Keeping Up With the Joneses: Our Frugal Yard Remodel

DSCF3355Good morning, party people.  I’m baaaaaaaaaaaaaackkk. 

I know, I know.  You missed me, and it’s totally understandable.  The good news is, we enjoyed our vacation in Florida and returned home rejuvenated and refreshed.  As usual, going on vacation gave us time to brainstorm all kinds of ideas on how to save money (and make more money, of course).  It was awesome.

DSCF3248A lot of people have emailed to ask how my daughter’s dolphin cruise went, and I’m happy to report that it went great!  We saw a ton of dolphins playing and feeding, and even saw a few tail flaps.  The only thing we weren’t able to do was swim with the dolphins, but it was only because the water was so rough.  No biggie.

Other than that, we had a great time.  It did rain a few days but that gave us the opportunity to visit a museum, go bowling, and even roller skate.  (Confession: I haven’t skated in years, and I am honestly surprised that I didn’t seriously injure myself.  Phew.)

Our Frugal Yard Remodel

Anyway, we got back into town on Saturday and immediately got started on our yard.  Why, you ask?  Because of this:

DSCF3368Let my try to explain what you’re looking at.  Basically, the yard next door makes my yard look like shit (mine is on the left). I mean, his yard doesn’t even look like grass.  And it feels like walking on pillows.  Meanwhile, my yard is filled with dandelions, crab grass, and spots where the grass died altogether.  I think I have yard envy.

The thing is, since this is the first Spring in our new house, we’re just now finding out that people are really into their yards in this neighborhood. It feels like we’re all keepin’ up with the Joneses, except that it’s not about cars, boats, and fancy clothes.  Instead, it’s about grass color and texture, flower bed design, and proper mulching techniques.  Sigh.

While I do care enough to make sure it’s presentable, I’m just not willing to spend a lot of coin on my yard.  We did do some remodeling in our back yard, but that was just for our own enjoyment since we have a privacy fence.  Here’s what we’ve done (and spent) so far.

  • Grass Treatments: $45 (We hired a company to do five treatments between now and fall)
  • Grass Seed: $19
  • Spray Paint: $3 I repainted a metal table that the previous owners left at this house
  • Fire Pit: We replaced the junky fire pit that we found in the back yard when we moved in.  Cost $0 (I paid with a  gift card from Christmas.  Winning!)

DSCF3365Our New Garden

I’m also super excited to report that we planted our first garden.  It’s a small one, but we didn’t want to overdo it on our first try.  If it goes well this year, our plan is to double the garden’s size next year and try growing a few new veggies and fruits.  Anyway, here is what we planted this year:

  • Strawberries
  • Cucumbers
  • Squash
  • Onions
  • Tomatoes
  • Sweet Potatoes
  • Basil
  • Cilantro

We spent a total of $156 on plants and supplies.  Fortunately, a lot of our supplies can be reused year after year.  Here’s the rundown of what we’ve spent so far:

  • Tomato Cages: $24
  • Fencing: $29
  • Dirt: $20
  • Plants: $83

I am happy that my yard is starting to look better, but what I’m really excited about is growing some of our own food.  I’ve had tomato plants before, but have never had a full-fledged garden.  I cannot wait!

Do your neighbors keep up with the Joneses when it comes to their yard?  Are you planting a garden this year?

About Holly

Holly Johnson is a wife, mother of two, and frugal lifestyle enthusiast. She is the co-founder of Club Thrifty and a staff writer at Get Rich Slowly, Frugal Travel Guy, and U.S. News and World Report's "My Money Blog." Holly has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Kiplinger Personal Finance, Fox Business, and Daily Finance.

Comments

  1. The neighborhood of our former home was like that- everyone was very into their yards. Our new neighborhood is sort of a step down, at least in yard maintenance (as in, several people could stand to care a lot more about their yards if you know what I mean). I’m jealous of your garden! You’ll have to let us know how it turns out.

