Should she hire someone? Or practice self-sufficiency and try to fix it herself?

A Crash Course in Self-Sufficiency

by Shaunna Privratsky


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The other day my daughter complained the water was cold when she took a shower. Later, I checked the water and it was still cold. In the eight months we have lived in our 1959 home, we had never run completely out of hot water, so I headed to the basement.

The gas hot water heater is fairly new. It was purchased in 2004. Before we bought our house, the home inspector that I hired said that I shouldn't have to worry about it. I felt the sides. It was ice cold. Then I sat down to read the instruction manual, kept in a stick-on pouch on the side of the water heater.

Under trouble-shooting, I learned the pilot had probably gone out. After perusing the diagram and figuring out exactly where the pilot is located, I crawled back behind the heater, took off the heavy metal safety cover and peered into the tiny window, about the size of a large postage stamp. No blue flame appeared.

Next, I read and re-read the instructions on how to re-light the pilot. Every other sentence cautioned that one wrong move would blow the unit up. Few things worry me; however, being killed, severely burned or blowing up the house are all near the top of the list.

I wondered if I should hire someone, or at least ask a helpful neighbor to assist me. Then I thought of everything I've had to learn to do myself since my husband suffered permanent brain damage due to medical mistakes that occurred six years ago.

I've had to take over our family's finances and even improved them. After I paid off $4,000 in credit card debt in 18 months, our credit score soared. When my husband had trouble getting in and out of our small car, I bought a new van and paid off the loan two years early.

Our old home had four levels and twenty-six steps. When it became more and more difficult for Wade to navigate the stairs, I sold our home despite the rough market, and bought a wonderful, one level home that meets all of our needs. I plan on paying off the forty-year mortgage in twenty years or less, by 2029.

I've managed to keep our family together, despite the doctors advising me to put Wade in a nursing home. They told me it would be too difficult to care for him. It has been hard at times; watching him go from a vibrant, healthy, strong man to a reliant, needy person.

Our two teens are adjusting to the move and are coping with Wade's disabilities as well as they can. Working within our limited budget, I've been able to give them what they need, and most of what they want. They are becoming responsible young adults with the firsthand knowledge that life can change in an instant.

Since my husband's brain injury, I've changed three faucets, unclogged the sink, changed several light fixtures (praying the whole time), checked the tire pressure, changed the oil, changed a tire, done all the outside and inside chores, chain-sawed 21 dead trees and sold the firewood in six days, and replaced the tiles on our kitchen floor. The best thing I have learned is to stop saying "I can't" and start practicing self-sufficiency.

Now I am more likely to practice self-sufficiency and figure out how to do something rather than asking for help or hiring someone, mostly to save money but also because I know that I can do whatever I put my mind to.

When the sewer backed up twice in two weeks, I bailed water outside until the plumber showed up. He used a small pump to pump the excess water into the sump pump hole, and the water disappeared in less than five minutes. The service charge for one visit, let alone two, is over $100.

I bought a small pump and hoses for $56. Now, if the water backs up again, I will at least be able to pump it out myself, without calling for help. Another point scored for self-sufficiency.

I planted a small garden for the first time this summer, and learned how to can vegetables. I made salsa, pasta sauce, chili sauce, pickles, relish and jelly. I enjoyed putting up food our family can eat throughout the winter, and gave gift baskets to everyone on our Christmas list. I've already had calls for seconds.

Back to the water heater. Yes, I did manage to light the pilot on the first try, and I did not blow up the house. The water soon heated up and we've enjoyed warm baths and showers ever since. The best thing of all; I conquered my fear and learned to do one more task myself.

You don't have to endure a life-changing incident to desire self-sufficiency. Learning a new task and doing it yourself can save money and improve your self-image. Imagine the pride in telling your friends about your latest remodeling project or fixing the broken pipe yourself.

The next time life throws you a curveball, hit it out of the park by learning how to handle the problem yourself. Read an instruction manual, get help online, or ask a clerk at the home improvement store or your neighborhood handyman. It's like the advice we get when flying; take care of yourself first, so you can better help others and become the self-sufficient person you know you are.


Shaunna Privratsky is an expert in personal finance. Between writing, reading and gardening, she is always on the lookout for bargains. Please sign up for the free newsletters at The Discount Diva. You can also visit Shaunna on Google+.

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