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Girl's guide to home improvement

Nicola Jane Ford is a freelance writer and the author of the novel Scatter, a psychological suspense mystery. She is a frequent contributor to SheKnows.com, often writing about home and travel.

Not just for the guys

Has your home improvement activity been limited to choosing the bathroom tile or stenciling some ivy on the walls of your kitchen? Come on -- don't resign yourself to the "girly" tasks! You don't need to wear your goods on the outside to use a table saw, nailgun or a welder. Yeah, they're heavy, noisy, and maybe a bit imposing. But with a little training (along with a little moxie and common sense), you can make your home your castle. And there's nothing quite like accomplishing a project in your home that not only looks great, but makes you feel great, too.

Home improvement

Get your game plan

It's hard to shop when you don't know what you want or need. So look through home and garden magazines and catalogs, browse the Web, and keep track of anything that inspires you. Start a file or even a shoebox to store pictures of appealing designs, and use them when starting projects. Don't limit yourself to getting inspiration only from other home projects. Use art, decor, the outdoors or even clothing to generate ideas.

Set a timeline

Some projects need just a couple hours a weekend for a few weeks to be complete, while others will require months. To keep yourself on track, make a project timeline. Plan for the hours to be spent on the job itself -- as well as the time spent perusing, shopping (and returning -- see below), toting and prepping for the task.

If this becomes something you're doing because you want to but don't have to, consider investing in a software program specially suited to the task. They can help you plan your project's look as well as assist in budgeting both time and money.

Make a list

Consider everything from the painting accessories, type and size of hinges to trim and towel bars. Jim Mathews, owner of Mathews Contracting LLC in Seattle, advises looking online first when searching for fixtures, tile, carpeting, appliances, cabinets, flooring and lighting, but, he adds, "The obvious downside is that you can't actually touch the products." He says to get your ideas out there in the stores, and buy either locally or online -- wherever you can get the best deals.

Don't forget to include purchasing, borrowing or renting the proper tools required for a professional -- really professional -- looking project.

Create a budget

If you're comfortable with a little flexibility in your budget, build in a little wiggle room, but still keep on paper an upper end figure you will absolutely not go beyond. Remember to factor in all the costs. Are you taking trips to the dump? Do you have all the tools, brushes, protective gear, patience and persistence required?

Girl's guide to home improvement

Get quotes from local equipment rental companies. Tile saw, jackhammer, pressure washer and carpet cleaners, some savvy showy shopping may keep costs (and clutter) low. Don't be afraid to borrow a tool or a friend to help with daunting projects.

Also, helpful friends require sustenance, so don't forget to budget for meals out when one is too tired to cook. And then there are the beverages... like soda, water, tea and of course, many cups of coffee.

You should also make sure to check with your local building department to see if your city, county or state has special building regulations, or requires permits or permissions. Often following the permitting process can be a hassle -- and a slow, slow process -- so find out what you need to do, how long the while thing will take, and how much it costs before jumping into your project.

Finallly, factor in extras like taxes, delivery charges and installation fees for various goods and services.

Don't feel dumb asking for help

Come on -- you're not expected to know where everything in the store is located, nor how to use every tool or supply. (Not to mention that the smaller and/or more obscure the item you're seeking, all the more you will need help to find it.)

Don't give up after the first "I don't know." If the associate/salesperson doesn't know the answer to your question or is simply too busy to help, ask someone else. (Along these same lines, if they claim not to have a product you'd expect them to stock, ask another salesperson... just in case.)

Sooner or later (hopefully sooner), the do-it-herselfer may find that she's more knowledgeable about where to find things than the aproned sales associate.

NEXT PAGE: Benefits of staying local, Going green, Receipts and returns, finding more tips & DIY advice

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