Earlier this year, my wife and I sat on our sofa looking at some cracks in the plaster and realised it was about time we got some renovations done. Being a well-ordered person, I suggested that we took a look around the house to see what tasks may need doing, so that we could then prioritise them. The list was huge. Once we started looking, we were finding little jobs all over, and some quite large work that we were surprised we had not noticed before. There were also a few jobs that were so big, we had previously just pretended they did not exist. In the case of the downstairs toilet, we literately closed the door on this room years ago and had hoped it would go away.

It became clear that the renovations were going to cost a lot of money. The quote for ripping out the downstairs toilet, sink, woodwork, and tiles, and replacing it with something modern was over £7,000 on its own. Gone was any chance of a holiday, and we would be dipping into long term savings. This was not a happy day.

We desperately needed a holiday. 2020, the year of the lockdown had seen us, as with many others, stuck at home or in our local community. I was longing to spread my wings after months of seeing the same built-up cityscape. Then it dawned on me. With most of the tasks around the house, the majority of the quotes were showing “manpower” as the highest expenditure. If we could do some of the work ourselves then we would save money and hopefully have enough for a holiday at the end of the year. Surely I can do some DIY (Do It Yourself) building work?

We Had a Plan

A plan was hatched. Each month we would look at the outstanding tasks on our list, and then choose an achievable goal for a DIY project. My wife was very keen on a task being fully finished before the next task being started. We still had to enjoy living in the house after all, and did not want to feel that we were living in a building site. So we agreed that we would be SMART, ensuring that each task was Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound.

Keeping a task Specific was key to avoiding mission creep and getting lost down a rabbit hole of continuous renovation. As we started a task in one room it was easy to see other tasks that also needed to be done. However, allowing ourselves to move on to these tasks without finishing the main task at hand would have been disastrous to keeping the home a nice environment to live in. We therefore were unwavering in keeping to the task at hand, only deviating when it was essential to the completion of the primarily assigned task.

As part of ensuing the task was Measurable, we would look into the cost of getting a builder in to do the work, calculate the cost of equipment and supplies, and then estimate how much it would cost us to to it ourselves. As we progressed through the task we could keep an eye on these costs and ensure we remained cheaper.

Only performing Achievable tasks was the biggest concern of my wife. She was concerned that I would start chipping away at some mortar and the whole wall would fall down. I secretly also shared these concerns, but decided it was better to present an air of confidence, otherwise I wouldn’t be allowed to continue. YouTube was certainly my friend here. Watching videos from other DIYers, professional builders, plumbers, and electricians enabled me to determine if I too could do the work needed. Sometimes I would watch the same section of a YouTube video 10 or 15 times, until I felt I really understood what they were doing and what could potentially go wrong.

When we reviewed our list, we checked to make sure each item was still a Relevant task. Some tasks were no longer relevant because other work we had already performed had removed the need to also do this one. Other tasks were “nice-to-haves” that were not really renovation, so we would remove or reduce the priorities on these tasks.

Lastly, but equally importantly, we made sure that each task was Time-bound, ideally within less than a week or two. Here I also borrowed from the concept of Sprints that we use in Agile software development. Rather than looking at one large job and thinking it would only be achievable over months of work, we looked at creating smaller tasks, or “user stories”, that were self contained and that could be achieved in a short time frame. At the end of the Sprint the house would have to be usable again, even to the extent of having guests over to stay. So, water must be turned back on, hallway cleared, kitchen and at least one toilet and bathroom must be fully available. Kind of like how software should always be releasable at the end of a Sprint if necessary.

Our Holiday Fund

By keeping a careful eye on the costs, we not only saved money, but decided that we should pay ourselves for the work. We were working really hard on each task, so surely it would be good to reward ourselves. This was a big mind-shift and has really helped motivate us to do some of the tasks that we were less keen on. In order to pay ourselves for the work, we opened a new savings account. Each time we completed a task we would transfer the amount of money that we would have paid in external labour. Another benefit is that as we are paying ourselves from money that has already been taxed, we are not having to pay the VAT tax of someone else. We named this savings account our Holiday Fund.

Why Don’t You Try This?

Would I recommend this to anyone else? Yes, certainly. My recommendation would be to start off small. Look at tasks that you may already pay someone else to do, and ask yourself, “should I pay myself to do that”?

This idea doesn’t have to be limited to building DIY. My wife has already started making her own greetings cards, rather than buying them in the shops.

Maybe you will have your own ideas. Let me know, as I am always keen to learn more.


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