Wise Spending on Landscaping – What to Hire, What to Do Ourselves

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Our home is on nearly 2 acres of land, so there’s a lot of grass. And a lot of hedges.  And lots of flower beds.

Grass that needs to be cut.  And hedges that need to be kept trimmed.  Flower beds and other decorative landscaping that need to be planted and maintained.  We had to decide what we were going to do ourselves, and what – if anything – we would hire someone else to take care of.

Most of the decorative landscaping was already here and just needed a little TLC.   I’ve already written about how I used what I had to reduce my costs on planting the flower beds and a bit of the other decorative stuff, so we’ve obviously decided to do that ourselves.   Hiring a landscaper to do that planting and maintenance would cost us a fortune!  Even though I’ll probably do more planting as the  seasons change, we’ll still save all of the labor costs by doing it ourselves.

It’s not always a good idea, though, to do it yourself.

My father had always paid a service $145 a month to cut the grass, no matter how many times they cut it.  Standard here is twice monthly in winter, three times per month in summer.  Whenever needed, he paid them another $200 to trim the hedges and other landscaping.

When we were talking about the possibility of moving into this house, Husband said he really wanted to cut the grass.  It was one of the the things he enjoyed about his prior home ownership, and he’d missed it since moving to the townhouse (with it’s landscaping taken care of).  He planned to buy a riding mower and an edger, thinking that within 6 months they would have paid for themselves.  Great!

But he hadn’t considered taking care of the other landscaping chores, especially trimming the hedges.  And after much thought and discussion, Husband decided he didn’t want to spend every weekend taking care of the yard.  And I really couldn’t blame him.

So, we decided to keep the landscaper, at least for the time being.  The hedges were trimmed just prior to moving in, so we wouldn’t have to worry about them for a couple of months.

After we moved in I started talking to people about how much they paid to get their grass cut.  Most of the people I spoke to paid about half of what I did – but their yards were much smaller.  Still, it couldn’t hurt to get some quotes.  The first quote I got was less than we were being charged.  A few others were in that same ballpark.  The best deal, though, was from my brother’s well-recommended landscaper, who only wanted $50 per cut.  And since he’ll only cut when we ask for it, we can sometimes wait an extra few days or a week to stretch our landscaping dollar.

So, I spoke to our landscaper about the quotes I’d gotten, and he really didn’t want to come down in price.  That was fine with me – I wasn’t too happy with him anyway.  First, he’d told me that the $145 only covered two cuts per month – NOT what he’d been telling my father (I honestly think he’d been skipping cuts since my Dad moved out, still charging him full price).  On top of a myriad of other issues with him, he’s only cut our yard 4 times since we moved in on May 23rd (and didn’t cut it  at all until I called to ask where he was – more than 3 weeks since the prior cut).   I’d decided to take it up with him when I got the bill…only I’ve never gotten one.  I finally had to call him for the bill, which will be reduced by half, since he should have cut our grass at least 8 times by now.

So, he’s history.  The new landscaper begins this week.   We are still hiring out the grass cutting, but we’re saving money by getting a better deal for the same service.  Issue settled.  We hope.

Since the hedges and other landscaping need to be trimmed every two-three months, it has now become time to make a decision about who is going to trim them.  We decided to forgo a landscaper to do the hedges and buy our own hedge trimmer.  We spent $80 for the trimmer,  which is far less than the $200 per month the old landscaper wanted to charge, and the $150 the new guy quoted.

Husband is out there now, trimming hedges, and enjoying the exercise.  And doing a heck of a job, if I do say so myself.  It’s a great win for us because we are saving a great deal of money, and he gets to do yard work he enjoys without spending every weekend doing it.

That, to me, is what frugality is all about. It’s not about NOT spending money. It’s about spending money wisely.

How to Cull – or Thin Out – Lariope

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Yesterday I posted about using what you have to stretch your landscaping dollars. This is one way I’ve done it, and it’s so easy!

There were a few areas in my yard where I thought lariope would look good, and take little maintenance.  I didn’t want to spend money on lariope plants, so I used what I have, culling the lariope from the huge swath we have in the front yard.

