Is the DIY lifestyle worth the trouble? Author and frugal living expert Cristin Frank weighs in

I recently had the pleasure of talking with author and frugal living expert Cristin Frank about the DIY lifestyle and, specifically, whether or not it is really worth all the blood, sweat and tears. (And yes, I have experienced all three in my DIY adventures.)

Ballard knockoff message board

One of my most recent thrifty projects

During the interview, Cristin shared her story of how she and her husband paid off all their debt, including their home, by embracing the thrifty, DIY lifestyle. We also discussed the pros and cons of that decision. I originally recorded and aired the interview as a podcast episode, which you can listen to here.

But in addition, the folks at recently transcribed the episode so that those of you who would prefer to read the information can do so at your convenience.

So without further delay, here is the interview. Enjoy!

Living Rich on Less Podcast Episode #006: Pros and cons of the DIY lifestyle

Speaker 1: Whether you’re a corporate jet setter or a homeschooling mom of five, this podcast is for you. Because we’re all looking for ways to create a more beautiful peaceful home.  We face many challenges in today’s try to do it all culture, the biggest of which is often our budget. But the great news is there are real solutions out there to help us build the life of our dreams, and you’re going to find those solutions right here.

Speaker 2: You’re listening to the Living Rich on Less podcast, where you’ll find secrets for living in luxury on a shoestring budget.  Here’s your host and creator of, Susan Penning.

Susan: Hello, and welcome to another episode of the Living Rich on Less podcast.  Today we are going back to our roots, and we’re discussing the pros and cons of the thrifty do it yourself lifestyle. And I say “we” because I have a very special guest with me today.  I am interviewing author and frugal living expert Cristin Frank.  You are not going to want to miss it, but before we get started, today’s episode is brought to you by  Your online source for free video tutorials and easy to understand blog post series on information technology topics like application development, networking, web development, operating systems and more.  I personally love the extremely helpful series on WordPress essentials.  So if you’re a blogger or you have some other Internet-based business or hobby visit for free help on navigating and using the technology you need to take your business to the next level.

Let’s dig into today’s topic.  It seems to me in recent years that the term DIY, the acronym I should say, has become increasingly popular and there’s an entire television network called the DIY Network.  It seems like a lot more folks are embracing this whole idea of recycling, up-cycling, crafting, even perhaps blogging about the projects, creating something better than what you found or something out of nothing.  I think that that is a really wonderful and environmentally friendly idea.  I’ve been doing the DIY lifestyle before it was ever popular, let’s say that. But today’s episode is dedicated to peeling back the layers on the DIY lifestyle.  Talking about the pros, talking about the cons, because there are cons, giving you a good picture of what it means to live the thrifty do it yourself lifestyle.  Where are you giving up, and what are you gaining in return?

Before we go to the interview with Cristin Frank let me take a moment and share my personal philosophy, my personal story.  Looking for ways to save money and getting creative with the materials I had has been something I’ve been doing since I was a child.  Mostly out of necessity at first because our family didn’t have a lot of money.  We certainly were very well taken care of by my mom and dad and we did not lack any basic necessities, but for me to keep up with the so-called cool kids in school, I had to get pretty creative.  I believe I mentioned in an earlier podcast that I learned how to sew my own Barbie clothes out of scrap fabric and I altered my own prom dress that I found on a clearance rack for $5 dollars, I think.  I just learned how to stretch the dollars I had out from a very young age.

I was always keenly aware and often reminded that my parents were not my own personal endless piggybank. I grew up really understanding that money did not appear out of thin air, and I worked hard for it from a fairly young age.  One of the chief values or the pros, I guess I should say, of embracing the thrifty do it yourself lifestyle, is not only the fact that of course you learn to get good at stretching the dollar, but you learn how to create value.  To be very self-sufficient, and this is one of the most important lessons I want to teach my own children, and one of the biggest reasons that it really doesn’t matter how much we earn as a family, I’m committed to this lifestyle because it fosters that virtue of creative self-sufficiency.

It also builds tremendous confidence and momentum in your life.  Let me explain what I mean by this.  Busting out of your comfort zone, learning and trying new things, discovering that you’re capable of so much more than you thought, brings a real sense of accomplishment and satisfaction, and it inspires you to push past limits in other areas of your life too in almost an unexplainable, supernatural way.  Let me give you one example of this.

