Frugal Landscaping:Don’t Waste Money Trying to Save Money

Although I am all in favor of thrift, there are places where being frugal can waste time and money instead of saving it. Don’t let your zeal to save money overpower your common sense.

Hiring Professionals versus Doing it Yourself
The best DIY landscape projects are those that require minimal skill, use easy-to-find materials, and require mostly patience and labor. Here are some questions to ask yourself, after a trip to the library for some books on how to do whatever it is you want to do:

  • Does it require special equipment? Is the equipment expensive? How hard is the equipment to use? Can you rent it? Do you need a special license to drive it?
  • Do you have the strength to do it? Spreading gravel or topsoil is not difficult, but it’s very physical. Can you afford the chiropractor’s bill? Or would you rather watch muscular young men spreading it?
  • Does it require skill? If so, how fast can you become skilled? Can you get good directions and just follow them, or is this one of things that you can only learn by doing it for a while?

The most important questions of all:

  • If you totally botch the project, can you afford to do it over or hire a professional to fix it? Remember that redoing a project means you will have to remove what you did, buy new materials, then do it all over again, which makes fixing a botched project more than twice as expensive as doing it right the first time. If the answer is “no, I can’t afford to redo the project”, hire an experienced contractor.
  • If you totally botch the project, how dangerous is it to you and your property? An ugly flower bed is minor. A badly built retaining wall can send a mudslide through your living room or your neighbor’s living room. A runaway bulldozer can ruin the whole neighborhood. A mistake with electricity or a chain saw can ruin your life.
  • Is the contractor you hired experienced, licensed, bonded, and above all, insured? If he drops the palm tree on your house, will his insurance pay for the repairs?

Cheap Junk Is Expensive.
Skimping on some things will only cost you money and effort later when they break. As my grandpa used to say “It’s just as much work to install junk”. Plumbing, wiring, and hardware (locks, hinges, etc.) are items where you can’t afford to be stingy.

Saving $10.73 by buying a cheap faucet will cost you several hours of work replacing it within a couple of years, plus the cost of the faucet you should have bought the first time. Gold-plated faucets are overkill, but at the very least get solid cast brass from a reputable manufacturer and a real hardware store, not a no-name import brand or the house brand from a discount store. Not only do the name brands last longer, but you can get replacement washers more easily.

Permanent construction features, known as “hardscape” in the landscaping world, are another place where skimping can be expensive. For example, if you are in an area where the ground freezes, don’t skimp on the materials that go under walkways and terraces. If local building codes say 12 inches of gravel must be placed under a driveway, use 12 inches of gravel … or plan on replacing a cracked and heaving driveway in a few years.

Anything that is buried, such as piping for a sprinkler system, has to be good quality. Saving a few dollars on the cost of the pipe will cost you hours of digging and patching later.

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