This wasn’t the first time I’d re-used lariope.  When Husband and I were in our “just friends” stage, a mutual friend and I decided to landscape Husband’s yard as a Christmas present.  We only had a budget of $35, so we really had to stretch things.  One of the things we wanted to do was make beds on either side of the sidewalk that led from the street to the door, and we thought lariope would be perfect for the borders.

My friend had lots of lariope in her back yard, and she showed me how to cull plants from hers.  It was quick and easy, and saved us about $150 in plant costs. I wish I had a photo of the awesome end result to show you, but since this was in the age of regular film I’d have to go through boxes of photos to find it. Sorry!

And now I’m going to show you how to cull lariope, so you can save money, too!

It’s really easy to cull, or thin out,  lariope.  Trust me when I say that no one noticed a difference.  These photos aren’t great, as I was doing this myself, at twilight…

1.  Separate out a clump.

Separate a clump

2.  Put your shovel at the edge, and push it down through the roots, and lift it up.  Lariope roots are really tough, but at least you don’t have to be gentle!

Place shovel at the base of the plant.

You’ll get a clump like this:

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Here are several I pulled:

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I kept them in a container until the next day before planting them. I didn’t wrap the roots or anything – just plopped them in for safekeeping.

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The next day I planted them here:

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And here:

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After planting give them a deep watering every day for a week, and then – depending in your climate – they should be good to go.

Let me know if you try this youself.  If you send me a photo I’ll add it to the post!

Using What You Have – Landscaping the Yard

This may or may not  become a series, so just in case we’ll call it “Using What You Have”.

As Son’s birthday pool party approached, I really wanted to do something about the landscaping of the house, particularly the back patio area.  The house had been vacant for a year, and my stepmother (queen of the garden) had died the year before, so things were dead, overgrown or in various other states besides vibrant and beautiful.

I gave myself a budget of $100 for the project (which included the front patio and entry area, too, but this article focuses on the back patio area). I knew I needed new things, but I used what I already had wherever I could.   I knew I wanted to do a lot of potted projects, mostly because there were several beautiful pots left with the house.  They would look great at intervals around both patios.  There was also a patch of garden right by the pool that needed attention, so not everything would be in pots.

Over a few days, whenever I found myself nearby,  I went to Home Depot, Lowe’s and my favorite nursery.  I looked in the past-prime section of Home Depot and Lowe’s, and was able to purchase several perennial and year-round plants for 50 – 75% off.  They just needed a little TLC.  I also purchased a few other items that were on special.  I bought potting soil and and mulch at Walmart, where they were cheaper (and again, I was going there anyway).  Remember that I live in a suburb dense with retail establishments, so none of these were more than a 5 minute trip away.  If I had to travel out of my way the additional costs for gas and my time would have made it less frugal.

My favorite deal was at the nursery, where they had beautiful flowering shrubs on sale, 3 for $10.  My thumb is closer to black than green, so I made sure that all of my selections would grow where I planned to put them.  And all three places I shopped will take back a plant that fails – a benefit I’ve had to use on occasion.

Back at the house I cleaned out the dead plants and removed about 2/3 of the soil from the pots.  I  did this because the pots are large, and though new plants deserved fresh soil full of nutrients, I used what I had and saved the bottom third of soil, which was still usable. The new plant would have fresh new soil around its roots, and with my continued care should be fine.

There were a few pots that had no usable soil, so in those cases I used what I have to lessen the amount of potting soil I’d have to use.  I’d been collecting broken pool noodles, perfect for placing at the bottom of a large pot.  They won’t rot, they hold water for a little while, and thrown haphazardly into a pot before adding soil they take up room and are terrific for drainage, too!

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I have to admit, I was pretty proud of this idea.  It’s not one I picked up on the internet, TV or from a friend.

