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Itching to tackle your spring to-do list?

red shoes

Use our three-step budget hack to clean up your house and yard without cleaning out your accounts.

While you’re dreaming of the ways you’ll get your house and yard ready for spring, don’t forget to keep your budget front and center. It’s fun to get carried away by the thrill of mulch, plants and shiny new garden hoses. But not so fun to spend the summer digging out from under a big credit card bill.

Here’s how you can own your spring cleanup in just three steps!

Step 1: Make a list of the projects you’d like to tackle.
Include the ones that will “just” cost you time (digging a bigger garden bed) and the ones that will mean an out-of-pocket expense. This helps budget your time and lets you see how you can make a big difference even if you don’t have a lot of money to spend.

Step 2: Figure out project costs.
Before you get caught up in the excitement, check out costs. Save time with online research (Google.com/shopping can be a good tool). And don’t assume you’ll only get bargain prices at big box stores. Sometimes a local garden shop might offer discounts if you buy in quantity. Plus, their employees tend to be a –fount of knowledge and tips.

Talk to your neighbors. If all you need is mulch or garden pavers, you might be able to share the cost of an order. And what about tools? You might be able to borrow something you only need once or split the cost of a tool rental with a friend or neighbor. Some cities even have tool-sharing libraries. Do a bit of research and consider your cost-saving options.

Could you barter for any of your projects? Do you have a friend with a green thumb who’s willing to trade landscaping ideas for babysitting or one of your famous gourmet meals?

Keep an eye out for deals. One of the area’s biggest home improvement stores routinely has rebates on all purchases. Project timing could save you a chunk of change.

Step 3: Decide which projects you can really afford—and how to pay for them.
Once you’ve come up with project costs, decide what makes sense for your budget. Sure, a new patio would be fantastic. But if a new patio means you can’t take the kids on your annual camping trip—or can’t pay your grocery bills and mortgage—this might not be the year for a splurge.

Are you going to pay cash or use your credit card or a home equity line of credit  (HELOC)? If you’ll be using cash, start saving money out of every paycheck so you’re ready when the spring expenses hit. Tempted to get a credit card at the home improvement store because it offers deals or a great introductory rate? Make sure you read the fine print. What happens if you don’t pay off the balance before the regular rate kicks in? And will having this card tempt you to spend more than you would have otherwise?

One way to get the benefits of the store card without the downsides is to draw on your HELOC to pay it off. You’ll get a better rate than the credit card, you can set up an auto-pay from each paycheck for payments, and there might be tax benefits too.

Spring is nearly sprung! Own it and enjoy!