Over the past two years I have really pushed the boundaries of what I was capable of with regard to home improvement projects.  Most of this is because of starting my blog, but I’ve learned how to use new power tools.  I’ve taken on whole projects myself.  As a result of taking that deep breath and digging in, figuring stuff out on my own, even when I had to consult experts but coming back and finishing it myself, I found myself stretching my personal boundaries in other areas as a result.  I was able to write an e-book last spring.  I started this podcast and my biggest success to date, I was able to get in better physical shape, and I lost nearly 45 pounds after having my son.  That is all the baby weight plus another 5 pounds.  Coincidence?  I don’t think so.  I think it’s all related.

But what about the cons of the thrifty do it yourself lifestyle?  There are some.  Number one, it is not for the weak-willed or risk-averse.  It can be super stressful.  I can’t even count on both hands and both feet the number of times I have been reduced to tears over a DIY project gone bad or just in the middle and I’m overwhelmed.  Usually it’s due to operator error, which is me by the way, or a lack of proper tools or materials.  In both of these cases, usually I want nothing more than to go ahead and shell out the cash, just have the job done right by a professional and quickly so I can sit down, relax and watch a TV show.

Number two, another con, it’s time consuming and it requires grit, a lot of creativity, ingenuity, and improvising, so if these are not words that you would use to describe yourself, creative, able to improvise, full of ingenuity, the DIY lifestyle might not be for you.  There’s a lot to be said for leaving some things to the experts.  I would never fault someone for choosing that route in the interest of keeping your own or your family’s sanity intact.

Number three, it often requires you to live in a construction zone.  When I’m DIY-ing a project or doing a home improvement project, chances are the mess in the rest of my house is accumulating fast.  A lot of other things get put on hold, and sometimes that makes me sad.  There are times when I’d like to go outside and fly a kite with my daughter rather than cutting some molding or laying tile.  I try to always remember when I say yes to something, I’m saying no to something or somebody else.

There are a lot of other pros and cons I could list, but let’s go ahead and move on and talk to someone who is way more of an expert on this whole thrifty DIY lifestyle.  Cristin Frank is the author of the book Living Simple, Free and Happy, which you can find on Amazon or in Barnes and Noble bookstores and I will leave a link to both of these resources in the show notes.  Her book is all about how to reduce debt and waste by embracing the thrifty DIY lifestyle.  She also blogs at, again I’ll leave a link to her site in the show notes, where she shares frugal, crafty and ecofriendly tips and projects for her readers.  Let’s go ahead and see what Cristin has to say about today’s topic.

Cristin, thank you so much for being on this show.

Cristin: Thank you.

Susan: I have been thoroughly enjoying reading your book, and I have found myself nodding in agreement with you on so many points in it.  I especially love the part where you wrote that you’ve committed to live below your means but within your values.  What a great philosophy.  I was really impressed when you mentioned you’ve completely eliminated all of the school loans, the car payments, the mortgage. In fact you said that you fully furnished your home and paid off your mortgage in six years and eight months.  That is huge, Cristin.  Congratulations.

Cristin: Thank you.  We were definitely DIYers and living below our means there.

Susan: And that’s why you continue to.

Cristin: Right.

Susan: And that’s why I have you on the show today, Cristin.  Why are you so passionate about the thrifty DIY lifestyle?  So much so that you actually felt compelled to write a book on the subject.

Cristin: I can just see the benefits in your life, and one other thing, when I speak about the benefits is the way that it makes you feel when you can do these things and you learn how to do these things.  It just makes you feel so self-sufficient.  So then it becomes more about what you can do and how you can save money.  When a problem arises it isn’t like a freak-out or a major deal because you can say, “Oh hey, I’ve got the tools, I’ve got the knowledge, I’m sure I can tackle this.”  Unless is something great crazy dangerous, but for those little things that come up and being a homeowner, you can take it on yourself and be like, “Hey cool, I can do that.”

Susan: Cristin, tell me a little bit about your story for those who have not got a chance to read your book yet.  I know you and your husband, you were trying to keep up with the Joneses, you were piling on the debt, and you finally said, enough.

Cristin: It was a very sort of awakening moment where we looked around, we were like, okay, we had our student loans from private colleges, both of us, we bought our house right around the time we got married and three months into our marriage I was pregnant with our first son.  All of a sudden we were like, okay, we’re kind of in a predicament here, we’re not like footloose and free like we were in our 20s.  We’re now saddled with all this debt.  So we looked into ways to get out of this position, and everything we looked into seemed to be outside our comfort zone.

