A reader asked me if I could break down my ideas into a handful of principles. After some careful thought, I came up with a list of fourteen basic “rules” that summarize my money and life philosophy. I’ll be presenting these as a weekly series.
A couple times this spring, I watched a TruGreen van park at the house next to mine. The person inside got out, loaded up a push cart with lawn fertilizer, and pushed it around the lawn. He then loaded up the cart and drove away. It took maybe twenty minutes each time.
I do basically the same thing, except on my own. I’ll get some quality seed and feed from the local gardening store, load up my little cart, and push it around the yard during the spring. Again, it takes me about twenty minutes and costs me maybe $15 in supplies.
I was intrigued that my neighbor used this service, so I asked him how much it costs. He quoted a price of about $80 for a “spring treatment” – which was apparently the two sessions I observed.
I kept it in mind and watched our lawns throughout the spring. For a while, there was a difference, but it was mostly due to shade differences in the spring and different times of application. Now, in mid summer, I can’t tell the difference between the two yards.
By spending twenty minutes doing it myself, I saved $60. That sounds like a deal to me.
One big caveat, right off the bat: I’m not claiming that you should do everything yourself. There are certainly situations where paying others to do things for you is beneficial, and those opportunities become more prevalent as your income rises.
However, the more things you do for yourself, the less money you spend on overpriced services.
This spreads across more avenues of life than you might initially think. “I don’t pay for a lawn service,” you might think, “and I’ll never hire a maid or a cook.” It goes far beyond that.
When you go out to eat, you pay for someone to serve you. Much of your cost of the meal isn’t in the food – it’s in the cost of the cook to prepare it and the waiter to bring it to your table. Instead, cook the same meal at home. Almost always, it will be significantly less expensive – and often healthier. Even more surprising, it often won’t take you as long as your trip to the restaurant took.
When you buy produce at the grocery store, you pay for people to serve you. Most of your cost comes from people picking the vegetables and people transporting them to you. Instead, why not have a small vegetable garden in the back? It can be a bit of a time sink (but less than you might think if you don’t garden), but the costs can be extremely low, particularly for the quantity of vegetables you can get from a good garden.
When you shell out for snow removal, you’re backing away from a great opportunity for winter exercise – and losing some cash along the way as well.
When you go get an oil change, you’re paying for someone to unscrew a couple caps and dump liquid out of a jug. Why not buy your own oil, get a pan, and do it yourself? It doesn’t take long and you won’t be given a sales pitch along the way.
When you call up the plumber or the electrician, you’re likely paying someone to handle something that could be figured out from a YouTube video. If nothing else, it’s worth a few minutes to check YouTube for a how-to video to see if your problem can be easily fixed.
In each case, the same theme is clear: you pay a high price for someone else to do something for you.
One common counterargument to this is the idea that a person’s time is more valuable than that. “My time is worth more than the cost of just paying someone else to do it.”
Here’s the catch, though – what are you replacing that time with? Are you doing something really productive with it? Or are you recouping that time with an extra episode of a sitcom?
Often, the argument that one’s time is more valuable is a front for laziness. It’s simply easier to throw cash at a problem. While that may be true on one level, step back for a minute and look at it from a distance. Do the people who succeed in life succeed by taking the lazy route? Rarely.
That’s not to say that there isn’t value in relaxation time. Unquestionably, there is. However, there is an enormous gulf between relaxation and laziness. Relaxation refreshes you and makes you ready to succeed in other aspects of life. Laziness passes time and merely reinforces laziness. Sitting down to relax and enjoy a television program that really fulfills you is relaxation. Flipping on the cable box to see what’s on? Not so much.
If you’re truly replacing a drudgery task with something that fulfills you deeply or earns a much better income than the cost of the service, then by all means, consider it. Just keep the bigger picture in mind and make sure you’re not paying a lot of money so that you can idle away the time.
It goes further. Doing things for yourself has a big psychological benefit. It shows you that you actually can do these things for yourself and improves your self-worth. It increases your skill set. It often gets you moving and applying your mind and your body together in a task. These are all enormous benefits that aren’t derived from simply throwing cash at a problem.
In the end, the personal and financial benefits of doing things yourself add up to an enormous benefit for the time you invest in it. The next time you have something that you could do yourself that you’re about to pay someone else to take care of, step back and ask yourself if this is really the best move for you.