For a long time, my wife and I have discussed hiring a local housecleaning service, but never pulled the trigger (mostly because of our “cheap” sensibilities). For a pretty low rate (about $14 an hour), a local woman (or her assistant) will come to your house and perform some housecleaning tasks – mopping the floors, dusting, vacuuming, and so on.
Obviously, these are things we are handling easily for ourselves right now. The sole reason we would even consider hiring someone to perform these tasks is to simply free up more family time on the weekends (and on weeknights, to a certain extent).
Take a typical weeknight. It’s a regular event for one of us to be playing with the kids while the other one is doing dishes, cleaning up after supper (with a one year old just learning how to feed herself, we wind up with a fair amount of food on the table and on the floor), and other such tasks.
On weekends, we’re often involved with a lot of leftover cleaning from the week. Some of this is done while the kids are napping, but quite often it’s done when one parent takes the kids out of the house for a while as the other parent gets to the job of cleaning.
In both cases, cleaning takes away from time spent together as a family – time we value quite a lot. I’d far rather spend an hour reading my daughter a book or playing with my son’s collection of toy trains (that’s his current toy du jour) than cleaning – and I think the time spent with my kids has a ton of long-term value for them as well, cementing a parent-child bond.
The first question is whether or not paying for such a service is even realistic or sensible. Should it be on the table at all?
When I examine my life, I realize that I’m paying for a lot of services – some of them useful, some of them not so useful. In some of those cases, I’m paying solely for convenience – I’m paying someone to take care of a task I’d rather not do for the cost.
Take trash pickup, for example. We pay $17 a month for trash pickup as long as the volume of trash fits inside our trash can each week. Instead of paying that $17 a month, I could load two or three weeks’ worth of trash into the back of my truck and haul it directly to the landfill myself, paying just a dollar or two for them to take it – this could save me about $10 a month, but also cause me to waste an hour or so a month in time. So, effectively, trash service is the equivalent of paying someone roughly $10 an hour to haul away trash.
The real question is how much do we value that additional time together as a family – and how much additional time would we really get from having a person clean for us? Let’s say this person would work for roughly four hours a week – at $14 an hour – to do housecleaning.
What would we do with those extra four hours? Ideally, those four hours would be spent with all of us enjoying family time together or engaged in personally fulfilling activities, like reading personally challenging books if the kids were napping, for example.
Would we actually use that time effectively? I believe we would. We tend to stack almost every free minute around here with something productive in terms of family or personal growth (reading, watching documentaries, etc.).
Is that time worth $14 an hour? Here’s where the difficult question comes into play. I believe that time is worth $14 an hour to me, but only if it’s used in an effective fashion. If I wind up doing something less useful with my time – like watching television or playing a mindless video game – then this would be a very poor move.
Could we afford the cost of hiring that person to clean? Obviously, all of this is a moot question if one cannot afford the cost of doing this. Luckily, because we manage our money so strongly, we could afford this kind of service. Unfortunately, not everyone is in that situation.
For me, the litmus test is this: how much is an hour of your time worth? A good way to judge that is to calculate how much income you earn from each hour of work – your true hourly wage. That number can be a great benchmark for comparison.
Wouldn’t it be better to just save that money instead? Yes, it probably would be. I tend to look at things like this as an investment. Will I get more out of those four hours cleaning and putting that $56 in the bank, or giving that $56 to a cleaning service and spending those hours investing in the positive emotional and mental growth of my children – and of myself?
This is not quite the black and white question that one might expect it to be because the human factor of personal finance is a huge factor. It is basically impossible to put an accurate dollar value on quality family time – or to estimate how much more family time is actually worth.
Thoughts and ideas are definitely encouraged here.