  2. We had no choice. The HOA were relentless! Ours was still crappier than most. They also did this yard of the month crap which made everyone want to win, everyone but us of course..lol! Good luck with the yard, and so glad you had a blast on your holiday.

  3. Ekk… this is the stuff of my nightmares (coming from the perspective of a city boy from the Northeast). I would never want to deal with a yard, and wouldn’t want to pay someone to deal with it either… hence apartment living. I think there is a premium I am willing to pay to not have to spend time on that stuff. However, I 100% get where your coming from, and it sounds like your doing it pretty darn thrifty.

    • We have kids so I can’t imagine not having a yard! I don’t mind taking care of it, but I could live without all the competitiveness!

  4. Ahhh…the backyard garden. I have very fond memories from childhood of helping my parents tend theirs during the summer. Of course, a lot of the veggies they grew I really didn’t care for at the time. So it was kind of torture helping all the plants grow knowing that the food they produced I would be forced to eat at some point.

  5. Sounds like a nice frugal yard makeover. Our neighbors keep up their yards to a reasonable degree, but none of our yards look “amazing.” I do have some big plans for ours, such as replacing our 11 foot leaning retaining wall and extending it to 40 feet, which also involves moving a ton of dirt for some new level land. I like your privacy fence and I can definitely say I’m envious of it haha.

  6. You can hear us ranting out about our front lawn today! Though we’re not trying to keep up with the Joneses so much as not get our house taken and resold by the HOA. And we’re going to end up spending a mint on it this summer no matter what we end up deciding to do. :(

  7. Oh, the things I’ll have to think about when I move to suburbia. I know in some HOAs there are rules about how your home and yard have to look/ be maintained. I mean I’m all for having a beautiful yard, but that’s a lot of pressure :)

  8. Our whole neighborhood keeps great care of their lawns….and I’ve had yard envy for the years that we’ve been paying off our debt but plan to get back into it this year. not because I feel like I need to keep up with the Joneses, but because I honestly love the look of a nice lush lawn. Of course my backyard backs up to a park (which is super cool in many ways), but the city doesn’t do any kind of weed control, so I’m constantly fighting the onslaught of the dandelion army during the summer.

  9. LOL. in our old suburbia neighborhood, Rick was CRAZY about the lawn. All of our friends called him The Lawn King, and yes, we did have the best lawn in the neighborhood, and for dirt cheap, I might add. :-) So glad to hear you guys are trying your hand at a garden – beware of those strawberries; they multiply like rabbits! :-)

  10. Thats great! We want to have a garden but lack the space at the moment. We have a couple of small pots with herbs but thats about it. One day when we move we’ll do something like this. Looks great!

  11. Nice work Holly, especially on the garden! We like to keep up with our yard, and need to get started on our garden since it now seems like winter is finally over. We have a few in our neighborhood that really do a lot with their yards, but most really don’t.

    • It’s like that here too, except that most people do take care of their yards. Fortunately, there are a few yards that look worse than ours!

  12. I would love a Huge, Flat backyard. I live in the wrong place for that.

    Yards in my neighborhood are a disaster, so there’s little peer pressure to keep mine looking good. Yards in Chattanooga generally look like crap, except for newer subdivisions where kudzu has yet to set in.

    That said, if you keep your grass high (3″) you don’t have to do much upkeep. Keeping your grass that high maintains a strong root system that can fend off weeds.

    My yard used to actually look pretty good because I used a push-reel mower and kept the grass really high. People thought I treated my lawn. A few years ago I had to pay someone to mow my lawn for a few weeks and they cut it really short even though I asked them not to. Ruined my front yard, and my back yard is still recovering.

  13. Our neighbor rents the house next to us and the owner needs to give some TLC to their yard. I don’t really care how great a yard is, just make it presentable. They have a white picket fence that hasn’t been painted since 1895 (seriously, it looks BAD). Plus, it is falling apart. There are sections missing from all of the snow we had this winter and now looks even worse. We are thinking of saying something but don’t want to start a neighborhood holy war.

