I've been patching drywall this weekend.
It's a new skill I've learned because we thought we saved money on some electrical rewiring a few years back. We hired a friend of a friend who interpreted wiring codes creatively. When a short developed a couple weeks ago, the real electrician who came to fix it was only able to find the short by doing some educated guessing and then punching holes in our bathroom wall until he found the improperly hidden connection causing the problem.
The service call cost a couple hundred dollars, plus I'm out $47 more for stuff I needed to fix the unwanted giant colander look in the bathroom.
But I've had time to read while waiting for coats of joint compound to dry. Turns out that growing numbers of homeowners, like me, are learning new skills - or not learning them well enough, in some cases - in this economy. Sometimes the results are funny. Sometimes they are painful.
And sometimes, you just have to spend money to save it, especially if you don't have much to work with. Blowing the money I saved on wiring is a case in point. It would have been cheaper to do it right the first time.
It's pretty easy to come up with other stuff you shouldn't overskimp on too. Car maintenance is just one example. You need to get to work when you find some and a transmission job or other major repair will really burn through your emergency fund. Car insurance is important too. You need to carry as much as you can reasonably afford because, in this economy, other drivers aren't.
Similar choices will become obvious as you think through your budget. Basically, you want to spend a little money now, and spend as little of it as you can get by with, to avoid spending a bunch more later. You'll probably make some personal choices too. My wife and I decided today that we'd probably give up cable TV before our museum membership. Cable is easier to replace and it's much harder to bootleg fine art.