I made sure to sprinkle some plant food (I already had it on hand)  in the planter before placing the plant.  That stuff really works!  After finishing all of the potting I placed the pots at intervals around the patio.  Here’s one looking all purty:

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Now I was ready to get to work on the garden patch.  There were a few salvageable plants already there,  and I didn’t want to move them because I’m not really a gardener at all, and was completely sure  that I’d A) kill them and/or B) make a big mess of things and have no earthly idea how to salvage it.  So I left them as is, and added some of the past-prime plants I’d picked up in my travels.  A little mulch, and it looks decent, if I do say so myself.

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There were a few areas where I thought lariope would look good, and take little maintenance.  I didn’t want to spend money on lariope plants, so I used what I have, culling the lariope from the huge swath we have in the front yard.


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Culling – or thinning lariope is really easy.  I’m going to do a how-to post tomorrow, so please check it out.

I used the pieces I pulled in two places in the back yard.  The first is in front of a fence, which had nothing but dirt.

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The second was  at the edge of the garden bed, under the butterfly bushes.  Before there was just dirt.

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The plantings are thin now, but they should grow in nicely.

Several bags of mulch later and the project is done.  And the best part is that I came in $20 under budget, and in time for Son’s birthday party.

Someday, when I’m a grown-up gardener, I’ll learn how to grow plants from cuttings.  There are many people who get free plants by sharing cuttings with one another.   There are even clubs devoted to the practice.  In the meantime, I’m pretty happy with what this closer-to-black-than-green gardener has accomplished.

AmTrust Canceling my HELOC. Goodbye, safety net!

A few months ago I wrote a post about AmTrust Bank trying to bribe me to close my Home Equity Line of  Credit (HELOC).  They only offered $50, and I passed.

But I worried that they’d cancel the HELOC anyway, and I was right to worry.

Yesterday I got a call from Mary at AmTrust, telling me that they would indeed be canceling the HELOC.  She again offered me the $50, as I “may as well take the money since you’re going to lose it anyway, ” because AmTrust is “getting out of the HELOC business.”    I was unhappy to hear this news, and told her I’d call her back.

I discussed it with Husband, and  even he really doesn’t see why I’m unhappy about losing the line of credit.  It’s not that we need the money.  My balance is zero, and has been since about 6 months after I opened it (I took it out to pay off my car loan so I could deduct the interest, then paid it off quickly anyway).

And we have a healthy savings.  Very healthy.  And a few other investments that could easily be turned back into cash with little lag time in the event of an emergency.  And we pay $25 a year for the privilege of not using it.

But I like knowing it’s there. I like it an awful lot.  It’s a $10,000 safety net.  Just in case.

So, instead of just being a proverbial  sheep, I  called Mary back today and asked for documentation that they had a right to do this.  After all, it was my understanding that this was a 15 year mortgage, which would give me 7 more years.  I want to see, in writing, the situations in which they are able to pull the plug.

I also want to know what happens if I take the money, and perhaps put it into another investment which would give greater returns than the interest I pay.  Would they call the loan?  Would they let me keep it until it’s paid off?

I must be the only person who has balked at all, because Mary was surprised by my request.  She then told me that if I’d like,  the bank next store would be happy to take my application for a new HELOC.

Not the  point, Mary.  I already have a HELOC.  And I’d like to keep it, thankyouverymuch.  I certainly don’t want to apply for any new credit, and I don’t want to pay any additional fees.

Mary didn’t know the answers, but promised to get them for me.

But, honestly, chances are slim to none that I’ll get to keep it.  So I’ll likely take the $50 buyoff.

And I’ll try to look on the bright side.

I’ll be saving $175 in yearly fees.  Add that to the $5o buyoff  and that’s a very real $225 more in my pocket.  So, if I do have an emergency, lets pray it’s an easily doable $225 hummingbird variety and not a $10,000 poop-my-pants Bigfoot.

Sometimes Buying What You Don’t Want or Need is a Frugal Choice

I know, that’s a ridiculous statement to anyone who has an iota of frugality in their body. And in most cases it is ridiculous.

But sometimes we need to think outside the box to get what we really want, and save money in the bargain.