Taking on rental property or trying to get higher paid jobs, more stress, more travel, that kind of stuff.  It really looked like my life’s going to be even more miserable if I try to take on this debt, but the bottom line was, we didn’t want to be in that position, we didn’t want to be paying off our house until we were retired.  We didn’t want to just be on that slow road.  As we tried to figure out what to do, it really came down to, look, we don’t have to buy into this lifestyle of paying for everything and going out to dinner all the time, and buying unnecessary crap, all the stuff, it was just so unnecessary and so against common sense.

When you think about life in the natural world, it’s pretty easy to get the things that you need, the food, the shelter, those sorts of needs, but it’s almost difficult, more choking to bring on more than that, have a huge house, have all this clutter.  We realized, if we live below our means we can really live happily and even more happy without the debt that we really felt was holding us back.

Susan: I love that.  I know you both made together a very conscious decision you were going to live with less and on less.  In your opinion what are the top three areas in your life that have improved as a result of that decision?

Cristin: Definitely our marriage, because once we paid off our debt it just seemed we had more time together and actually even throughout the process, and that’s one of the chapters in my book, is loving the process, my husband and I really tackled a lot of projects together, which was fun.  We looked forward to those weekends when we were like, “Yeah we’re going to get this done, and we did this together.” It was the whole joke amongst our friends is we call ourselves The Team.  It really was like that and it still is.  We really look forward to working together, and that’s just so great.

The other thing is, it became an important life lesson for our children because our approach to our debt wasn’t like I’m not going to have this, but they could see where we would spend money.  We always made a point to take a family vacation, and do things that were together.  We’d do ski in the winter, and even though that’s a costly, expensive sport, it’s something we can all do together.  Those are the moments that we choose to spend our money because that’s where we value it, and I do speak about values a lot when it comes to spending money.

We value home-cooked meals in the time we spend together, vacations and other things we do together as a family, and that’s where we make the decision to spend our money.

Susan: I love that.  Thank you, Cristin.  Okay, on this show a lot of folks talk about the great things with regard to the thrifty DIY lifestyle but we’re going to talk about some of the challenges too.  I know I have a few on my end, but what are some of the biggest challenges and frustrations that you and your family have experienced as a result of your frugal, eco-friendly lifestyle?

Cristin: The first thing that comes to mind is the perception that other people have of us and those that were concerned about how we looked, but it just seems like there’s a constant, “Oh, why can’t you do this?”  Like a constant guilt trip I guess you would say.  Like, “Oh come on, just do this, just go to this party, just do this.”  And you feel it’s become hard to get people to understand why you make certain decisions.  It’s not that you don’t want to go to every party but some things are just not a good use of your time and/or money.  There’re a lot of getting people to understand where you’re coming from.

The second thing is, not every project works out perfectly, so we have this thing where we would say if something was a total flop, my husband and I, whatever it costs, we’d be like, “Oh well, that was a 30-dollar mistake or a 50-dollar lesson that we learned.”  So it’s not always going to be a perfect score every time you try and do something yourself, but you learn along the way.  You know what you can do and what’s going to be something outside of your abilities.

Susan: I love that, yeah.  I was actually surprised at how few people have embraced this lifestyle.  I mean I’ve always been kind of concerned about where the money’s going and even more importantly how much stuff I’m bringing into my home, and what I found surprising was that a lot of other folks, it never even enters their mind.  They set themselves up for issues down the road as a result of that.

You talked about not every project is a winner and I’ve had, oh my goodness, more times than I could probably count, that I’ve quite literally shed tears over a DIY project gone wrong, or I’m in the middle of it and I can’t figure out.  I don’t have the correct tools or I can’t figure out a particular thing that I need to learn.  I would say, and you might agree with me on this, that it’s not necessarily for the faint of heart this whole DIY lifestyle.  Try to make it and do it yourself if you can.  How do you feel about that?

Cristin: I definitely agree.  There are some things that you’ll be better at and some things that are just too overwhelming that it then becomes stressful.  You really don’t want to put yourself in a position where you feel too much stress about something.  Yeah, definitely, and even if you were to do something I always … for instance when I got my jigsaw, I was like, well, I’m not just going to jump right into this.  I would take a scrap piece of wood and say, “Okay, how do I feel holding this?”  And just start out slow.  Even look for, do a Google search, and say like, troubleshoot this or what are some things that can go wrong in this project.  If it’s like, leaking gas, you’re like ah, no.

