Building on a Budget

Since the last post was on tightening up my finances, let’s continue down that path and explore how to keep that wallet fat with a building hobby.

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Spoiler alert: it might be physically intensive. Photo by Kaboompics .com on Pexels.com

It should be noted that “building hobby” refers to personal projects – cabinets, potting benches, weird little tables, etc. Do not skimp on materials for projects where doing so would risk safety or where the materials need to withstand significant weight or weather conditions. You don’t want to use old, termite-chewed posts for the new pergola beside your house because when that thing falls, it’ll take out your gutters and a chunk of roof.

Projects begin with a plan.

The plan is the step where you have the most control over your project’s expenses. Say you want to make a basic storage bench to keep by your front door for shoes. You have some scrap wood, but some of the lengths are a bit short. Also, some of the pieces are stained or blemished.

Rather than set your heart on a polished wood throne of a bench, maybe your storage bench will be low to the ground with small cubbies. Cover it with some old paint and add height on top of the bench with some cushions from a thrift store.

I look for inspiration on pinterest, as well as higher end stores like Crate and Barrel and Pottery Barn. Once I have some ideas in mind, I’ll search for build plans that others have made, such as those over at Ana White. While I’ll ultimately draw my own plans, it’s good to check over the plans of others to make sure I’m not forgetting a step.

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One of the first things I built when I moved into my house was a storage unit for my entryway. Six years later, it’s still as solid as the day I built it.

Get your supplies second-hand.

Like the cushions in the bench example above, second-hand supplies are a great way to drastically cut down on expenses for the stuff you do actually have to buy. This isn’t exactly a new concept, and most frugalistas will tell you to a) determine whether or not you really need the thing, and b) if you do need the thing, buy it used. Getting supplies second-hand, whether you find stuff on the curb (make sure it’s marked for take-away!) or buy from a re-store, also saves the environment some grief.

Check around for stores that sell reclaimed building supplies. One of my favorite places in New Orleans is The Green Project. I build this entry table with a cabinet door and wood I found there:

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The other materials were paint (of course), modeling clay for the fish, clear floral gems for the “bubbles,” and resin to seal everything in.

While The Green Project is a place local to my area, there are several options where you might find free or cheap building supplies:

In terms of paint, you can usually find discounted buckets by the paint desk at Lowes or Home Depot. That probably won’t be the cheapest option; however, it might be better quality than something that’s been sitting in someone’s garage for who knows how long. If your project involves wood that needs to stand up to prolonged exposure, old or poor quality paint might lead to cracking and rot.

Or recycle an old project.

This option is more feasible if you’re years into building stuff and don’t have anyone around to complain when you start tearing apart bookcases.

My master bedroom has an old little alcove. One year, I decided to turn it into a reading nook, complete with a padded storage bench and bookcase. However, it was dark and tight. I ended up just reading on my bed most of the time.

Eventually, I needed to build a hide-away cabinet for a massive new litter box that now resides in the living room. Out comes the reading nook. Supports for a bench became supports for what my friend called “The Shit Shack.” Plywood and fiber board transferred over too, and the only thing I had to buy for the project was a bit of contact paper that looked like marble to class up the inside (oh – and to make cleaning easier). A new kitty W.C. for less than the cost of a bag of litter!

A note on tools —

Many of the places where you can find reclaimed building supplies also have secondhand power tools. Be careful, though, as these are often sold “as-is” and might not be returnable if they don’t work. I got lucky and inherited my first tools from my granny. Over the years, my parents have also gifted me with more tools for Christmas and my birthday.

If you have time to wait, try to purchase your tools around Father’s Day, when home improvement stores have sales.

If buying isn’t option, your area might have a tool “lending library.” These are community, co-op-type spaces where you can find low- or no-cost tools to borrow. Many also hold free or inexpensive workshops or offer volunteer opportunities where you can learn or hone your skills.

An even cheaper option? Make friends with your neighbors and borrow their tools. Return them cleaned and in excellent condition, ideally accompanied by a six-pack or a tray of cookies.

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