Tag: handiwork

How to waste money by trying to save money

All of us who are cost conscious have been there.  You believe that you can save a few bucks by cutting corners only to realize that your frugal tendencies didn’t save you anything.  Perhaps it even cost you more money. Don’t do it.

I’m a sucker for discounted bakery items at the grocery store.  Day-old donuts at a deep discount.  I’m in.  I buy six nearly stale donuts for $1.99.  Fresh ones are 69 cents each.  This means that I need to eat three of the six discounted donuts to justify the cost of fresh ones.  Stupid.  If I eat all six of the donuts, I come out ahead financially.  My arteries? Not so much.  Most recently I fell for the discount donut trap and only ate about 3 donuts before tossing the box.  I don’t even think that I was happy afterward.  These grocery store donuts are mediocre at best even when fresh.  And each one of these packs in a jaw-dropping 14 grams of fat apiece!

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Lesson learned: If you want a good donut, just go to Krispy Kreme, spend $1.10 for an awesome donut and go on with you day. You’re going to consume 14 grams of fat either way.

Big ticket items can really become money pits.

We all know that “luxury” items like swimming pools, boats, and time-shares are money pits.  Moe, the doctor who spends a $1 million salary, once told me his monthly pool maintenance costs (water, heat, pool guy) costs several hundred dollars a month!  What about items that you purchase to actually save money?

I’m becoming more and more skeptical about expensive maintenance equipment like riding lawnmowers, weed eaters, drills, and chainsaws.  I don’t expect that most of my readers will ever deal with serious manual labor, but this is a clear example of how trying to save money can actually cost you more. Let’s say that you decided to hang up a flood lamp in the front of your garage.  You have no tools, but there is a sale at Costco for a flood lamp so you buy it. You know that power tools can be expensive, so you go to Harbor Freight Tools to buy a drill.  The drill costs $50.  You buy discounted drill bits for $6.  For $56 and 30 minutes of your time, you can have a great working flood lamp. Wrong.  Since you’re an amateur handyman, you don’t realize that your house is made out of stucco, and your cheap drill bits are useless.  You go back to Harbor Freight and buy masonry bits for $19.99.  You spend another hour trying to drill and mount your flood lamp.

Total cost: <$75.

Total time spent installing light: 4 hours including agony and driving to and from the hardware store. You might not ever use the drill any more after this ordeal. Moreover, you probably didn’t even do a great job installing that light.

Solution: If you aren’t much of a handyman, just find a handyman, pay him his rate to install the light for you.

This little guy paired with an inexperienced operator has ruined many a hedge…

Do it yourself is overrated if you know nothing about what you’re trying to accomplish.

Do you want a family practitioner biopsy something that looks like a melanoma? That’s right. You probably don’t want your Dermatologist installing your hot water heater either. You have to realize that not everyone has the time or interest in dealing with unthinkable chores.  And that is okay.  We all specialize in a profession so that we can offer our services for a fee commensurate with our training.  If you don’t want to mow your lawn in a crappy manner to save a few hundred bucks, either hire someone to do it or get rid of your lawn.

Every person has different interests and strengths.  As doctors, we all have different strengths outside of medicine as well.  The plastic surgeon who is an expert woodworker is going to fare better customizing a desk for his daughter in college than the Radiologist  who is an expert painter. What should the Radiologist do? Send his daughter off to college with an Ikea desk and a custom painting if he wants to contribute something unique.

How much DIY do you accomplish?

Note: I haven’t purchased a box of discounted half-stale donuts in 4 weeks! Hopefully I can keep that streak alive!

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How to check the engine oil level on a Subaru Impreza

Checking the engine oil level on your car isn’t difficult, but it probably isn’t at the top of everyone’s list.  Most of us simply take our vehicles to the garage get the oil changed every 5,000 miles, or at whatever interval your mechanic has instructed you to follow.  I’ve had colleagues NEVER realize that they had to change the oil in their vehicles, and had gone 20,000 miles! Thanks to the marvel of modern manufacturing, their cars still run.

That’s not recommended, unless you’re the type to get a new car every five years anyway.  For most cars built within the last decade, you really just need to stick with the routine oil maintenance schedule.  There are some people who like to stretch out the oil change interval using fancy filters and synthetic oil, but a regular interval will keep you safe.

However, there are several makes of cars that consume large amounts of oil.  These are more common in flat engine vehicles like Subarus.  Other cars that are known to “burn” oil include Audis, Porsche’s, and some BMW’s.  I remember reading a report years ago that over half of the 2010 Audi A4’s required additional engine oil between oil changes!

