Updated on 08.01.14

The Simple Dollar Weekly Roundup: Learning Yard Care Edition

Trent Hamm

Last fall, I attempted to fertilize the yard with fine dried compost – that seemed to work very well for making things grow. The only problem is it made a ton of broadleaf grow as well all over the yard this spring. I talked to a friend of mine who takes care of yards and he suggested that I try some “weed and feed.” I found some organic weed and feed and attempted to apply it myself using a push spreader. I didn’t know exactly how far apart the rows should be when I pushed it, so I leaned down and watched it spray out of the bottom of the spreader and estimated the rows based on that. I estimated far too wide, and now we have strips of dark, luscious green grass next to strips of light green (still healthy, but not as thriving) grass with broadleaf in it. So, now I have to go get a second bag of the organic feed and weed and on the next dew-heavy morning I’ll go out and spread that on the light green areas.

I had no idea the gamesmanship it took to get a yard looking decent. I now understand why people hire lawn care specialists, though I’ve learned quite a bit doing it myself. Doing it yourself is worthwhile, though – once you’ve learned how to do it, you’re almost always better off doing these things yourself, because the money you save compared to paying someone to do it is usually tremendous. Twenty minutes’ worth of spreading is worth about $35 in labor, it seems.

Anyway, on with some personal finance posts.

Twelve Top Personal Finance Podcasts Many readers have asked me to start a podcast. I’ve been hesitant to do so, mostly because I don’t like the “norms” of most podcasts. I think most of them run on far too long – with the exception of the handful of highly polished professional podcasts I listen to from NPR and American Public Media, I usually grow bored before the end and turn them off. My ideal podcast length would be about three to five minutes unless you have something highly compelling and specific to get through – any more than that and it seems to devolve quickly into rambling. (@ get rich slowly)

Increase Your Salary Without Increasing Your Work Most of these are pretty sensible ideas, actually. I found that knowing market rates helped some of my friends in their job hunt (my old job paid more than going market rates but had a few quirky requirements to fill, too). (@ the digerati life)

One Bag Travel This is a tactic that reduces financial risk and also saves a lot of time when traveling. If I’m traveling for four days or less, I do this every time – I just unfold everything and do ironing when I get there. This enables me to not have to wait on the luggage carousel when I arrive, usually getting me at my destination much quicker and also reduces the financial risk of lost luggage. (via unclutterer)

Falling Off the Dave Ramsey Diet This is a decent criticism of Dave Ramsey. I agree with the vast majority of what Dave Says, but no financial writer is absolutely correct and if you believe one is, I have some bridges I’d like to sell you. (@ personal finance advice)

Depression is Expensive, Denial Much More So I understand completely and intimately what this person is going through. (@ make love, not debt)

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  1. Saving Freak says:

    I love the post on falling off the Dave Ramsey diet. I am a Dave fan but some of his stuff just doesn’t mesh with me. This is why I started helping out an up and comer named Joe Sangl. His approach is much more practical in my opinion.

  2. paidtwice says:

    Thanks for the mention and the link. :)

    If you’re still fighting the fight like Him – seek help. No one deserves to live in a world of clouds and fog and darkness. I’ve been there too. Good luck.

  3. Andy says:

    I like Dave Ramsey. His advice will work if you follow it, and within in a few years you’ll be out of debt and in relatively good financial shape. Sure, it doesn’t work for everyone, but it is unrealistic to think broad advice for the masses will work for everyone.

  4. Daniel says:

    I feel your frustration. I’ve started my own project in frugal food production – Zen (Vegetable) Garden – and I’m learning all sorts of things. Sometimes by reading, sometimes by ending up with results that are…well…other than what I’d intended. Still, there is great value in the doing – eventually the result will follow and we’ll be better for the experience!

  5. Frugal Dad says:

    Enjoyed the roundup this week, Trent. I especially enjoyed Falling Off the Dave Ramsey Diet. I disagree with a couple of Ramsey’s finer points, but on the whole I agree with his approach and appreciate him for spreading a message of living debt free.

  6. CheapGirl says:

    Here’s a few tips for applying stuff with the spreader:

    1. Drive the spreader so that the edge of the spread lines up w/ the middle of your last row (where the spreader was). EX. if when you push the spreader you notice that it shoots out stuff around 3 feet on either side, on the next pass put your spreader at 3 feet + 1.5 feet away from the previous pass. This way each pass’s spread will overlap the one before. This is to get more stuff onto the direct path of the spreader.

    or 2. Drive the spreader one direction, then go back over your yard in the perpendicular direction. This will help to even out the stripes.

