The One Skill You Can Teach Your Children to Potentially Save Them Tens of Thousands of Dollars

Stop! Wrong Hammer!

“Man is a tool-using animal. Without tools he is nothing, with tools he is all.”
–Thomas Carlyle

I love my parents. I happen to be biased, but I think they did a pretty darn good job in raising me. Any good character traits I have are a result of their tutelage. Any bad character traits are a result of ruination that may have occurred after the age of 18, when I left the nest.

There is one skill, though, that I wish my father would have taught me while he still had the ability to make me do his bidding, as, proficiency with that skill would have saved me tens of thousands of dollars so far in my life.

What was that?

Read on.

“I want to help!”

That phrase came out of my mouth quite a bit as a child. I’m sure those of you who are parents are smiling a wry grin of knowing, recollecting your own children making that same offer. For those of you whose kids aren’t yet old enough to utter that phrase, don’t worry; it’s coming.

Usually, it was when my mom was doing work around the house that I’d make this offer. I loved vacuuming for some reason, so that was the chore that I first received. I wasn’t as good at the “clean and straighten out your room” or “scrub the bathtub” chores (much to the chagrin of my roommates at West Point who would sweat out our Saturday morning inspections). We lived in a couple of small houses and then a condo, and it wasn’t until I was in 4th grade that we moved to a house that had a basement and a garage.

The garage and about a third of the basement immediately became Dad’s workshop. Dad worked on his car and on house projects all of the time. It was probably a great outlet for stress, as he was a state trooper, so dealing with the people who were on the wrong side of the law likely wound him up, and working with his hands was a way to unwind. I wanted to learn about what he was doing, but whether it was a function of him not having the patience to teach me – a slow learner when it came to anything mechanical – or something else, even though I asked, the teaching never happened.

“You could break an anvil.”

He used to tell me that, and that stuck with me. Given that little nudge, I soon convinced myself that I had no mechanical aptitude whatsoever, ironic given that I was responsible for the maintenance and upkeep of my tank and my unit’s tanks when I was in the Army.

Even now, home maintenance projects that involve more than the unscrewing of a light bulb sort of intimidate me. As a guy, I also have this mental stereotype that I’m supposed to know what I’m doing around the house, even though every time I think of home projects, my Monkey Brain pulls out the mental movie gallery and plays back the lesson I learned as a kid.

“You could break an anvil.”

So, rather than try things, I come up with excuses, like “I’ll probably burn the house down” and “that’s why we work; so we can pay others to do that.”

The truth is that I have a big fat mental hurdle in my brain about home repair projects. I don’t usually let Monkey Brain win our little battles, but the running scorecard in this particular aspect of my life is Monkey Brain 636 (give or take a hundred) – Me 0.

How much has this hole in my knowledge cost me?

We’ve owned three residences that we’ve lived in since we were married. The first one was a fire sale deal from a builder that was facing bankruptcy, so we got a brand new house that had a one year builder’s warranty (#aff) for quite a steal. It had very little wrong with it that needed to be repaired after the warranty expired, so we probably spent about $1,000 for a handyman to make a couple of minor modifications. My guess was that it was $100 for materials and $900 for the actual work.

The second place was a condo. While the condo complex is nice, it had builder’s grade materials everywhere. So, we did a major upfit, upgrading the kitchen, knocking out a wall, installing hardwood floors, as “whole nine yards” as you can get in an 1,100 square foot condo. When the dust settled – and there was a lot of dust because of all of the tile cutting and floor ripping and installation – we spent about $25,000 on upgrading the condo. My guess is that we spent about $5,000, mostly on the wood for the floors and for the cabinets for the kitchen, on materials and $20,000 on labor. The work lasted about 3 weeks.

The third place is where we currently live. We’d purchased the house a few years prior and had rented it out, so by the time we were ready to move to Texas, it needed a moderate amount of repair as the renters had, over time, put some wear and tear on the interior. When all was said and done, we put in about $7,000 of repairs, and I’d estimate $2,500 of that was materials (again, mostly flooring) and $4,500 was labor.