  14. My yard is fine… the plants up by my house? Not so much. I keep meaning to dig them up, but with a pregnant wife and a very active almost 2 year old, I am lucky I keep the grass cut. Someday I’ll get it all taken care of. In the mean, at least my grass is cut. I’m just glad the HOA in my area is voluntary.

  15. The garden looks great. Hope it turns out well. I love pretty backyards…it just feels peaceful, but there is only so much I want to do as a renter. I did try growing a small box garden since it was already built in our shared backyard, but the only thing I could grow was tomatoes. I don’t know…maybe I should try it again? I’m torn about how much money I want to spend doing it.

  16. Many of our neighbors are retired and all they do in the summer is work in the yard. One of them doesn’t even like to go on trips in the summer because she can’t be there to pull the weeds as they first pop up. There is no use trying to compete. I can’t win. We just try to mow and make it not look like a weed farm.

  17. I know exactly how you feel (re: the neighbours) we live around like 4 retired people and they have all the time in the world to invest in their yards… and we don’t. I love gardening and really plan on stepping it up this year. For Mothers day I’m actually getting a vegetable garden so I’m pretty stoked. We looked into having it professionally treated but it was incredibly expensive (I think it was almost $1,000 for the year) which sounds like the same thing you’re doing. Looks great :)

  18. Oh wow, it looks like your neighbor even does the diagonal pattern mow too, fancy! In our neighborhood everyone takes care of their yard/lawn, but no one seems to go over too over the top.
    Your garden looks great! Ours is about the same size and we’re super excited!

  19. We get yard envy all the time. We have it badly right now. We have put money towards our lawn these past few years and nothing is working!

  20. Love that yard next door! My wife is quite the gardener, so ours kind of looks like that. The good news is most of your spending is up front — we haven’t spent a nickel on the garden this year, and it doesn’t look like we’ll need to.

    So you have some “light” years ahead of you. :)

    • I hope so! I know that we’ll keep the fencing up and be able to reuse the tomato cages. The only expenses we should have in future years are for plants and seeds.

  21. I am a little envious! Living in southern California, land is at a premium. My wife maintains a garden, but just herbs.

  22. Ha! I love that you have yard envy. We live in a community with an HOA that covers lawn care so our yards are kind of like a socialist society where everyone has the same things. In our previous home in Tampa, both neighbors on either side of us parked their cars on their lawns so I definitely didn’t have yard envy there, in fact, I wanted to tow their cars constantly. But I can see why you would have it and I love your garden and can’t wait to hear your results!

  23. I’m jealous of your garden! We planted a small one this year with cucumbers, tomatoes, and peppers. We had a lot of herbs started, but then a frost hit and killed them off.

  24. You have a super nice yard!!!
    I never thought I would want want a nice yard, but one thing I learned from buying this house is that if they lawn is crappy it’s really hard to get it uncrappy. Our Lawn is full of weeds. The fenced in yarn by our patio has no grass! Seriously. Just soil. So we need to plant some grass.

    • I agree that it’s hard to make a yard nice when it’s been neglected. It’s much easier to keep it nice to begin with.

  25. I wish I had room for a garden, but that’s the life of not having a yard. I have been thinking about starting a small container garden, but I’m not sure if I can maintain it – I have a habit of killing all plants when I try to grow them, including house plants.

    Glad to hear your dolphin cruise went well. I always wanted to do that when I was younger, but it never happened. :)

  26. Awesome work on the garden! That’s something that really appeals to me on an emotional level, but when it comes down to actually executing it never seems all that exciting. I’m not sure I’d have the dedication to keep up with it, but it will be interesting to hear how your experiment goes. Good luck!

  27. Loving your posts on frugal remodels. Looks great without a big price tag. I don’t have a yard since we live in an apartment, but if we ever buy a house, I’d love to have a garden and grow some veggies and fruits.