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If you own any of these cars, you should learn to check the oil levels.  Don’t wait until the fancy Google-enabled computer system in your Audi A8 to kick on. Just check the oil levels routinely.

This is how I check the oil on my Subaru Impreza:

Pop the hood.

Don’t be scared!  The hood release is usually under the steering wheel close to the driver’s side door of your vehicle. Take a look at the engine:

This is what a 11 year-old engine looks like under the hood!

There is usually a cap that is labeled for engine oil, and a dipstick.

If you want a dipstick in your Audi A8, you’ll have to pay extra!

The dipstick allows you to check the oil levels in the reservoir.  Most dipsticks have a high and low level hatch mark. When you first take out the dipstick, be sure to wipe it dry, place it back into the engine, and then take it out to read. You will be able to get a more accurate reading.  If there is no oil on the dipstick, you are likely short at least 1 qt.

The dipstick on my car has two holes indicating both the low and high levels:

Snatch some hospital gloves if you don’t want to get your hands dirty!

If the engine oil level is low, simply visit your friendly auto store (or Walmart) and pick up a few quarts of engine oil rated for your vehicle.  Use a funnel to prevent spillage, and try to add the oil gradually while checking the dipstick in between.  If you overfill the engine, then you will have to take the car to a garage to have them drain some of it out.

I typically change my engine oil and filter once a year (yes, that is long interval), and I usually end up adding about 2 quarts of oil throughout the year!

Any questions on vehicle maintenance? Sound out below!

The most expensive floor mop you can buy – Norwex

norwex the most expensive swifferI recently purchased a home for the first time and have been dealing with the benefits and nightmares of home ownership. More on that in future posts. One aspect of ownership that I’ve come to realize over and over again is that you are more likely to take better care of something you own than something that you’re renting.
So true.
I was cleaning out the garage and came across a dirty floor mop. It looked like a Swiffer, except that the mop end appeared to be a reusable microfiber component. I’ve seen plenty of Swiffer knock-offs, and this one looked no different. In any case, the handle looked pretty sturdy, so I decided to keep it. The name of the company was Norwex. I looked online to see where to buy replacement cloths.
These floor mops are EXPENSIVE.
Expensive like $130 for a starter kit! You can’t even buy it at a store. You have to reach out to a design consultant to purchase it. Crazy. The refills were going for at least $20 for one microfiber cloth!
Is it any better than the average dust buster? We shall see. Have anyone in the audience ever used a Norwex?
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Why I still shine my shoes

For a mere $8, I can have my wedges shined at the airport. Sometimes it will cost $10 or $13 after tip, depending on how generous I feel. It doesn’t break the bank, but it sure isn’t cheap either. I suppose that I could take my shoes to a local street vendor and save a few bucks, but that requires going out of my way to make an extra stop before going home.

This is a chore that I’ve wondered whether there is validity in doing myself. I probably have a pair of shoes shined every few months. The problem is that I have a good number of shoes.  Eventually the time and costs add up. How much do I need to earn in my primary job to make this worthwhile? Is it $100/hr, $150/hr, or $200/hr? That’s a tough call. I’d imagine that if I can command $500/hr consistently on a full-time schedule, I probably can’t be bothered to polish my own shoes.

But I don’t.

So  Shoe shining can be quite simple. All you need is shoe polish, a rag (old sock), and maybe a brush. Go ahead. Help keep your expensive leather pumps looking new.

why i still polish my shoes

Would you be willing to polish your own shoes?

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How to become good at everything without knowing everything

How To Know Everything - Courtesy FlickrThere is a reason why interventional cardiologists require 7 years of training—the specialty is complex enough that we not only need the time to learn the nuances of the skill set required in the field but also to encounter enough situations to apply those skills. Despite such long training to become an interventional cardiologist, you (unfortunately) still have limited knowledge of other fields like general surgery.

That is okay, since you can get by in your career without knowing a whole lot outside of it. The truth is that it would be nice to be an expert at everything, but most of us don’t have the time, energy, or interest to master everything. Most people I know who know more than the average person are incredibly intelligent and likely hypomanic.

The Key To Knowing Everything is to Knowing When to Outsource Your Knowledge.

