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The Basics

Frugal failures: When DIY goes wrong

Yes, you might save money, if the project doesn't blow up in your face -- literally.

[Related content: savings, cheap, housing, frugal, save money]
By Diane Mapes
MSN Money

When Susan Johnston decided to save a few bucks by reattaching her vacuum cleaner plug to the cord, she didn't realize she was playing with fire.

"I was trying to save about $45," says the 30-something production vice president from Burbank, Calif., who consulted a do-it-yourself book to handle what it called an easy repair. Following the instructions, Johnston opened up the cord, slid the wires under the screws, put the whole thing back together and plugged it into the wall.

Immediately, there was a pop, and flames shot 3 feet into the air.

"My wall was black, my vacuum fried, and I had to hire an electrician to rewire the plug in the wall," says Johnston, who spent about $350 in the aftermath of her disaster. "The electrician said I was pretty lucky; I could have gotten electrocuted."

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With budgets tight, more of us are strutting our autonomous stuff by tackling projects on our own. Unfortunately, like Johnston's vacuum cleaner, some intrepid do-it-yourselfers are getting burned, shelling out extra cash or suffering injuries when a project goes south.

Here are some of the most common frugal failures -- and what you can do to get it right.

Budget beauty

Coloring our own hair and painting our own nails will cost the beauty industry about $500 million in 2009, estimates market researcher IBIS World. Sales of home hair coloring supplies are up 19%, and electric hair clipper sales are expected to grow 11% this year.

But cutting costs and cutting hair don't always mix.

"We've had a couple of people who've asked friends to do haircuts in preparation for major events like a wedding or class reunion," says Margery Huff, the director of hair care retail at Gene Juarez Salon in Seattle. The result of saving $60 on a cut? Hair extensions -- "because the haircut got so short while they were trying to make it even" -- starting at $1,200.

More people are trying to do their own eyebrows at home, too, Huff says. "Sometimes, the wax will get too hot, and they'll burn themselves. Other times they'll go too thin and will have to pencil their eyebrows back in."

Rather than walk around with scary hair and uneven eyebrows, make budget beauty work for you:

  • Get closer to nature. If you can't skip the salon, at least go with a look that requires less maintenance and less money. "Instead of taking your hair from dark brown to light blond every four weeks, go with . . . a few bright accents, so the maintenance is stretched out," suggests Huff. Root touch-up kits ($4 to $10) are a great way to make color last. On Bing: How to pick hair color.

  • Bargain hunt. Local beauty schools often offer drastically discounted services. Look for specials when new salons open. And make sure to ask whether your favorite stylist will offer complimentary bang trims (many do).

  • Learn the ropes. If you're going to do an at-home cut, do your research. Have a friend teach you, or tap YouTube or your local library for instructional videos. Get the proper equipment: hair scissors, fine-toothed combs, electric clippers. Betsy Talbot, 38, of Seattle says her husband thought he could save by cropping his hair short with a beard trimmer. He wound up shaving a 3-inch bald patch onto the back of his head. "You definitely have to get barber clippers," she says. "And learn to have patience." Talbot says they've saved $200 over the past nine months. On Bing: How to cut hair.

  • Start small. When it comes to home hair color, start with shades that are close to your natural color and do a test strip beforehand. For home waxing, think mustaches and eyebrows rather than bikini lines and legs. And always, always, always read the instructions.

  • Remember, it's not forever. A good home hair coloring job may not look as good, but it's not the end of the world. "I was spending about $200 for a cut and color every eight weeks at the salon compared to a $10 box of Feria at home," says Vanessa Torres of Beverly Hills. "Does it look as good? No, but it's absolutely fine for right now." (Need to indulge in wishful thinking? Read "The $800 haircut.")

Continued: Mr. and Ms. Fix-It

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