Prime example: I needed a table and chairs for the kitchen in our new home. I considered the size of the kitchen (quite large) and the color of the floors (brown ceramic tile – ugh!), and spent some time looking in stores, catalogs and online before I decided I wanted a farmhouse-style table with off white legs and a wood top, plus six chairs. I found one I liked at a local furniture store, and it would have cost $1000. I just didn’t want to spend the money…

So, off to Craigslist I went, and spent a few weeks checking the listings every day. I found a few that I liked, but they were either too small or too expensive. The ones I liked were listed in the $500 – $600 range – too much.

And then I saw a listing with a table and chairs that looked darn near perfect. The catch? They were selling a china hutch with it. I don’t want or need one, and I wasn’t particularly fond of the one being offered. They hadn’t purchased it as a set, and it was a cheap fiberboard piece, likely purchased at K-Mart or Walmart. Just not my cuppa tea. Besides, the only appropriate place for the hutch in the kitchen was already appropriated in my plans to house the pasta table (a lovely butcher block table on wheels that my mother had handed down to me, and that many friends have tried unsuccessfully to buy from me over the years).

So, ick on the hutch.

But.

All of the pieces – the table, leaf, six chairs and the dadgum hutch -were priced at $200. Two hundred dollars!!!!

So, I made an appointment to see it. Naturally.

I knew I wanted the set the moment I walked in. First, the house was immaculate. That tells me that the owners are clean, and took care of the pieces. BIG bonus points. If the house was a pigsty it would be really difficult for me to buy a button, let alone furniture.

Second, the table and chairs were almost exactly what I wanted. Wood top with a leaf (so it could sit 4 or 6), white legs, and six chairs that are sturdy as heck. There were a few things I wasn’t entirely crazy about – the scale of the legs was large compared to the table – not my preference. And the wood top was basically rectangular, but was beveled and curvy. My clean-lines loving self would have preferred a regular old rectangle.

And then there was that hutch. That I didn’t want or need. Or like.

What did I do? I gave her a deposit right there, of course. Then I corralled my best friend (the one silly enough to purchase a pickup truck) to help us pick everything up and drop it off at the new house – and this was before we moved in.

And that night I listed the hutch on Craigslist, and sold it the next day for $75. In retrospect I should have asked for more, based on the number of inquiries I received. Live and learn…

So, I bought something I didn’t need to get something I did, and wound up paying only a net $125 for a wood table, leaf and six chairs.

And doesn’t it look nice?

6.14.09 Move and After 149

In the Kitchen

Kate at One More Thing is doing a weekly carnival of sorts, choosing a topic for other bloggers to write about.  This week’s topic is “In the Kitchen”.

Being a lifelong picky eater,  and having been single until age 37, I’m not known for my culinary skills.  I can follow a recipe, but spent most of my life thinking, “Why bother?”  It’s much easier to go through a fast food drive-thru than to take the time and energy to cook a healthy meal.

Hmmm.  Could that be part of the reason for my life-long weight struggle?  Ya think?

Because I cooked so little I would get completely stressed out when we would – very occasionally – invite company to share a meal.  Since marrying and having a son I’d definitely expanded my culinary horizons, but had never really entertained at home before.  Our last home was small enough that these visits were few and far between, thank goodness.  I would stress about every aspect of the visit – from the cleanliness of the house to the menu to cooking each item.  Trying to coordinate the meal so that everything was hot and ready at the same time caused me enough stress to send Husband to the garage to look for the wing nut from his 1977 Schwinn, which suddenly became of the utmost importance.

Since we moved into the new house I have room to spare.  We’ve had company every weekend, and sometimes during the week.  This past weekend I’d planned a Father’s Day Brunch, and even though I was sick we went ahead with our plans.

As I was cleaning up I noticed that I hadn’t gotten nervous or stressed this t ime.  In fact, I don’t think I’d gotten nervous or stressed about entertaining since we’d moved to the new house.

Could be maturity, could be that I’ve gotten enough of these visits under my belt to make it that much less a foreign enterprise.

