If you're between the ages of 14 and 19, you should be learning a trade in your spare time. Whether that means your working Saturdays or on your school vacations, you should be working with someone who can teach you how to make, build, or fix something tangible.
If you're 21 years old or over, you should already know how to build, make, or fix something. If you don't, learn.
When I was a boy, I'd often work with my father on Saturdays helping him on his aluminum and, later, vinyl siding and gutter jobs. I hated it at first. Most of my time was spent picking up small chips of siding and wood off the ground and out of bushes and generally keeping the job site clean. As I got a bit older, my dad had me running the saw. Eventually, I learned how to use a utility knife to cut vinyl siding freehand. (You want a useful skill? Learn to cut well with a utility knife. You'll never go hungry.) Ultimately, I became his cut man. He'd be up on the staging measuring pieces of siding for me to cut and hand up to him. Frankly, thinking about it now, I wish I'd never bothered to go to college. He and I could have been a pretty good team.
When I was 16, my dad got me a summer job with a mason he knew. While my friends were all earning $3.35 an hour stocking shelves or serving food, I was making $6.50 and hour and learning important skills to boot. I learned to mix mortar and concrete; and I learned how to set brick and block. It was hard work. Brutally hard work. I thank God I did it.
During another summer, I worked with a company that poured concrete foundations. I learned how to set the forms and how to pour concrete footings and foundations for a house. You don't know what heavy is until you've tried to throw an 8' form back up onto the truck.
I've worked with a landscaping company dropping large trees in sections, planting shrubs, and installing sod. J'ever lay sod in the pouring rain?
Before I started college, I spent two summers working for a small roofing company. The owner used to wear an army cap with the words "Slave Driver" written in felt pen on the back. I started off doing nothing more than lumping the packs of shingles up the ladder all day long for the other guys to install. Eventually, I was taught to lay the shingles myself. After that, I learned how to weave them, how to cap the roof, and how to measure a roofing job.
All told, formally worked with every aspect of general contracting except plumbing and electrical work, and I've certainly experienced enough of both of those to install sinks, toilets, spigots, electrical outlets, and lighting fixtures without the aid of a professional.
OK, so what's my point?
The point is that as an adult homeowner, I've saved myself untold thousands of dollars doing a wide range of projects for myself that would otherwise have required hiring a professional.
The Mead Hall wouldn't exist without the skills I learned when I was a teenager. The brick patio in my backyard would still be a compost pile and patchy grass without those skills. I've painted every room in my house. I used an excavator to break down a retaining wall. I've installed dimmer switches, outlets, and chandeliers. I've installed a gas oven and the range hood over it. I laid ceramic tile on my kitchen floor and linoleum in my basement. I've replaced toilets well as faucets. This spring, we're adding a small addition to our home. The only reason I'm not doing it myself is that I don't want to take the time off from work. But my experience did warn me that the quotes I received for $25,000 were way overpriced and it enabled me to find a contractor to do the work for only $14,000.
This is a short list of what I've been able to do for myself. I could also point to the work I've been able to help others with.
Last week, Math Guy asked me to help him install ceramic tile in his bathroom floor. The job should have taken about 3 hours. But once the old linoleum had been torn up, it was clear that this floor would never adequately hold ceramic tile. Sometime in the 1950's, a previous owner thought it would be a good idea to cut out floor joists to make room for plumbing lines. It took us all of Saturday to shore up the floor, but dammit, we got it done. We laid a new subfloor and a layer of duraboard. On Sunday afternoon, he had himself a very nice tile floor.
I don't buy the notion that these skills aren't for everyone. Everyone should know how to do something, especially you beings who call yourself "men." These are basic life skills. I don't do this for a living. I've never wanted to do this stuff for a living. Heck, I've got a graduate degree from Virginia Tech. I work in the IT field. I'm as soft and spongey as the next pathetic lump sitting in a cube farm. But when I got laid off from IBM, I picked up my hammer and saw and paid the bills for almost two years as a carpenter.
Learn to do something. Sooner or later, you'll be glad you did. You'll find you'll either enable yourself to do something you'll be proud of later, save yourself some serious money, or you'll help a friend with the same. OK, maybe you don't have anything to sheetrock and plaster in your own house, but your friend will, and he'll be willing to replace the starter in your car if you help him out.