For everyone else, the key to knowing everything is learning to direct your time and energy to high-yield tasks to help you outsource your tasks. There is no universal template to follow—each one of us has different strengths, different time constraints, and different interests. For instance, you may choose replace your own car headlights to save yourself the time and money from outsourcing it to a mechanic. However, perhaps you have a screaming 3 year-old at home that you need to tend to instead. In this case, you might consider going to the mechanic anyway since your time with your kid is more valuable. In order to follow through this decision tree with the most information, you’d have to consider the following:

  1. Changing the headlight bulb on your car is easy for you, and low risk.
  2. Cost savings for doing this by yourself is huge; for minimal risk a 10 minute job for yourself can potentially save you $50 of post-tax income.
  3. You actually have some interest in tinkering with the car.
  4. You do not have more pressing matters to attend to if you were to embark on this task.

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If any of the criteria above is not applicable to you, you might be better off outsourcing the task. Furthermore, if it takes you an unreasonable amount of time to obtain enough information to make that decision, you’d be better off outsourcing it.

You Are Better Off Learning Some Tasks.

Finance is a key topic where you are likely better off investing some time to acquire a baseline knowledge first. No one cares more about your money and future than you. This includes taxes, asset protection, and investing.  If you decided to outsource your finances to an advisor, your spare time would be still be well-spent to educate yourself on the basics.

Other fundamental tasks that you could manage yourself and delegate as your time becomes more valuable include cooking, cleaning, home repairs, or vehicle maintenance. I know doctors who enjoy working in the kitchen, and treat their time cooking meals as a therapeutic escape. Likewise, I know some people who would rather exercise on the treadmill instead of mowing their lawns for exercise. To each his own right?

 Your Skills Will Build Over Time.

You have a lifetime to acquire your skills and knowledge. That is the excitement of life. Chip away at the needed skills one at a time. Sooner or later, you will have either mastered that skill set or at least acquired enough knowledge to delegate.

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How to Clean Lime and Rust Deposits In Your Toilet Bowl

Previous articles on toiletology have discussed the following:


This article will include step-by-step instructions on removing lime and rust deposits from your toilet bowl.


The rental condominium that I recently moved into has nice Kohler brand toilets. Unfortunately, the previous tenant(s) did not maintain much of anything in the unit. The landlord also does not appear to care what goes on in the unit as long as the rent is paid. One gripe that I had was that the toilets all had significant lime and rust stains in the bowl and water spouts:

Lime and Rust Stain in Toilet

If prior tenants had spent any effort in keeping the toilet clean, these stains could have been easily prevented. I suspect that aside from an annual housekeeping service cleaning, there was little maintenance over the past decade. The first week I moved in, I cleaned the bathrooms as much as I could, which included scrubbing down the toilet seats with disinfectant, brushing the toilet bowl with bowl cleaner, and wiping down the tank and handles. Unfortunately, the rust stains were caked in the bowl no matter how I scrubbed.

I finally found the time to tackle the nasty rust buildup in the bowl last week. It typically comes from the high mineral content in the water and infrequent cleaning. Once a thick layer of rust and residue accumulates, it is nearly impossible to remove using standard toilet bowl cleaner. Fortunately, it only takes the proper equipment and a little elbow grease to clean things up. Here’s what I did:

Cleaning Agents

To remove rust and mineral buildup in the toilet, do NOT use bleach. Yes, bleach is great in cleaning and disinfecting many agents, but will basically smear the rust into the porcelain. Again, do NOT use bleach to clean rust.

Most caustic cleaning agents will do the trick. Remember back in high school chemistry class, sulfuric acid will burn through most objects (your hand included). Phosphoric acid also is a good cleaning agent. The active ingredient in Lime and Rust Remover is usually derived from one of these two chemicals. That is the key. I did not find my go-to product, The Works Toilet Bowl Cleaner, at Wal-mart. I did find an alternative cleaner called, “Lime A-Way”, which promised to remove rust and calcium stains. This brand does have a toilet cleaner version, my local store did not have it in stock. I just used the tile cleaner, which seemed to work okay (with extensive scrubbing).

If you are eco-conscious, you might be out of luck. Chemically, you could possibly use a lemon and salt to scrub the toilet, or even Coke! Yes, Coke! Carbonated soft drinks are acidic and actually have a low pH (and destroys your teeth). I’ve used it before, but it doesn’t work well with tough stains. Alternatively, you could also use a pumice stone as a mechanical means to clean rust stains. Be careful with pumice—you can scratch the porcelain bowl. Pumice has approximately the same hardness as porcelain, so I would expect microscopic scratches to build in the toilet. It may not make a huge difference in the short term, but over many years the shiny reflection will become dull (may not matter if you replace your toilet every decade or if you live in a rental).

