Coffee heat rising

Happy Hoarder’s Handyman Hint! Frugal Junk Use

Make that “handyperson hint.” 😉 For the first time in recorded history, a piece of the junk that’s hoarded in the garage actually came in handy! It just became part of a hand-crafted fancy-Dan paper towel holder. A frugal fancy-Dan paper towel holder: today’s out-of-pocket was nothing.

Trying to find places to stash the Lifetime Supply of Costco Paper Towels, I had one roll left over and realized the hated plastic paper-towel holder over the washer area, installed and abandoned by Satan and Proserpine, was empty. Problem is, like all cheapie grocery-store plastic paper-towel holders, the thing won’t hold a roll of paper towels, especially if you have the temerity to try to tear a towel off the roll. Every time a roll of paper towels falls off, it tumbles into the utility sink below, which is often full of water. That’s why the thing has been empty for a long time.

True Junk

Out of the blue, a lightning bolt of inspiration: if a person had a pair of those wooden curtain rod hangers, the kind that come with 1970s- and 80s-style wooden dowel curtain rods, said person could attach them to the wall, cut a piece of curtain-rod doweling to fit, scoot it through the towels’ cardboard tube, and…well. You get the idea. Not to say voilà!

Interestingly, I happened to have a pair of pretty ugly wooden curtain rod holders, stashed inside a dusty shoebox under a hoard of old wooden curtain rings that somehow just never quite worked out.

Not only that, but an old wood-dowel curtain rod, part of the didn’t-work-out project, was collecting dust atop the garage cabinets. And I also happened to have a saw…


The holes that Satan drilled and countersank in the drywall were not far enough apart to accommodate a paper-towel roll between the inch-wide curtain rod holders. But there’s a lot of electric and plumbing where the plastic thing is hanging. So I decided to use the screw hole he’d put on the right side, which really is dangerously close to the pipes that go to the sink, and then drill new holes on the left, where I think (hope) there are fewer obstructions.

Attached the wooden hanger things to the wall, leaving plenty of room to hang the roll of paper towels.

Sawed off 20 inches of the doweling (could’ve made it shorter but am not going to do it over again right this minute). Drilled a hole in the center of the newly cut-off end. Removed the finial from rod’s long remainder and screwed it into the new hole. And…


It works! The paper towel roll fits, exactly as promised, over the dowel. To reload, all you have to do is unscrew one of the finials, take off the empty cardboard tube, slide a new roll onto the dowel, and reattach the finial. Not bad for a garage, eh?


Don’t ask about the wiring draped over the washer faucets! It’s better than the Romex Satan had draped back and forth across the garage door opener chain!

This was strictly a spur-of-the-moment job. If I were going to make a paper towel holder for the kitchen, I’d set the curtain-rod hangers closer together, so they’d just clear a standard roll. And then I’d cut the rod so that it would fit more snugly.

Sometimes I’ve wished I had a paper towel holder in the bathroom. It occurs to me that you could replace the metal hardware-store towel rods with lash-ups like this for your bath towels, and then add a matching paper towel holder. Depending on your decor, of course. And your ambition.

DIY splendor!

One of Funny’s Ten Money Principles is “do it yourself.” Great piles of cash are to be saved (and spent) by following this principle. If you’re at all handy or crafty, improvements to your house, yard, and vehicles are waiting for you.

This weekend I visited the home of some friends who deserve the nomination for All-Time Great Do-It-Yourselfers. Fred is a firefighter, and Kathy works for the Great Desert University. A few years ago, not long before the real estate bubble began its final expansion, they built their dream house on an acre of land under the White Tank Mountains, a natural preserve on the far west side of the Valley. The basic structure of the house was built by the developer, a man they had met through their daughter’s sport, but Fred wired the place for sound, and working together Fred and Kathy installed a handsome stone façade in front. Then they started on the huge backyard.

Still a work in progress, it’s beginning to shape up as a lovely park-like retreat. Fred has made a hobby of metal-working; when they built the house, he specified a separate, fire-resistant workshop, which you can see in some of the photos here. At the outset, they laid two large patios, one of paving bricks and one of flagstone. The flagstone surface was the only landscaping project for which they needed professional help. Otherwise, Fred and Kathy designed and installed the entire hardscape, the structures, and the plantings.

dcp_2467This shade structure was built of scrap metal. The entire thing consists of recycled materials. It casts a cooling, airy shadow close to the house’s covered patio, where, Kathy says, the two of them like to sip wine in the evenings and dream up new projects. Beneath it, they built (themselves!) a complete outdoor kitchen with propane-powered gear and a stone countertop. Taken together with the house’s built-in overhang, the flagstone patio, and the great room that opens into the backyard, the whole arrangement makes an awesome entertainment area. 

(Click on the photos for larger views.)

