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The following is a guest post from Amy, a dear friend and behind the scenes helper on Southern Savers.

What you need to know about gas vs. reel mowers.

Mowing the lawn.  It’s a fairly simple task, but this year, it has the potential to be quite a costly one.  When my husband and I got married 8 years ago, we bought our first power mower.  As the years have passed, I have watched one part after another break.  Money is tight around here, and now our self-propelled mower has become a husband propelled mower.  Well, actually, he can’t even get it to start this year.  So, we have to decide what to do.  Do we take it to the shop and pay over $100 to get it repaired?  Should he continue to spend hours scouring the internet to educate himself in lawn mower repair?  Or with gas prices skyrocketing, should we try something different?

You see, last fall, I read an interesting book, Better Off: Flipping the Switch on Technology.   One of the things that this book made me think about was the energy, effort and money I pour into machines that are meant to make my life simpler.  In other words, I become a slave to the things that are supposed to be making my life easier.  Now, I am not about to give up my washing machine.  Oh no.  But with gas prices skyrocketing and our family’s lawnmower dying fast, we are willing to consider something new.  A reel mower.

We live in a typical ranch style house on a half acre lot.  I wouldn’t dream of getting a reel mower if we had a ginormous yard that would take hours upon hours to mow.  The amount of time it should take to mow our yard would be about the same with either mower, but what about the cost?

Gas prices:
The cost of gas is around $4 a gallon right now.
Mow once a week from April-September (we do live in the South!)= 26 weeks of mowing
It takes about a gallon of gas to mow our lawn.
So $4 x 26 weeks = $104 for the gas

Maintenance:
I called around town, and it appears that tune ups for power and reel mowers are about the same, but after a quick internet search, it appears that we could actually tune up a reel mower ourselves.  If you aren’t handy, this wouldn’t be a money saving aspect, but if you are, you could save around $70/year.

Sharpening the blades:
This cost was included in a power mower tune up, but separate for a reel mower.  To have someone else sharpen the blades would cost about $85, but a kit to do it yourself is around $20 (and a one time expense).

Mower costs:
It appears that you can spent around $70-$200 for the reel mower itself.  As you can imagine, a power mower costs significantly more.

We are going to try it.  My husband is definitely handy and able to do the maintenance on his own, further reducing our costs.  I would love to be able to let the girls play outside while I mow and could actually hear what they were getting into.  In the end, if we try it for this year and hate it, we haven’t lost anything as the cost of the mower would cover what we would have spent on gas.  And who knows, the next time you drive by our house, you might notice pretty patterns like they have at the baseball fields in our front yard.

Have any of you made the switch from power to reel already?  Any tips for this newbie?

    • susie

      Here’s a website that might help.  http://www.reelmowerguide.com/
      Here’s an example of the benefits they promote:
      1. They’re light.2. They’re quiet. 3. They’re environmentally friendly. 4. They’re better for your grass. (Rotary mowers tear the grass. Reel mowers cut the grass like scissors, leaving a fine spray of cuttings as mulch for your yard.) 5. They’re maintenance free. 6. They’re as easy to push as much heavier motorized mowers. 7. They don’t blow exhaust into your face while you’re mowing.

    • Julianne

      This is was great story for sharing..I currently rent a town home, and my back yard has flowers and I don't trust the lawn care people that is covered on the property for all around the town homes….Because they my cut my flowers….so my grandma gave me her old electric weed eater, and has worked perfect for me. So that being said…maybe an electric lawn mower…and electric weed eater could save you on gas a year…just not sure on the maintenance cost….Just a thought : )

      • Squirrelhater

        I use an electric blower and an extendable-handled electric chain saw.No gas and no aggravating two cycle motors.

    • ireneY

      I have an old rusty push mower that came with our old house. I used it a couple of times for fun. It's great if your yard is smallish, flat and free of debris such as twigs, pine cones, etc. A small twig could (and would!) cause it to stop in its tracks and cause the handle to jam into your gut.
      It's definitely worth a try and it's great exercise. Why pay for a gym? You should be able to find one used on Craigs List if you're not sure about the investment.

