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Taking the DIY route can deliver big savings

Don't laugh, but some people aren't comfortable changing a light bulb. On the other end of the spectrum, there are people who build entire homes from scratch.

Everyone has their own line between which projects they will do themselves and which ones they're willing to pay someone else to do. I'm willing to bet many people could probably take on a few more tasks themselves. And that could translate into hundreds, or even thousands of dollars in savings.

A timeless example is changing your car's air filter. Offered as an optional service at establishments that specialize in oil changes, it generally costs around $80. But if you can pop a few clips or turn a few screws, you might find you can do it yourself and only spend $15 on the filter itself. You may have laughed at the proposition that some people couldn't change a light bulb, but the extra mechanical inclination required to change a car's air filter is minimal, yet most people wouldn't think twice about leaving that "to the professionals."

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With the explosion of information available through the Internet, it's not surprising that the do-it-yourself route is flourishing. If an item or service is common, chances are there is a DIY guide out there for it. From making your own frappuccinos for 32 cents a cup to reupholstering furniture to turning an entire wall in your home office into a giant chalkboard with paint, it's never as daunting as you might think.

Last summer, our home air-conditioning unit went on the fritz. With a little help from Google and about an hour reading online forums on air conditioner trouble-shooting, I was able to solve the problem temporarily until a professional could come for a proper fix. It saved me a few bucks and some heat-induced aggravation – of course, you only notice the air conditioning doesn't work when you need it most, and when the repairmen are most in demand.

Sometimes, all you have to do is an online search for a part or model number to get started. You'd be surprised at what results you can get. Occasionally one of the first hits will be an FAQ, how-to- or troubleshooting guide on the exact problem you're having. Not only will you find written guides, but with more and more video content on the Internet, you'll often find free videos that walk you through all the steps.

Try typing in a Google search for, "How do I change windshield-wiper blades?" If this isn't something you've done before, I can't imagine how you wouldn't do it yourself in the future after seeing how easy it is. Often you don't even need any tools.

Whether it's simple vehicle maintenance, painting a room or even cooking your own meals, everyone has things they usually outsource. Tasks that sound dangerous certainly should be left to the professionals. Welding a leaky fuel tank on your car is a no-no for a first-time DIY project, but it's worth having a go at the innocuous, small jobs. Not only can you save money, you can save the hassle of having to book an appointment at an inconvenient time to get things done.

There are some lines worth crossing.


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How much could you save?

There's lots of money to be saved if you can afford the time to do some things yourself. The quality may not be up to a professional's standards for some jobs, so consider that when deciding what you might want to try. Just a few examples of savings:

Car tune-up: Depending on the make and model of your car, a basic tune-up could be easy to perform. Changing the air filter, spark plugs and wires, and doing an oil change could save you hundreds of dollars.

Reupholstering furniture: Prices vary quite a bit depending on the fabric you choose, but you could save hundreds or even thousands if you know how to work a stapler.

Yard maintenance (varies with size and scope): $100 to $300 or more per month

Sewing: Loose buttons? Up to $10. Split seam or broken zipper? Up to and over $20.

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Preet Banerjee, B.Sc, FMA, DMS, FCSI, is a W Network Money Expert, and blogs at You can also follow him on twitter at @PreetBanerjee

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