But that’s just the beginning. In addition to the barbecue kitchen, they also designed and built a fantastic propane fireplace, complete with a Santa Fe-style wall and bancos. In this view, a protective covering is set in place over the firebox. The other evening, though, SDXB and I had the privilege of joining our hosts in front of this lovely hearth, where we watched the sun set over the mountains and the moon and stars come to vibrant life. That’s a young elm tree behind the structure. The flowering trees are Desert Museum hybrid paloverdes, an exceptionally beautiful xeric tree that, once established, provides great shade and hardly ever has to be watered.

dcp_2473Their latest development is an elaborate garden structure. Fred also built the framework in his workshop, although this time the metal was, I believe, not recycled. Here are Kathy and VickyC about to enter through the gated arch—the fencing discourages coyotes and can be equipped with a dog- and rabbit-repelling barrier. A couple of weeks ago, Kathy planted a pair of Lady Banks climbing roses, one on either side of the archway. It will take a year or two, but in due course these plants will cover the arch with flowering vines. The skeletal “roof” of the structure is designed to accommodate shade and frost fabric, which will protect tomatoes in the scorching Arizona summer and frost-sensitive plants during the chilly winter nights. 

They already have a healthy garden of tomatoes, peppers, squash, eggplants, herbs, and the like:


The amount of work Fred and Kathy have done themselves represents savings in the tens of thousands of dollars. I can’t imagine what it would cost to have even one of those weather-resistant, termite-resistant metal structures built. An outdoor kitchen? I’ve never asked, because I can’t afford it. Outdoor fireplace? Doesn’t compute.

Kathy says that, except for the metalwork and the flagstone installation, most of the projects were not difficult to build. I think, though, that success with these projects requires meticulous care, knowledge of building codes, and understanding of how to design block and metal structures that will withstand the test of time. Clearly it’s not impossible to acquire these skills. The result is pretty amazing.

Skeptic saves $175

Hot dang! I just saved a hundred and seventy-five bucks, give or take. And I did it in ten minutes flat.

A couple years ago, Home Depot sold me a shoddy little vinyl screen door. I bought it because neither HD nor Lowe’s carried real wooden screen doors, and I didn’t want an ugly metal door or a security door. The vinyl things came as close as anything to a real door. They were cheap, too.

Problem was, they come with a shoddy little latch that doesn’t hold the door shut, much less lock it. The HD salesman said you couldn’t drill into the vinyl to screw a hook-&-eye latch into it. The screen door installing handyman agreed, adding that assuming you could drill into the plastic without melting it, you’d need to reattach the hook to an extra-long eyebolt and secure it with a nut; otherwise it would pull out. Ohhh well.

A year passes, and I find some actual, real, old-fashioned plain no frou-frou screen doors at a local door retailer. These cost about $125, and I figure the handyman will charge about $50 to install one of them. And they have to be painted. I delay buying, partly out of inertia and partly out of cheapness.

This week’s steady winds have been driving me nuts. The damn door, which won’t stay closed, keeps banging in the breeze, thwackada whack all night and all day.

So I tracked down the hook-&-eye I bought and didn’t use, and then broke out the electric drill.

Lo! The maleness and paleness lied!

A guide hole significantly smaller than the hook screw’s diameter zipped right into the vinyl, and the screw went in firmly and solidly. No way that thing is going to fall out of there! Now the vinyl door will do-no need to buy a new screen door.

The take-away message:

The frugalist doesn’t believe everything she’s told!


One frugal move = 12 to-do’s done

So this morning I decided to wash the car in the driveway, my $13 having purchased a less-than-perfect job the last time I took the minivan to the car wash. Figured it was time, since I couldn’t see through the windshield.

In particular, I wanted to try to get the old, stale coffee stains out of the carpet, where over the months and years I’ve spilled my favorite potable while driving around town. Toyota’s carpet and upholstery are practically invulnerable. Hence, a rough-sounding strategy: spray plenty of window cleaner on the rug, scrub the stuff around with an old sponge, and then suck it out with the shop vac.

Amazingly, the scheme worked with no ill effect. It not only got out the coffee stains, it also pulled up a number of other spots scattered around the vehicle. Other than the Great Automotive Coffee Extraction Project, the rest of the job was pretty easy: I sprayed the van with a little Windex Outdoor, which doesn’t do much for windows but works great on paving, walls, and your car. This product comes in a container that attaches to the hose and has a spray attachment that turns the water flow off (saves water!) and also switches to “rinse,” making it simple to lather and rinse off the vehicle.

The Coffee Extraction Project got the eight-year-old carpeting almost as clean as new, and a little Murphy’s Oil Soap cleaned and polished up the vinyl interior trim. So, for the price of a quarter-bottle of Windex Outdoor I saved myself $13 on the wash-and-rinse and, if you believe Johnny’s Carousel Car Wash prices, another $80 on the detail job.

Better yet, because I chose to wash the car in the driveway, in the process I did a whole series of small chores I wouldn’t even have thought about had I schlepped to Johnny’s:

  • Filled a spray bottle with a handy solution of diluted Murphy’s Oil Soap
  • Cleaned the fingerprints off the garage cabinets
  • Refilled the window-cleaner spray bottle
  • Cleaned the garage door threshold
  • Cleaned the utility sink
  • Cleaned the clothes washer
  • Took out the garbage
  • Cleaned the garbage basket
  • Washed the grackle guano off the pavement under the ash tree
  • Picked wildflowers and put them in the kitchen
  • Cleaned the fireplace ashes out of the shop vac & washed the filter
    Memo: Don’t use the shop vac to clean out the fireplace!

Voilà! In the time it would have taken to drive across town to Johnny’s and wait around for a half-baked car wash, twelve household projects got done (counting the car wash). The cost was almost nothing, and no gasoline was consumed.
Frugality pays, in more ways than one.