    • Our mower just bit the dust last year so we were in the same situation this summer –  get a new one or repair the old one or get something else.  I was to the point of considering getting a goat to help, ha!  Just kidding although goats may be fun too!  We ended up going to a couple yard sales this summer and one of the places we went to was selling a like new Reel Mower for $10 because they were moving.  After talking with the owner and paying $8 for the mower we got ourselves a new mower plus some extra exercise! 

      You do want to make sure you have picked up your yard first (rocks, twigs, etc…) to help make the mowing smooth and quick.  If the grass gets too long you will not be able to cut it well with a Reel mower, we tried cutting our side yard which had not been cut for a couple months although it did cut the lower grass most of the longer grass just went flat then popped back up after the wheels and mower had gone through.  If your grass is too long I would recommend using a weed eater first to at least get the tall stuff down then you can get a smooth cut with the Reel Mower. 

      I completely understand making wise budget choices.  You have to do what's best for your family no matter how many neighbors have beautiful riding lawn mowers!  The kids have fun picking up the sticks and the whole family chips in when it's time to mow.  We live on over 4.5 acres, however, we only mow a portion of the yard.  Hope that helps!  Thanks for sharing.  Glad to know we are not the only ones who were considering and eventually purchased a Reel mower.  Check out the yard sales this weekend, you never know what you'll find!

    • my dryer broke 3 years ago and we don't miss it. First of all you save a steps hanging the clothes straight from the washer, they dont sit in a basket waiting to be folded. You have to take them out of the washer immediately so you hang them..then they are ready to go straight into the closets. You can group them by family member and put them away a bit at a time. You have to put them away before you can hang the new ones, so you dont procrastinate. The clothes are always done! I cant tell you how much EASIER this method is than the way I used to have baskets and baskets of unfolded clean clothes to put away. I also have saved tons on electricity.

      • Squirrelhater

        Amen!!A dryer is a real electricity eater.We still have one,but mostly use it for socks and unders.Our troubles aren't the appliances,but becoming slaves to them like that power mower.Americans(Southern Americans especially) are supposed to be too smart for that.

        • CWW

          I have HE appliances which means the clothes come out of the wash not so wet. I let them go in the dryer long enough to get hot and steamy and then hang up all the hanging clothes leaving socks, undies , PJs to dry. It saves energy and the clothes aren't stiff like I remember from hanging straight from washer. They don't seem to wrinkle as much either.

      • mommyof1

        I actually dont like hanging our clothes out.. maybe its just me.. but dirt and debris can fly up on your clothes from the wind… bugs also can get into your clothes.. i just dont feel clean wearing clothes that were hung outdoors.. which to me, defeats the whole purpose of washing your clothes.. i love my dryer, and my elec. bill isnt really much higher (for a family of 3)   My family didnt have a dryer until i was out of the house with my own family.. so I did my fair share of hanging clothes.. I will occassionally hang clothes in our sunroom to dry if its a small load.. but i love love love our dryer =)   I applaud yall for saving energy – its just not for me.

      • natalie

        we line dry here too…i'm not going to pretend it's easier than having a dryer but i don't mind it and i think it's worth it. our dryer is gas and our gas bill is WAY down this summer (mostly from not running the heat but still). also for relatively large and thin things (think sheets) they actually dry faster out on the line than they would in the dryer. and the sun's uv rays kill germs and odors too. sunning is also an excellent way to get rid of stains!

    • Audrey

      My husband has no choice but to use the reel mower because our gas mower broke. But he put it off so long our front yard is out of control so much the reel mower can't touch it. It is a ton of work to use but it does okay in the back yard.

      Good luck to you guys. You'll be sweatin

    • Guest

      We switched “by accident.” My husband wanted his dad's old reel motor from when dh was a kid (after his parents moved into assisted living). so we brought it home and put it in the shed. He kept mowing w/ the power one. Then one year the power one quit working and was unfixable at almost the end of mowing season. He decided to wait until they went on clearance and to just use the reel mower until then. We thought our grass looked better than ever, it was about the same physically as our old push mower had been  though SO it became a permanent arrangement.