    Just be careful you don’t over apply whatver it is you’re spreading!

  7. KC says:

    I do my own yardwork, too, cause I don’t work and I find it crazy to pay someone to do something I have the time and energy for. But I’ve never understood the competition to have a lush, green yard. I maintain the exterior of my home so that it doesn’t bring down the value of anyone else’s home. Here’s some thing’s I’ve learned…

    1- If you live in the city and your neighbors religiously water their lawn – your lawn will grow for free :)
    2- keep the bushes and hedges maintained. You want them low cause it enhances your home and you want them cut away from your house so moisture can evaporate and not seep into the foundation or wood/brick.
    3- If you have a small yard buy electric power equipment – It’s cheap to buy, and only requires sharpening the blade or changing the stringer every few years. Don’t worry about running over the cord. In 7 years I’ve ran over a cord once.
    4 – Do your yard work when your neighbors are home. For some reason they feel guilty and go out and work on their yard too. You want your neighbors to have a decent yard, too, so your home’s value doesn’t decline.

    So that’s the lazy woman’s approach to lawn care. I’m sure some of you have higher standards, but I’ve found these things to work well for me.

  8. AndyS says:

    I like the podcast article which I read at GRS. They often provide some good blog topics. However like pf blogs, pf podcasts are growing rapidly and you need to esnure you listen to the good ones which actually try and provide advice rather than sell you a product.

  9. Lurker Carl says:

    Lawn care is trial and error, some improvements have unintended consequences but nothing has really been damaged in the process. Be careful with the weed and feed, too much will kill the grass if the weather turns hot and dry. But like a bad haircut, it will eventually grow back. Another reason to be sparing with the feed is you’ll be cutting the grass twice as often.

    A good compost pile should reach an internal temperature high enough to destroy plant seeds and diseases. If you are composting your own yard and household wastes, consider adding horse or cow manure into the mix to get the temperature up.

  10. K says:

    What a timely post! I live in a neighborhood where people spend lots of money on their lawns and ours is filled with weeds and looks awful in comparison. I was just thinking of writing to ask your thoughts on what level of lawn upkeep is necessary and frugal ways of doing it. Thanks!

  11. Sarah says:

    Why keep a lawn at all? Why not use it all for gardening room, or (as I saw recently) for mosses? It seems like a lawn is one of those “suburban expenditures” that exist primarily as a status symbol rather than as a meaningful contributor to your quality of life.

  12. DB says:

    Regarding “Increase Your Salary…”

    Once in a while I’m frustrated by – but most of the time I’m glad of – the fact that as a teacher, there is no wrangling with the boss over a raise or bonus. My salary is what it is, negotiated by our bargaining team, with increases set in stone for the next three years. It can be diffucult to accept the fact that no matter how much harder I might work than the teacher down the hall, or how many more hours I may put in, we’ll make the same amount (in fact, if he/she has been here longer, he/she makes much more than me). But that’s the way it is – I’m not able to change it.

    If I want to earn additional money, I can pick up coaching jobs (as I’ve done) or extra-duty contracts (I give up my lunch to work as lunch supervisor). Further, I can work during the summer and on weekends if I choose.

  13. eden says:

    I pretty much agree with Sarah (#11). I’d much rather spend my time and $ on actual plants in my yard – not grass which is primarily there to keep the yard from turning into mud. As long as it’s more green than brown and there are no large bare spots, why bother spending money on grass? Personally, I think the super-green manicured lawns are rather ugly. The ‘weeds’ in my lawn have beautiful white, blue, purple, and yellow flowers – much nicer. Plus, a number of them are edible and make great salad additions.

  14. Mo-Town says:


    I think you’re painting with a bit too broad of a brush. There are definitely some people who go overboard with their lawns, but eliminating your lawn altogether isn’t a realistic or desirable option for most people.

    If have children or pets, a yard provides a safe area for them to play. Also, if you have neighbors close by, tearing out your front lawn and replacing it with a vegetable garden or moss would probably make you public enemy number one on your block.

  15. K says:

    Sarah may have meant something more along the lines of a flower garden that they have in magazines. They look really cool but wouldn’t necessarily fit in in a suburban neighborhood.