Could be that I love my new kitchen.  Then again, who wouldn’t? At this point I could just link to the post about my kitchen, but I think I’ll just repeat it here:


I posted about the bold paint choices we made for our kitchen, and I finally have some photos to show…

Here’s what the kitchen looked like before we began:
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3.10.09 Dad's house 007

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That’s Son in the last shot.  Always happy!

I already had this print hanging in the kitchen in my old house.  That kitchen was painted the same yellow that most of the rest of that house, which is the same color we used to paint over the paneling in Son’s playroom.  It is one of my inspirations for the new kitchen, and this time I wanted to go bolder/  This print isn’t short on bold colors!

6.14.09 Move and After 156

Then I found some inexpensive wood bowls (vases?) in Homegoods, and I knew I had my kitchen color – Volcanic Blast by Behr.  Well, at least one of them…

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Too bright for the entire kitchen, I decided on green to ground the orange.  I picked the green in 5 seconds on the first green color page on Behr’s color wheel.  It’s Herbal Garden…

Here is the kitchen today…

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See the table and chairs I got for a net $125 on Craigslist?  I’ll post about that coup and why it’s a “net $125” later this week…  And after seeing this photo that red bag is no longer hanging from that drawer pull.  🙂

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Those plants were free, and the pots were 99 cents at Ikea.  I was going to paint some regular clay pots using the paint from the walls, but I like the white – and they have cool textures you can’t see in the photo.  And that’s an apple I was cutting up for Son.  Whoops…

6.14.09 Playing 037

The original plan was to paint the inside of the bar area the orange-red, but I changed my mind.  I’m so glad – I just love the way the green looks with the off-white cabinets and the black granite!

This entire room makeover cost under $200, and that includes the table and 6 chairs, the paint and a few accessories.  That’s bang for my buck!

So, yeah, I have a great kitchen.  And I love entertaining in it and from it and around it.

After all, it’s where I now spend most of my waking hours.

Who wouldn’t?

Bold Color Transforms Kitchen into Bright, Warm Space

I posted about the bold paint choices we made for our kitchen, and I finally have some photos to show…

Here’s what the kitchen looked like before we began:
3.10.09 Dad's house 005

3.10.09 Dad's house 007

3.10.09 Dad's house 039

That’s Son in the last shot.  Always happy!

I already had this print hanging in the kitchen in my old house.  That kitchen was painted the same yellow that most of the rest of that house, which is the same color we used to paint over the paneling in Son’s playroom.  It is one of my inspirations for the new kitchen, and this time I wanted to go bolder/  This print isn’t short on bold colors!

6.14.09 Move and After 156

Then I found some inexpensive wood bowls (vases?) in Homegoods, and I knew I had my kitchen color – Volcanic Blast by Behr.  Well, at least one of them…

6.14.09 Move and After 157

Too bright for the entire kitchen, I decided on green to ground the orange.  I picked the green in 5 seconds on the first green color page on Behr’s color wheel.  It’s Herbal Garden…

Here is the kitchen today…

6.14.09 Move and After 150

See the table and chairs I got for a net $125 on Craigslist?  I’ll post about that coup and why it’s a “net $125” later this week…  And after seeing this photo that red bag is no longer hanging from that drawer pull.  🙂

6.14.09 Move and After 151

6.14.09 Playing 024

Those plants were free, and the pots were 99 cents at Ikea.  I was going to paint some regular clay pots using the paint from the walls, but I like the white – and they have cool textures you can’t see in the photo.  And that’s an apple I was cutting up for Son.  Whoops…

6.14.09 Playing 037

The original plan was to paint the inside of the bar area the orange-red, but I changed my mind.  I’m so glad – I just love the way the green looks with the off-white cabinets and the black granite!

This entire room makeover cost under $200, and that includes the table and 6 chairs, the paint and a few accessories.  That’s bang for my buck!

Now I have to decide what color to paint the family room – which you can see through the bar in the above photo.  A few people have suggested leaving it white, but I’m not sure.  I was thinking of also doing that room a lighter green, or perhaps the dreaded taupe.

What do you think?

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