    • guest

      Our gas mower quit working last spring and after spending a lot of time trying to find someone to fix it (and it was going to be expensive) I decided I was done with tuneups, bad oil and buying numerous sparkplugs.  I went and bought an electric one.  It was the best $200 I've ever spent!  You just have to be careful about the extension cord.

    • Grandmacoupons

      Anothe bonus of the reel mower is less noise pollution. You can mow as early as you want and the noise will not bother the neighbors.

    • Cdenton_80

      We did a reel mower for years until we had kids and needed something faster for our large lot.  We found that if you put the mower on the lowest setting and run it across the pavement it will sharpen the blades too.

    • I have Bermuda in the front, fescue in the back. When the fescue is long and thick, the reel mower can't handle it. But if you keep up with it so it doesn't get too long, even a pre-teen could handle this (with supervision of course). Good luck!

    • Brandie790

      A reel mower would be fine if your yard was very small and your grass wasn't very thick. If you have thick grass the reel mower might not do the job. and you may have to cut more often with the reel mower….just to keep the grass from growing so high. if your grass gets to high the reel mower may be hard to push.

    • schoolingthree

      We gave up on the reel mower.  The neighbor's trees were dropping little brances and twigs that kept getting caught in the reel, and stoping it.  When the reel stopped, it did so abruptly and left me off balance and prone to a fall forward.  For me, it was too frustrating and dangerous.  I don't have much mow so am hoping that the new mower will last for a long time.

    • Esyke623

      We have a “husband propelled” mower, also.  I agree with many who have already commented– if you have a small yard and keep up with the grass before it gets too long, you can make do with this.  If you have trees with twigs, or even have grass that is thick, it's so hard to use this type of mower.  You have to run over it several times.  It is quieter, but it doesn't do well with edges (like if you have flower beds) or uneven lawns (the entire blade can't touch at the same time).  If you can, I'd borrow one from someone and try it once– then see if it is the right option for you.  If it isn't, you aren't out anything.  You may even be able to pick up one from Craigslist for free.

    • Lonestar9

      Somebody has to say it, but thanks but no thanks. My mower died last year, so bought a new one that starts up like a car(it has a battery). I love it, and the gas it uses. My yard has bad weeds, a section with lots of trees, and the grass is the cheap kind, kinda thick. I would not consider a reel mower for me, but for those who can use them, more power to you!!

    • Squirrelhater

      I have emerald zoysia in the front and 1 side yard(approx.1700 sq.ft.)Reel is definitely the way to go.A rotary burns the tips of the grass blades and sometimes leaves”swirl” marks.That said-it's hard work-SHARP blades are a must and most importantly-you will rake.I can't speak for centipede,but most of the finer bladeds turf grasses(including mine) will die if clippings are allowed to lay and the thatch builds up quickly.I actually tried out a self propelled reel a few years ago—over priced and contiual basket(reel has small basket as opposed to bagger) emptying soured me to that kind of mower.I have the standard southern back yard-children's playground,garden,dandelions,crabgrass,nettles,maybe some fescue-no way to use reel on that mess.The more you can do without gas the better…I'm really interested in producing electricity as those rates are also climbing–any tips are appreciated.This site and similar have me averaging 60% savings on groceries and 80% on drugstore things…and I'm thankful,but believe I can do more-let's help each other out.I'm disabled;my wife is underemployed,and we have a rising 10th grader looking forward to college.Needless to say,everyone needs to get out and vote!!!All the “change”from '08 is dragging the whole country down.

    • Lisa

      My mower died last week and was going to cost several hundred dollars to repair. I would never consider a reel mower – it's just not for us – but I did pick up an almost good as new used mower from the pawn shop for just $80.

    • christy

      I always wanted one of these mowers, I think next time I will buy one.   Any extra work is good for my body, that's the way I look at it.. FREE WORK out, lets keep our buns in shape and help the environment seems like a win- win for me. 

    • Whitney Archer

      This is useful information. We have a very tiny yard (no more than 15 feet – it's a townhome) and it's usually free of debris. The association is supposed to mow it, but they do a very poor job, usually leaving half the yard unmowed. I get very frustrated with them!

    • Save1moredollar

      Our goal is to landscape/create out-door living space to the point where we have only a tiny yard that can be mown conveniently with a real mower.  For now, we borrow a riding mower.