  16. guinness416 says:

    Yeah, I agree with Mo-Town. I live in the city (and always have) and we enjoy our wee lawn, although it’s probably a whole lot smaller than Trent’s! And despite the lawn, we have room for some veggies and a patio. Plus what would the men on my street do on summer evenings, if they couldn’t stand with a beer comparing grass?!

  17. Cheryl says:

    Geez, I wish I had such problems. I live in an apartment.

  18. guinness416 says:

    Oh, as to the podcasts. I’ve never heard most of those on the GRS post, but the most enjoyable website-specific podcasts I’ve listened to are VERY interactive – members phone in, emails read, user comments/posts are highlighted, etc. Similar to comments being an integral part of blog posts, I suppose. Listening to one person talking about credit card rates or something has the potential to be rather … dry, to put it mildly. But I’m open to being converted, so I’m going to try to check out JD’s recommendations.

  19. H-Bomb says:

    Trent, you could do a show on blog talk radio. Where listeners can call in and ask questions or type questions to you and you answer them over the air. That might be fun.

  20. I have to admit, I was surprised by how bad the Dave Ramsey article was, considering that you promoted it. He doesn’t fairly represent the program at all. Dave prescribes adjustments to the program for many situations, “blow” money, and to work several of the steps (retirement, kids college, house paying off) concurrently if you can afford it. I thought it was a under-researched and under-considered review. I hope it doesn’t lead too many people away from something that could be very useful for them.


  21. Sarah says:

    Children don’t actually require carefully manicured lawns to play on. I didn’t have one when I was growing up, for sure.

  22. Greenthumb223 says:

    Trent – when you fertilize, go over your yard with granular lime as well. It will change the soil pH and help the grass grow better.
    Use the 3-day plan too – fertilize and lime on Mother’s Day, Labor Day and Thanksgiving. Grass is a cool weather crop, but weeds love hot weather. If you fertilize in the summer, you are helping the wrong thing!
    Finally, set your blades at least 3 inches above the ground for a longer cut – the longer the grass above the ground, the longer the roots are below ground. That helps with drought and keeps grash lush.
    To get the best results for anything you want to grow, use a soil test. If you go through the county extension office, they get a copy of the results too so they can help you with the application rates and the details!
    For more free information – check your local county extension office and ask for the Master Gardener program. They are a dedicated group of volunteers who help homeowners with their questions. Grow green!

  23. Trent Hamm Trent says:

    “I have to admit, I was surprised by how bad the Dave Ramsey article was, considering that you promoted it. He doesn’t fairly represent the program at all. Dave prescribes adjustments to the program for many situations, “blow” money, and to work several of the steps (retirement, kids college, house paying off) concurrently if you can afford it. I thought it was a under-researched and under-considered review. I hope it doesn’t lead too many people away from something that could be very useful for them.”

    His books describe a plan that’s pretty black and white without much room for deviation. That’s the introduction many people get to Ramsey – I know it certainly was mine.

  24. Marisa says:

    “Know the market rate” frustrates me to no end. How am I supposed to know the market rate, exactly? Maybe I’m unusually ignorant? Job titles don’t match up anymore across companies. Also, I work in one city for a company based out of another.

    Can someone suggest ideas on HOW to know the market rate of your current job?

  25. J.D. says:

    You know, it might also be possible to do a TEAM podcast…

  26. KAD says:

    What organic weed and feed did you use? The broadleaf is taking over my backyard — but I don’t want to put chemicals down!


  27. CheapGirl says:

    Organic weed & feed is usually cornmeal gluten.

  28. momof4 says:

    i hire out the weed and feed because it is only $10 more than the cost of self application and I hate that kind of yard work. we went without any weed and feed for 5 years because of the kids, but now, out of respect for our neighbors we’re going to try to spiff up the lawn.

  29. Kelly says:

    Regarding One Bag Travel- Another financial benefit: American announced today that they’ll be charging $15 for ONE checked bag.

  30. jtimberman says:

    WRT Dave Ramsey’s “black and white” approach, the reason is quite simple, and its in the gauruntee on FPU: “If you do it, it works. If you don’t do it, it won’t work.”

    He repeatedly states that personal finance is 80% behavior and 20% knowledge and he’s right. If you *do* the plan, then it works. But you have to actually do it. Also, he’s been teaching personal finance for *TWENTY YEARS*. Apologies to Trent, JD and others, but that gives him a lot more credibility than any of the personal finance bloggers and certainly more than any people who comment on said blogs. That hundreds of thousands, if not millions, have done his plan and are at financial peace really does prove that his plan works.