Susan: Yes, safety should always be a priority, absolutely.  I will say though on that note that when you do push through and you do make it happen, does it not give you the most satisfying feeling in the world to say, I can’t believe I did that.  It’s like every time you look at it, even if it’s the smallest little piece of trim in your bathroom.  If you cut that on the miter saw and you put that in its place, you look at that piece of trim differently than anyone else.

Cristin: I know, and then multiply it by all the rooms in your home. Then guests come over and instead of being, “Ah, don’t eat there”.  Be like, “Hey look at this it’s really cool”.  It’s a totally different approach to your home.

Susan: Yeah.  I love it.  I love it.  Now, on your website, you encourage your readers to open their minds before opening their wallets.  Can you explain what you mean by that a little bit?

Cristin: Absolutely.  It is a lot about making decisions, but sometimes we’re moving so fast we’re only thinking make this problem go away.  Or yeah that’s what you do, that’s the course of action so I’m just going to take it and here’s my money.  One area where we came into that was with religious education for our children.  It was kind of expensive and we thought, well you know, our kids need to take these classes in order to make their sacraments and things like that.  We really stepped back and thought, I would like to be the one who teaches my children this lesson.  I actually don’t want to pay someone to do this.  So, why is it I would feel I have to pay someone to do something that I genuinely would want to do myself?  That’s where it is, open your mind to say, “Hey I can do this.  I want to do this, and I want to find a way that I can get the end result doing it my way.”  Instead of just saying okay here’s 200 dollars I’ll drop my kid off every Sunday afternoon for this class.

There’s so many things like that where we can say, “Really, is it something I need, is it something I want to do myself, are there other ways?”  Once we sit back and think … one of the things I have on my website is the term reduction rebel, and it really is.  You sometimes have to rebel against these formalities of life to say, “No.  That’s not how I’m going to go ahead and do things.”  So, it really is about those kinds of decisions, where you really have to think about how you personally want to tackle it.

Susan: I love that, yeah.  I actually have two recent examples.  I think so many times, especially when we’re parents, we fall into this, I don’t want to necessarily call it a trap, but all of your friends are doing it, so you assume you should do it too.  A recent example would be the whole birthday party thing.  We had gone to so many friends’ birthday parties, and I’m not saying they did anything wrong, it’s just everybody’s doing the theme.  The theme of whatever Disney character, whatever their kids are into, and so this year I thought, I guess I would be the worst mother in the world if I did not ask my child what theme she would like for her birthday party this year.  Of course she says, Jake and the Never Land Pirates.  I have to spend hours on the Internet trying to find all of these themed objects that cost me a fortune.  After it was all said and done, I thought, this is ridiculous.  She would have enjoyed the party just as much had we had a party that wasn’t themed on some character.  So, that was one recent example.

Then the whole Halloween thing, you’re supposed to ask your kid, what character do you want to be for Halloween and then spend 50 dollars on the Halloween costume.  This year I thought, I’m going to be open and honest with my daughter and say, maybe you could be one of these three things.  We already have the costume in the house or we could create the costume, and you’re going to help save us money.  We’re really trying to save money and be thrifty right now.  I was so shocked that she just jumped right on board with that.  She’s seven years old.  She said, “Yes I will be a ninja.”  She wore one of our old karate [inaudible 21:50] and she said, “Yes I will do this.  I want to help our family save money.”  That was just a real breakthrough moment for me.

Cristin: That’s awesome.  That is so awesome.

Susan: Yes, I agree with you, and I’m trying to do better with that.  It is hard.  I could do it when I didn’t have kids and with every kid it gets harder and harder.  So in your book, you explain the small daily decisions we make result in either our freedom from or our entrapment by clutter, debt, and stress.  But we rarely recognize when we’re actually making these decisions.  And that’s why you say we need to work backward.  How do you do this exactly?

Cristin: It’s working backward to what the root of your want is.  I have people ask themselves, do I feel I need to bring this into my life because I feel guilty or I’m going to feel left out, or is it a genuine thing like, “Yeah, this would make me happy”?  So people don’t actually always in the terms of decisions think of the life cycle of a purchase or even a commitment to doing something, like being on a school committee or whatever.