    • Bridgetmsw

      we have a reel mower and my husband LOVES!! The only thing is it does take longer than the gas & we do have to mow more often.

    • Kami

      We had a gas mower at our old house and now a reel powered one at our current home. In the three years since we have made the switch, here's what we have found:

      Pros: cost (cheaper), less noise, great exercise, smaller item to store, no gas needed

      Cons: have to pick up yard, it doesn't leave the nicely defined “rows” that a gas mower does, more energy needed to actually cut the grass.

      Sounds like you put a lot of thought into switching. I hope that it goes well for you!

    • Myra

      A reel mower would work fine if your yard is “perfect,” with no weeds, nice grass, and relatively smooth terrain.  However, if you have a lot of dandelions, crab grass, or really tall or thick grass/weeds, it won't cut very well.  I know from experience because unfortunately, our yard is not “perfect” :-)  Good luck!

    • 22paisley

      I you have Florotam or St. Augustine grass, beware.

    • Lynneweeks

      you could also consider an electric mower, we got ours off of craigslist. They have plug in and charging ones and the cost of electricity is much less

    • twohappykids

      I hope the reel mower will work for you!  We only have a third of an acre to mow, but we have a riding mower (the cheapest one from Lowe's, but I will never mow another blade of grass without it! :D )  When we first moved here, my husband tried to be environmentally friendly and bought a Black & Decker electric mower (even though “I'm” the one who does all the yardwork and said “Please! NOOOO!) and it was absolute TORTURE in the horrible Florida heat to mess with the big, long cord, and plus, the cutting path was so narrow it just took FOREVER to get the yard done…and then there was all the weed-eating and edging to do after that.  We have tough Centipede sod and weeds mixed in, as well as pine cones and twigs from the trees, so two years ago we finally bought the bottom model Bolens riding mower with a 10% off coupon from Lowe's, and it is the very best purchase I've ever made for our home!!!  We can mow at least four times without re-filling the gas tank, and it only takes about 40 minutes to mow instead of two hours, allowing me to get on with the day and out of the obnoxious heat! :D  I get exercise on my recumbent bike and chasing small children all day! :D

    • Lakotaloki

      like others have said: the reel mower will only work if your grass is perfect. Got weeds? Crabgrass? Don't want to mow every few days (depending on rain)? Then a reel mower is not for you. I love reel mowers, but you have to have the right lawn and mindframe (frequent mows) to make 'em work.

    • Dreamcatchersjeb

      We have an old push mower, no gas, no electric, and it works okay. It builds muscles in your body, keeps you trim, and does take more time. The Amish have been mowing for years with only body power and I have seen the Amish women mowing too. Their yards look great and for some reason their grass always looks greener and so fresh. Good luck to you!

    • Laura Z

      I love that book!! We have 3/4 of an acre and just bought a Fiskers momentum reel mower, which we love!  ( My husband had a cheaper one before we married and it wasn't good).  The fiskers is not good at  dandelions and weeds that are really overgrown, but a simple weed whacker could take care of those in minutes.  It's quicker and gives a closer cut than the electric black and decker we had before.  I doubt we'll ever go back to a conventional mower.

    • Tiffanyf56

      I live in a subdivision with a smaller yard and this is our 4th summer with a reel mower.  I have found that it helps to have thick, healthy grass (we have centipede) and to try to mow about once a week.  My husband gets a little frustrated with it at times, but we can't make ourselves get another mower.  Our solution is for me to mow while he weed eats : ).  Good luck!

    • Whaddup

      A reel mower partners great with an electric weed-whacker.  I have one with a rechargeable battery, and I only mow about every 3 weeks or so.  Take care of the big weeds first, then go back and mow.  I'm a single mom, and I can easily do this myself…no husband needed, lol!

    • KEB2009

      if it keeps breaking, then whoever you are paying to fix it is ripping you off.

      and i'll take the heartache of spending money on a self propelled mower over a reel mower ANY day. and not sure where in the south you are, but we haven't have rain in weeks! and no way i cut my grass every week even with rain!