    As for lawns – yes they’re a waste of time and money, and don’t really add much to quality of life. However as mentioned, they’re a good place for children and pets to play. I certainly wouldn’t want my 2 year old tromping in a veggie garden.

  31. Martha Beddoe says:

    I would also love to know what organic “weed n’feed product you found. thanks.

  32. michael says:

    @sarah: “Children don’t actually require carefully manicured lawns to play on. I didn’t have one when I was growing up, for sure.”

    Kids don’t actually require fruits and vegetables either, and many grow up on McDonalds and Taco Bell. That doesn’t mean that a good diet is a bad idea! In many areas, the small lawn you provide them may be the safest play area kids have outdoors.

    All this is moot in my area (Las Vegas) anyway — I have desert landscaping that does a pretty good job of taking care of itself. Occasional weeding and pruning, and that’s about it. No dogs, no kids.

  33. Jennifer says:

    Now that you have it figured out though it will be easy to do it right from now on. There is a learning curve frequently, but most things are worth learning.

  34. Mike says:

    Trent–Get rid of the broadcast spredder and get yourself a drop spredder. They are best because you can easily know how much and where you’ve put stuff down. You just align an arrow on the spreader with your previous wheel mark in the grass and you’re golden. Plus, it keeps stuff from being thrown where you don’t want it, like on concrete where you will develop rust stains if you don’t get the fertilizer removed. I started out with a broadcast and then quickly switched to a drop myself a long time ago. Also, DO NOT add lime unless you’ve had a soil test done and the results say you need it. A lot of places in the midwest have extremely alkaline soil and you need to add sulfur to correct it. Lime reduces acidity and will make the problem worse if this is the case. Regarding weed & feed, I’ve found that it is cheaper and yields much better results buying weed killer in concentrate and mixing it up in a sprayer. This way you only spray chemicals on the weeds and you also know that they are thoroughly coated. Straight fertilizer is also cheaper. If you want to get fertilizer on the cheap, look around Home Depot or Lowe’s for torn bags. If you find some, ask an associate about marking them down for you. A lot of bags get cut open from carts so there is usually a steady supply of torn bags. The same applies to all bagged yard products. I worked for Home Depot for a while when I was laid off and going to school. I probably bought 30 bags of fertilizer for $0.25-$0.50 a bag.

  35. pfadvice says:

    Thanks for the mention. Always greatly appreciated. Dave and his system always seem to create quite a converation with a variety of opposing views.

  36. Sarah says:

    A place to play is certainly valuable to kids, I agree. Why that place needs to be a lawn that is fertilized, mowed, watered, fussed over, weeded, etc.–that’s what I don’t get.

  37. Jim says:

    I grew up in a ‘weed’ neighborhood, and the house I have now has weeds for a lawn, as do the rest of the houses in the neighborhood. I had not even thought it through until I read this post. Lawn care registers a big giant yawn with me.

  38. Shareef says:

    Thanks for the Dave Ramsey post. I listen to his podcast daily and he dispenses great advice, though I never got the feeling that I needed to follow his plan exactly. Many of the financial gurus are for inspiration and tactics, but you always have to meld it to what you know works for you. I do think that Dave’s method can work for people that in beyond serious condition, such as a majority of the people that call his show.

  39. Anitra says:

    I don’t really get the lawn care obsession in the suburbs. As long as it’s green and trimmed, and there’s nothing that’s going to harm our feet (for example, dandelions are thorny)… who cares if it’s one variety of grass, or many, or even a hodgepodge of grass and “weeds” like violets?

    “Lawn care” for me means mowing and sprinkling grass seed in the bare spots.

  40. Jeremy says:

    The Dave Ramsey article had a few significant incorrect statements about his plan, and I would compare the deep financial trouble his target audience is in more to alcoholism versus going on a diet, where moderation DOESN’T work and you have to go cold turkey.

  41. Susan McGehee says:

    Caring about the state of one’s lawn seems antithetical to socially responsible standards. Do you consider the impact of products as they leach into the aquifer? Do you consider the senseless use of precious water resources? Does a perfectly green , weed-free lawn really reflect your values?

    What about using native plants in lieu of the conventional?

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