How to clean

  • Turn off the water supply to the toilet. Remember, most valves are turned clockwise to shut off.
    • Toilet Shutoff Valve
  • Flush the toilet.
  • Use a toilet brush or plunger to depress the siphon to empty out most of the water in the bowl.
  • Spray or pour the cleaning agent in the bowl, aiming for the stains.
  • Use a toilet brush to scrub the stains!
  • Once stains are off, turn on the water supply, and flush.
  • If you are using a pumice, be sure to soak the pumice in water before scrubbing to soften it.
  • Make sure you have adequate ventilation and exhaust. The chemicals are corrosive and the fumes can irritate your eyes. Make sure you also have gloves.

That’s it. I ended up using several iterations of cleaning over 20 minutes to remove most of the stains:

toilet after rust removal

There are still rust stains in the bowl, but it can be cleaned in future washings.

Is it worth a doctor’s time cleaning the toilet? It depends if you have anything else more worthwhile that you could be doing. I’d imagine a professional housemaid service with specialized cleaning agents will take care of the bathroom for you, but it will come at a price. You could also ask your non-working spouse to do it. I spent $4.72 at Walmart to purchase the lime remover, and had a mail-in rebate coupon to make the item free. I’d imagine that there is enough chemical for at least 10 cleanings in a bottle.

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What are your experiences with cleaning agents? What has worked for you? Sound out below!

How to replace the rear brake light on a 2006 Subaru Impreza wagon

We plan to post various handiwork tips that the authors have encountered over time. Saves money, effective, and makes you a more well-rounded professional! The following was written by Smart Money MD contributing writer (a surgeon).

One of the rear brake lights on my 2006 Subaru Impreza hatchback burned out last week. The dealer charges $98+tx for the repair. One of the other Subaru aftermarket garages was in the $40 range, but was closed on weekends and relatively far away. The bulb itself at Autozone is $6 for a pair. If you buy a box of 10, they are $1.50 apiece. If you order on eBay, they are even cheaper. The bulb model is a 7440/7443. This scenario is a prime example of your time cost of money, where DIY (you are the handyman!) will save you money. Given that I’d have to skip a half day of work to take my car to the garage, I decided to replace the bulb myself. The steps are relatively straightforward if you don’t have rusty bolts.
Access to the panel is from the rear hatch, and there are two screws:
Rear hatch of 2006 Subaru Impreza wagon
Rear hatch of 2006 Subaru Impreza wagon
There is a top screw and a side screw (I did not label the screws in the diagram. The Phillips head only unscrews part way.
Rear plastic screws. Lift gently.
Rear plastic screws. Lift gently.

You can use a needle nose plier to pull the screw and the fastener out vertically. Be sure to pull gently so that you don’t break the plastic fastener/seat. The plastic panel then pops out, and you see that the metal housing is fixed with two hex bolts (size 10, I believe):

Use Size 10 hex bolts
Use Size 10 hex bolts

These bolts can be unscrewed using a long handle bolt wrench or thin nose vise grips. The bolts in the photo above have already been removed. I ended up using WD-40 to loosen some of the rust build-up on the bolt. At this point, then entire light housing unit can be slid out.

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For the 2006-2007 Impreza hatchback models, the housing is slid out in AP (Anterior-Posterior) directionThis means that if you are standing directly behind the car, you pull the housing towards yourself. If you have an older model Impreza, the housing should be pulled laterally outward. Be sure to pull gently so you don’t break the plastic fasteners inside:

Blue plastic fastener viewed from side of car
Blue plastic fastener viewed from side of car

In my case, I slid the unit towards me in the back. The photo above is viewed a four-thirds view from the side. The left of the photo is the rear of the car. You can see the direction of the blue plastic fastener that to remove the light housing, you slide the light housing posteriorly. The corresponding grip on the plastic housing looks like this:

Grey plastic seat that corresponds to the blue seat on the car
Grey plastic seat that corresponds to the blue seat on the car

At this point, you will have access to the wires and the light bulb sockets from behind:

Subaru Impreza 2006 wagon rear bulb socket
Subaru Impreza 2006 wagon rear bulb socket

The socket is unscrewed counterclockwise, and the bulb can be unseated from the socket by pulling vertically. Be sure to wear clean gloves when removing the bulb so that you don’t get oil smudges on the bulb. Oil and grime will result in irregular heat distribution on the bulb and can cause premature burnout. After replacing the bulb, just reverse the steps and put the bolts back in. The entire job probably took me less than five minutes. Not bad for a surgeon!

Note: If you have a sedan model, access to the socket is through the rear carpet paneling.

If you have any questions, please sound off below! I did not label the photos with arrows, but hopefully the instructions and photos are self-explanatory!