When I was growing up, my mom told me all the time, "Don't force it; there's a reason it's not working. Find out what it is."
Funny enough, when I would stop whacking, slow down, analyze, and think it through, I could often solve the problem, whether it was a gate that wouldn't close, or a vacuum that wasn't working. This soon helped me be more brave, and I started taking on slightly more complicated problems. When I was ten and my digital alarm clock wouldn't work, I opened it up and solved the issue. (It turned out that dust was short-circuiting the board. I blew it off.)
Yeah, that was lucky. Still, my philosophy now is "Well, it's already broken... I can either try it myself and maybe save some money, or definitely have to pay to replace or fix it."
One thing I've learned is... if you can figure out how something works, you can more easily figure what's wrong, and therefore how to fix it. I have a couple books - my favorite is the children's book, The Way Things Work (I figured how to fix a leaky faucet handle with this book!)- but the Internet an amazing fix-it tool.
The two most-common problems I've seen with toilets, the ones I've personally had to fix a few times, have to do with the flapper, and the handle or chain.
What? You don't know what a toilet flapper is? Yeah, neither did I, until someone told me...
Not only is it helpful to know how the toilet works, but also to know what the parts are called. Then you don't end up at Lowe's, wandering aimlessly down the plumbing aisle. Or trying to tell the employee that what you're looking for is that red-rubber-round-thingy-at-the-bottom-of-where-the-water-goes. (That's the flapper , which is in the bottom of the tank.)
For great diagrams on how a toilet works, and what the parts are, see toilet-repairs.com
So- those two most common problems? First, If your handle goes up and down but the toilet won't flush, check the chain inside the tank. Sometimes it comes off, and sometimes the connection will have simply rusted away. Buy a new chain; it's about $2. If you need a whole new handle, it's still under $5.
The other common problem is when the toilet flushes and won't stop. That's a problem with your flapper- basically a flexible cover for the hole at the the bottom of your tank. If it doesn't close, the water keeps running through. Sometimes the chain is too long, and gets caught between the flapper and the hole. Sometimes the chain is too short, and the flapper can't close. And sometimes the flapper is being old and stubborn and needs replaced. It's about $3. Isn't it worth trying? A plumber's a LOT more expensive!
That said, sometimes hiring someone is worth it. We had a different type of problem with our toilet- it wobbled. It's a toilet in the basement, and the floor was not flat, there were no bolts for it to connect to, and the sewer hole for it was in the wrong place. By my husband's best reckoning, it would take a jackhammer to move the pipe to the right place in the cement. After four years of asking him to PLEASE replace that toilet, I hired a handyman. It's now installed properly, the basement bathroom is now fully functional, and we will have no further arguments about when the project will be completed. Merry Christmas to me! and to him!
(If you live anywhere from Ogden to Provo, and are looking for a handyman, I hired Russ from Repairs-R-Russ, using a local half-price coupon, available until midnight Dec. 28.)