    • SaraO

      We had a reel mower a few years ago did not like it.  Yes it was quiet, that was about the only plus.  Ours would not cut weeds, did grass fine but if you had any stubborn weeds you had to pull them out by hand.  I guess if you have a beautiful lawn with no weeds, you shouldn't have that problem.  Then again if we are trying to save money on lawn mowers, we probably aren't spending much money maintaing a perfect lawn.  M husband would have to almost run with it if our grass got taller.
      I will take the noise and extra money and keep our “real” mower.

    • Mschaus

      We had a reel mower back when we had a townhouse, but anything larger became too much, especially with mowing in the ditch and edging.  We made the switch to a corded electric mower, which works out great for us.  Our first one cost about $180 and lasted 6 or 7 years before a switch went out and it became cheaper to buy a new one than to fix it.  Our new one was purchased at the end of the season for $150 and has done even better.  I use the clippings to mulch my vegetable garden and save there as well.  With fewer moving parts, there is a lot less to break on the electric mower, and you won't run over an orange cord.  Our yard is around 1/4 acre, but rectangular and 2 linked extension cords still can reach the back.

    • Eblux84

      We currently have a reel mower (we've had it for about two years). Our yard is incredibly small, but my husband has a very hard time with it. It works fine if you only have grass in your yard (no weeds…it's impossible to cut crab grass with the reel mower) and if you do cut your grass every week. We live in NC, so if you miss even a week, the grass can be very difficult to push through. So very often, my husband just winds up cutting much of the grass with our weed-eater. The reel mower is such a pain, but unfortunately we just don't have the money to buy a gas one. Occasionally we'll borrow a neighbor's. So if your family does have the money to repair/buy a new gas mower, I'd stick with that. It'll save you a lot of headache.

    • Yinyang915

      We have a small yard (1/4 acre) and had a reel mower. We live in SC and the grass is centipede grass. The reel mower just couldn't do the job. It would not cut it well enough. We would have to go over one spot like 3 times and in this heat, that is no fun!! We broke down and bought a gas mower. It was a hard decision because we are an eco-friendly family, but reel and electric just can't take this thick grass. Good luck!

    • momof3

      I wish you well!  As for me and my 8+ acres, we'll keep the 54 in Husquavarna!

    • cahugh4

      My moped mechanic is also a lawn mower mechanic. I hang out in the shop 2-4 times a week, so I've learned a lot just from observing things and asking questions.

      Firstly the engine in a lawn mover is the same as one in a moped (at least the smaller ones). My gas tank holds 1.6 gallons of gas and I get 75mi/gal. There is no way for an 1/2 acre lot you would use 1 gallon of gas/week (unless your lawn mover is a gas guzzler or a riding mower).

      If your lawn mowers keep breaking down year after year, there is a problem. Lawn mowers really cannot be kept outside in the rain (water will kill the engine and the motor), bad gas will clog the carburetor, not priming the lawn mower enough will kill the engine, etc.

      I would always recommend getting an expert to sharpen  your lawn mower blades and performing the maintenance on it (unless you are mechanically inclined). I watched and spoke with my mech as he fixed 3-4 lawn mowers Thurs., the most I've ever seen him charge a customer is about $100 for a lawn mower repair (and that was for a riding mower that needed new parts)

    • Sally

      We bought a reel mower as our very first lawn mower!  It lasted 1 year until it broke and we would have needed welding experience to fix it so we moved on to an electric cordless.  It's quiet and works great, we are so happy with it.

    • I have both; a riding mower for the main part of our lawn, and a reel mower for just the small backyard. I wish I had gotten a smaller push mower. If you have any weeds at all, avoid the reel mower. It just won't work for you. Also, plan to mow every week. A power mower can easily cut through a month's growth, but the reel mower can only trim off an inch or so without multiple passes. Since grass clippings can clog the system up, you'll find yourself making a lot of passes while shaking out the mower. On the plus side, they are super low maintenance (just keep it clean, and keep it calibrated), and result in an excellent carpet-like cut. But don't ignore the amount of work. For just my small 20'x20' backyard, it would take about 3 minutes with a power mower. With the reel mower, it's more like 20 minutes. In summer heat, every minute counts.