your automobile association may offer seminars on basic car care, or you can often find cooking demonstrations at a cultural fair. Keep an eye on local events calendars.

Hit the library. Check out some books with how-to advice and project ideas, plus your library may have DVDs, guest lectures and workshops as well.

– Keep your budget in mind. Taking on a new skill or hobby isn’t cheap while you’re investing in tools and materials. Some simple steps, like sharing tools and swapping unused materials, can help you save cash. (See 15 savings tips for the frugal hobbyist for more ideas.)

Turn it into a money making venture. Many hobbies can turn into side businesses, whether you sell your products or hire out your services. Online classified ads and sell-it-yourself sites like Etsy.com make it easier to reach a wide audience. (See Turn talents into cash for ideas.)

While DIY isn’t for everyone, it can be enjoyable and well worth the savings to take on new skills. Expect a little investment of time and money at the beginning, but many of these skills will turn into savings through the years.

What skills save you money? Add to this list in the comments.

Photo ©iStockphoto.com/ Phillip Spears

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