Ally Bank Summer Well Spent Series
When it comes to living the good life, there’s no better time to do it than during the summer. But whether you’re planning a barbeque for your family and friends, or renovating your backyard to make it the hottest spot in your neighborhood, it’s important to keep all the relevant financial concerns in mind. After all, you’ve spent all that time saving and preparing for that big vacation or backyard project – why not make sure it’s perfect?

For this new Ally Bank series, Summer Well Spent, we’ve talked to a range of experts about how to make the most of your summer days. To kick things off, we’re revealing the ways in which you can invest in your backyard and turn it into a premium space. We enlisted home improvement expert Brian Kelsey of the upcoming TV show, Kelsey on the House. A former SiriusXM host on Martha Stewart Living Radio, Kelsey offers these tips on how to get the most from your backyard.

Brian Kelsey

Get More Out of Your Investment

Looking to invest in your backyard? The key is “buying very good quality products,” says Kelsey. “For example, if you’re going to buy chintzy patio furniture that’s not outdoor wood or that’s not protected, you’re only going to get one season out of it. You should spend a little bit of money now. Teak, for example, is more expensive. But that wood will last a long time – and it’s beautiful.”

For the patio itself, Kelsey recommends using fieldstone or bluestone. “Any of that kind of stuff is long lasting and wears forever,” he says.

This Summer’s Must-Have Accessory

This add-on is not only hot this summer – it’s hot, period. Fire pits “are huge,” says Kelsey. “I think they’re just the best thing. It’s not a big cost – fire pit kits can go anywhere from a couple hundred dollars up to as much as, really a thousand dollars – and they last a long time. That’s a really good small investment for a big return. We use our fire pit right through the winter.”

Checklist for a Great Backyard Party

When you’re throwing a backyard party, you’ll need to secure the right set-up before you even start planning your playlist or barbecue menu. In order for your get-together to pay off, here’s what you’ll need:


There needs to be enough – especially for gatherings that go on for hours.

Level Surfaces:

“There needs to be a place to put your drinks down,” notes Kelsey. “Especially if you’ve got a lot of food. Even if it’s not a sit-down kind of dinner, you’ll need small cocktail tables – or even old crates.”


“In the dead of summer, there needs to be some sort of respite from the sun,” says Kelsey. For an easy, temporary source of shade, he recommends looking into shade sails, which are fabrics mounted overhead and attached to posts.

Bug Control:

“Once the mosquitos come out at dusk, they can ruin a party,” says Kelsey. So whether it’s citronella or something else, Kelsey urges you to employ the bug repellent.


If your event lasts through twilight, make sure there’s lighting. “One of the worst things is the sun goes down and somebody just flips on a giant floodlight in the backyard,” says Kelsey. Instead, he says, “Before the lights go down, make sure you’ve got candles in place or subtle lighting – inexpensive low volt lighting that you can pick up at the home store and install yourself. It’s so easy.” Even LED Christmas lights can do the trick, Kelsey says.

Area Definition:

When looking to cut down on backyard mess (such as spillage, garbage and torn-up grass), “Containment is key,” Kelsey says. “Create a reason for people to stay in one area. You can do that with beverage and food, or even with lighting – just keep one area lit.”’

Can’t-Miss Backyard Games

If you’re using your backyard for recreation, Kelsey recommends sticking with temporary fixtures. “I like ones that aren’t permanent,” he says. “I don’t think adding a bocce court will add to the resale value of your house or help you sell it. And it can be a pain for the next owners.”

Instead, Kelsey suggests sticking with simple additions, such as good quality volleyball nets or a stake in the ground for a game of horseshoes. He recommends, “things you can take apart and take down, but that you can leave up all summer.”

A Smart Backyard Add-On (and One That’s Not so Smart)

“I’m a big believer in a shed,” says Kelsey. “Some sort of storage area because we just never have enough space – even if you have a huge house. So I like the idea of a pre-built shed. They come in all different price ranges.”

On the other hand, unless you live in a hot climate. like in Texas or Arizona, Kelsey believes a pool can literally be a money pit. “They’re very expensive and they’re a lot to upkeep,” he says. “And you don’t get very much resale value with them – any realtor will tell you that. Invest in a pool if you’re going to be there a long time and if it will be worth it for you.”

An Easy, Awesome DIY Project

Looking for a simple project this summer that can make your backyard look great? Consider a flagstone path.

“I’m a big fan of laying flagstone,” Kelsey says. “It can be as complicated or as simple as you want it to be. There are different sizes and thicknesses, based on how much you want to spend. You can get rough-cut slate or stone and you can just plop it right down on the grass and make a simple pathway.”

What kind of investments have you made in your backyard? How do you use your backyard?