  28. I love your privacy fence. I hope to have one like that some day in my yard. Anyway, we were working on our yard this weekend. We have a ton of dandelions. They are just nasty looking. I sprayed some weed b gone. We’ll see how it ends up. We may have to reseed the whole yard. Thankfully we don’t have HOA’s here so it’s up to every homeowner to do what they want. My neighbors are not really into their lawns so there’s no pressure.

  29. The yard remodel can be painful and ongoing, however, I think it’s totally worth it if you can do it for the right price. My boyfriend is currently do it to his yard and deck. I think it will be much nicer when it’s all done. For me, in a high rise apt, it’s not something I’ve had to do yet! One day…

  30. Yard work is so cheap and so effective. I love how little investment it takes and then how great it makes your house look – especially after the plants have matured for 1-2 years.

  31. Oh man, I am embarrassed to post pics of our yard disaster. I just fertilized, but after years of neglect, our yard is lumpy and lame. Plus overgrown bushes everywhere…

    Ugh! I have total yard envy, almost enough to hire out the clean up. Almost…

  32. I’m glad you had a great trip and you daughter had a wonderful birthday with the dolphins. It’s too bad she couldn’t swim with them but at least she got to see them! I had to laugh about your backyard because I forget that people actually have big yards. :) Here, unless you are Hollywood wealthy, you typically don’t have much of a yard. Your home takes pretty much all the space.! We actually replaced the small, tiny patch of grass that was our backyard and put tile down. It’s actual usable living space now with a great patio, fire pit, bar, etc. Although grass as soft as pillows does sound kind of nice but hard to get here, especially with our drought.

  33. Hey, I just started a garden to. We’ve got

    Strawberries
    Raspberries
    Tomato
    Onion
    Watermelon
    Pumpkin
    Corn
    Sunflowers
    Broccoli
    Asparagus

    I can’t wait to see how it turns out. Keep us posted on how yours works for you!

  34. I hope everything goes well with the garden, that’s awesome that you’re trying it out! At my parents’ old house, our neighbor was absolutely fanatic about tending to her yard. As soon as it got around 50 degrees, she was outside. Every day. I guess her yard was her thing, but she made everyone else’s yards look like crap. I think she also complained about our yard to my parents. Glad I live in an apartment complex for now!

  35. Our yard is green – can’t say it’s all from grass though. I know there are lots and lots of weeds in it, but it’s green, and from a distance, no one can tell :) We just redid our raised beds in the side garden, but thanks to weather and other things going on, the seedlings are still in the guest room window. A lot of the veggies I like aren’t very conducive to backyard gardening by the lazy: corn, potatoes, squash, peas, so we do what we can :)

  36. Had A garden a few years ago-wish I had a place for a garden today!

  37. This kind of stuff would drive me absolutely nuts. Our neighborhood is a mix of people for whom their yard is a big hobby and people like us that do the absolute minimum of mowing.

  38. We have this neighbor who is absolutely obsessed with his yard. It’s beautiful, and he spends hours a day in it puttering. We are getting ours into shape. Last year, it got a bit overgrown because the previous owners over planted. But we’re working on it!

  39. I love the garden! My wife and I are starting our own garden too. Looks like yours is coming along nicely!

  40. I moved into our current home almost 2 years ago and I’m still trying to get my lawn looking as good as my neighbors. Some of them have professional landscapers and others spend a TON of time on their lawns. To me, it’s something I do my best at and I want it to look presentable, but I’m not willing to spend a fortune on it.

  41. Hello! This is my first visit to your blog! We are a collection of volunteers aand starting a
    new project in a community in the same niche. Your blog provided us valuable information to work on. Yoou have done a extraordinary job!

  42. Thanks for this great article. Remolding your yard is very exciting, but it can get a bit pricey. It is great to cut costs whenever possible.

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