Sometimes those situations bring us into the company of like-minded people, and it gives us something to think about and all those great things.  But other times, and you can almost identify this at the moment, if you really kind of look deep at the moment this comes into your life, you know the question, can you do this, or do you want to buy this.  It’s that moment.  If you actually did a gut check, you could say, no or yes.  You would have your own genuine answer that wouldn’t be clouded with these emotions.

If you work back into that genuine feeling about these things that come into your life, it will help you.  Then you just become trained to notice these things, to say, you know, when sometimes you give like a big sigh, or if you’re like, yeah, yeah, and you’re only seeing positive, your decisions come faster and more fluid towards the direction you want to be going.

Susan: So well put.  What’s interesting is as you train yourself, because I’ve done this, as you train yourself to start making correct decisions and go on what you call that gut feeling that you get of, why you want to purchase something, or why you don’t want to do something, that when you make the wrong decision, particularly about a purchase, it’s almost instantaneous then, that you’re aware of that as well.

So, we’re all trying to get better at this.  Cristin, thank you so much for your book.  It has been so helpful for me.  It’s just solidified the decisions that our family has made about trying to be intentional about our lifestyle and not just do the thrifty DIY thing because it’s trendy right now, but we were doing it before it was trendy.  To continue to ask ourselves why, and what is going to make the most sense for our family.  So, thank you so much for joining us today, and I’m going to spend a little bit of time after we close here, and I’m going to let some folks know how to get your book.

Cristin: Wonderful.  Thank you.  That really means a lot to me, Susan. Thank you.

Susan: So, there you have it author and frugal living expert, Cristin Frank, on why she’s so passionate about the thrifty DIY lifestyle.  The coolest part is Cristin has graciously agreed to give one of you lovely listeners a signed copy of her book.  Living Simple, Free and Happy.  Trust me, you want to get your hands on a copy of this book.  It is awesome.  I love it.  You’ve got three chances to win this signed copy.  Number one, rate the Living Rich on Less podcast in iTunes.  Number two, like Eve of Reduction on Facebook, and number three, leave a comment on my blog post for this episode telling me why you have chosen the thrifty DIY lifestyle.  I will keep the giveaway open for two weeks, then announce the winner on Friday, November 22nd.  I will also include these instructions on the show notes in case you didn’t catch everything.  You can find them at, with an “s” on the end.

That wraps up today’s episode.  Thank you so much for listening.  I hope this podcast has been helpful to you in some way, and until next time, remember you are more than the number in your bank account, and you have what it takes right now to create the life of your dreams.

Speaker 1: You’ve been listening to the Living Rich on Less podcast with Susan Penning.  For more decorating, organizing, and home and life improvement strategies, visit

Professionally transcribed by Rev

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8 Responses

  1. Debby says:

    I choose to live a thrifty lifestyle because it simplifies my life and takes away the stress of debt. It forces me to live
    with more intention.

  2. Debbie says:

    We embrace the DIY lifestyle because it makes our house a home and it makes it unique. We recently completed a basement remodel on our own and we love to sit in our new “family room” and just look around at all our hard work. There were definitely a lot of blood, sweat and tears along the way but it was all worth it just to see the completed project and best of all, use the space and enjoy it.

  3. Lois says:

    Great interview. I have been doing DIY projects myself since before there was even cable television. When I had my children I included them in as many projects as they were interested in helping. They learned to hang and finish drywall by age 9, painting their own rooms, furniture repairs and restoration, and even doing automotive repairs including body work. It was fun working with the children and gave us a special time to just talk.

    Now that my children are adults they first look to do a project themselves. I have often been called to supervise something they want to do for the first time just to be sure they remember the right way to do it, but after that I get called to ask if I want to help as they still enjoy my company when doing home improvement.

    In today’s uncertain economy knowing hot to do things yourself is more important than ever.

    • Susan says:

      Wow, Lois! So inspirational. Thanks for sharing. I’m sure your children appreciate all the time you spent with them and how much you taught them. I hope to inspire my kids in the same way.

  1. January 28, 2014

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  2. March 5, 2017

    […] your landscaping, go outside and get your green thumb ready to plant flowers. There are plenty of online DIY tutorials to help you learn to help you learn how to do anything yourself instead of paying someone else to do it. This will […]

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