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Handyman Tips

There're always lots of odd jobs to do around the home but even odd jobs can add up to thousands of dollars in costs. Fortunately, many of those costs can be avoided.

 Read more Oily Rag articles by Frank and Muriel Newman 

There’re always lots of odd jobs to do around the home but even odd jobs can add up to thousands of dollars in costs. Fortunately, many of those costs can be avoided. It is amazing how much money do-it-yourselfers can waste by not knowing how to do some of the basic stuff.

The first DIY rule is, “If in doubt, read the manual!” Renee from Brooklyn says, “YouTube has literally thousands of ‘DIY’ uploaded videos on how to fix any house/car problem-plumbing, electrical, mechanical, etc. The great thing about this is you get to watch someone show you step by step. Just use the search term & you're bound to find what you want! I used it to show me how to change a washing machine hose. Before YouTube I would have had to ring the plumber!”

If you still find you are just not up to the task, scout about for a friend or relative competent enough do have a quick look at the problem for you.

Another reader writes, “I need to share with your readers my experience with a tradesman (plumber). I had some work done on remodelling a bathroom. The cost included 5.5 hours of labour at $39.50 an hour (which was fair enough I thought), but what I had not expected was the $653.06 charged for materials. When I queried the account they advised I was charged for material at the retail price. Problem was, I personally could go down to a plumbing supplies company and buy the goods at substantially less than retail by simply asking for a discount. For example, I could buy one of the items for $176.89 but was charged $277.13 for the very same item by the plumber!  Don’t be fooled into thinking that all a tradesman is making on your job is their hourly rate. In my case, I estimate the plumber made a profit of $236 on the materials (or another $42.90 per hour charged). In other words, they made as much on the materials as they did on their labour. The REAL hourly cost of my plumber was therefore $82.40!”

Another reader has a similar experience. “It can’t be, it must be a mistake, they must have overcharged me – I thought as I raced out the door of my local hardware store. The stuff I just bought was on special – they’ve charged me the full quid! ‘No, it’s not a mistake’ the store attendant said. ‘We always show the retail price on the packaging slip. The invoice you get in the mail will show how much you actually pay’. A bloke in the trade explained it to me like this: sometimes tradesmen charge stuff for jobs to their account, and then claim the ‘cost’ shown on the packaging slip from their clients (showing labour and materials separately).”

There are a couple of lessons to take from these examples. Firstly, ask the tradesman whether they will be charging full retail price for materials. If they are, you may save money if you buy the materials yourself. Cash buyers can usually negotiate their own discount from the merchant (10% for payment on the spot is usually no problem) and there may be specials that you could take advantage of. And secondly, if a tradesman is using packing slips as "evidence" of their "cost”, ask to see the invoice. Consumers need to be aware that the packing slip price may exclude tradesman discounts.

If you have handyman tips or have had problems with tradesmen, drop us an email by visiting

* Frank and Muriel Newman are the authors of Living off the Smell of an Oily Rag in NZ. Readers can submit their oily rag tips on-line at The book is available from bookstores and online at