Monday, December 20, 2010

Home Improvements? I don't think so..

Big Box Lumberterias did not exist 20 years ago.  How did we get along without them?  Just fine, it turns out.

One sure way to rack up a mountain of credit card debt is to go to Lowes or Home Depot to "improve" your home.  It is possible to buy hundreds, if not thousands of dollars of junk as such places, without adding any value to your home whatsoever, while at the same time, racking up credit card debt into the five figures.

Don't get me wrong, Lowes and Home Depot have good prices on some things.  If you need a outlet or a new faucet or to repair your toilet, they have all that stuff at good prices.

But they also tend to cater to impulse purchases by putting up displays of stuff that you had no intention of buying when you came in.  Before you know it, you are loading boxes of tchotchke junk into your car and making your house gaudy.

In the olden days, we didn't have such stores.  Lumber yards were just that - places by the old railroad siding where lumber was unloaded and sold.  There was not a lot of glitz and glamor in such places and you couldn't spend money there if you wanted to.  A pound of nails and a two-by-four was about all they had.

Today, you can load up on solar lawn lights and plastic flamingos to your heart's content, or buy a closet organizer or some other piece of Chinese-made plastic that promises to make your life easier and to "improve" your home.

But in most cases, the stuff just clutters your home and drains your pocketbook.  And outdoor fireplace may sound romantic and fun, but the reality is, you use it a few times and then forget about it, and it rusts to rubble in a year or two.

Controlling your big-box store spending is essential if you want to get ahead in life.  Here are some tips:

NEVER "shop" at such stores, and by that I mean don't go there to wander the aisles and see what you want to buy.  And yes, people do this.

ALWAYS have a shopping list for things you NEED as opposed to WANT.  If you need a new toilet flapper valve, then write that down and buy one.  Don't be distracted by some end-cap display of a project that, while looking neat and cool, might take days of work and thousands of dollars to complete.

NEVER buy more stuff than you can do in a weekend, or preferably a day.  It is temping to buy a lot of stuff all at once for a project, and then load it all into your car or truck (the Internet is replete with "overloaded Home Depot" pictures).  If you buy a lot of stuff, then never get around to doing the project, eventually the stuff goes to waste, the receipts are lost, boxes torn open, and money squandered.

ALWAYS "take back" items that you did not use, or if you bought by mistake (eyes bigger than your head!) and get a refund.  Save receipts and don't open boxes (or open them carefully) in case what you bought doesn't fit or the project seems overwhelming.  It is a mistake to take on a project based on an attractive end-cap display.  It is a double-mistake not to realize your error and take the stuff back.

It is interesting, but the more I think about my childhood, I realize that a lot of the crap we citizens buy today at "big box" stores simply didn't exist 20-30 years ago.  When my Dad wanted to hang a snow shovel in the garage, he drove a nail into a 2x4 stud.  Today, you buy a plastic snow-shovel organizer or some sort of diamond-tread cabinet.  And of course your garage is sheetrocked and the floor painted with speckle epoxy paint, right?

We seemed to live just fine back then, without closet organizers or little organizer doohickeys in all our kitchen cabinets.  Today, we seem to have a need for all this stuff, mostly because it is so readily available and appears to be so cheap.

But over time, you can bankrupt yourself buying such junk, a little bit at a time.  Pull back and think carefully before spending money "improving" your home.  The best house on the block and the worst are only a few percentage points apart in price.  And little junky "improvements" don't add much value to your home.  But they do rack up a lot of credit card debt and squander a lot of hard-earned cash.