So, just for the labor on the houses that we’ve lived in, we’ve spent around $25,400.

If I had the skills, willingness, and bravery to attempt that on my own, I could have traded weekend sweat equity for that cash.

Sure, we tell everyone that they should know how to change the oil in their cars and do basic maintenance on the cars. But, just like when we shop for cars for weeks but won’t shop for mortgages, we’re focusing on the wrong skills. I know how to change the oil in my car. If I wanted to, I could save $30 bucks a pop and do it myself. Over time, I might save a few thousand doing basic car maintenance myself. I won’t have the tools or the willingness to do an engine overhaul, though, so how much I can save is limited.

But, in the long run, the hole in my skills regarding home maintenance has cost me much more than a lack of skills in auto maintenance has cost me.

So, parents, do your kids a favor. Make sure that you teach them how to be handy around the house. If they wind up becoming homeowners, having those skills will not only save them money, but it will also give them pride in ownership for the work that they’ve done.

If you’re like me and not handy, then when you bring in a handyman to do maintenance, make the payment contingent upon the handyman teaching both you and the kid(s) what he’s doing and how he’s doing it.

Your kids’ wallet will thank you, and that will increase the chances that you won’t have boomerang kids!

Are you handy? How much do you think that skill has saved you over time? Wish you were handy? Let’s talk about it in the comments below!

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Jason Hull was the co-founder of Broadtree Partners, a firm that acquires $1-5MM EBITDA companies. He also was the co-founder of open source search consultancy OpenSource Connections, a premier Solr and ElasticSearch firm. He and his wife FIREd (financial independence retire early) at 46 and 45, respectively. He has a BS from the United States Military Academy at West Point and a MBA from the University of Virginia Darden Graduate School of Business. He held a CFP certification from 2015 - 2021. You can read more about him in the About Page. If you live in Johnson County, Texas or the surrounding areas, he and his wife are cash buyers of Johnson County, Texas houses.

8 thoughts on “The One Skill You Can Teach Your Children to Potentially Save Them Tens of Thousands of Dollars

  1. Thanks for the shout out Jason. The feeling you describe about being mechanically stupid is exactly why I set out to learn some basic car maintenance. It’s not really for the short-term savings, it’s more for the confidence in being able to do it and for the skills I can build that will transfer to other areas as well. I never learned these things growing up either, so I’ll have to teach myself.

    1. Yeah, I can certainly imagine that the progression in your series will really help build the foundation and confidence that you can tackle increasingly complex tasks. I also really like that you’re showing others (like me) that it can be done even by those who self-anoint as not handy.

  2. While I didn’t have the most “handyman” experience when I started out, my dad taught me that most tasks are pretty basic once you’ve done them once or twice. I took that lesson and, together with YouTube, have renovated 4 houses in the last 9 years while living in them. It’s really amazing what you can accomplish for cheap if you have a “can-do” attitude about home repair and renovation!

    1. Rationally, I know this! My wife is a master of YouTube videos + tools = something is fixed. My Monkey Brain is strong… I need to spend a week in a sweat lodge with the guy who was the host of Monster House.

  3. Great post, Jason! This is exactly the upbringing that caused our daughter to decide to study civil engineering.

    I spent my childhood at indentured servitude in my father’s workshop, and I would’ve surrendered body parts to get outta there. Of course now as an adult I’d give anything to recover that time.

    I learned some skills in the military– when my troops foolishly trusted me to touch the gear– but today my best DIY resource is the Family Handyman website. At the very least, their articles & videos help us decide when to seek professional help…

    1. Bartering is definitely an unappreciated skill. I think if we’d expand our definition of bartering beyond the “help me move, and I’ll buy you a six pack and pizza,” we’d find opportunities to put our skills to good use and save money. It’s an essential skill for entrepreneurs. We got a lot of services provided in exchange for the services we could provide when we were just starting out in my last company.

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