Updated on 09.05.14

Rule #9: Do It Yourself.

Trent Hamm

14 money rulesA 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.

Paying for Services vs. Doing Things Yourself

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.

Alternatives to Paying For Common Services

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.

The Cost of Time

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.

Other Benefits of Doing Things Yourself

Doing things for yourself has also has big psychological benefits. 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.

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  1. Steve says:

    While I totally agree with you in principle, here’s something you have to consider about changing your oil. If you have a car that is under warranty, you must be able to PROVE that your oil was changed according to the prescribed schedule or they can use that as an excuse to void the warranty.
    With all the horror stories I’ve heard about people who are being denied the repairs they should get because of these types of loopholes, it’s worth the extra 8 or 10 bucks to me for that extra protection.

  2. Tamara says:

    I think it’s interesting that you included oil change to the list. My dad, a mechanic, doesn’t do his own oil changes because he feels that the cost (about 30.00) is less than he could do it for himself. When he factors in the time, the oil, and the disposal of the old oil, it’s cheaper, and just as quick or quicker, to pay for it to be done.

  3. Johanna says:

    So how do you reconcile this “rule” with the advice you gave to Thomas in the most recent mailbag (that he should sell the currency collection he inherited to a coin dealer, rather than finding a private buyer)? Selling to a coin dealer (for a lower price than the collection is worth) is essentially paying the dealer to find a buyer for you. Why didn’t you even suggest the option of trying to find a buyer himself? If he doesn’t know how, he can learn how. Figuring out how to find a buyer for an item with a specialized market is a skill, just like cooking and gardening and plumbing – and it too brings a psychological benefit along with the obvious monetary one.

  4. For oil changes, I spend more than quick lube places charge. But I use better quality oil and I control what supplies I use. A typical oil change for my Miata is $35 doing it myself.

    “Do it yourself” is a huge key to my 240SX project. Car work is expensive, but so far we’ve done everything that we can ourselves. It’s really boosted my husband’s confidence. (Funny that he’s a jet engine mechanic but is worried about working on a car. Know it’s different, just saying.) We’ve probably saved a bunch by installing our sway bars, bushings, front tension rods and rear upper control arms ourselves, plus learned a ton in the process.

  5. George says:

    A factor in deciding whether to pay or DIY is whether the situation is a one-time occurence.

    Oil changes and lawn feeding are recurring, thus learning the process and following offers a lifetime of accumulated savings.

    Selling a coin collection that was inheirited is a one-time occurence. To cycle the money into your hands as quickly as possible, selling to a dealer is likely more cost effective because it will be a single transaction rather than a series of transactions spread out over weeks or months.

  6. Paula says:

    Trent, for the most part I follow this advice in my life as well. I do my own gardening, housework and cooking. I also have taught myself simple electrical work (replacing light fixtures, ceiling fans and switches), plumbing (faucets and shower fixtures), home decorating and repair (painting, even some minor sheetrock repair!) and with some help from my dad we hung a new screened porch door. I did a really cool decorative painting technique on an old countertop that is holding up really well too.

    I love being able to do these things for myself. It makes me feel good about myself, I think it makes me a good role model for my boys, and asking my dad for help has led to some great afternoons working on projects together – time I wouldn’t trade for anything!

    My next project will be making new headboards for the boys’ rooms, at a fraction of the cost of purchased ones. Thanks for a great post.

  7. Most of what we’re buying when we pay extra for anything is convenience. There’s a defensible logic to that approach, but I think where it’s braking down is that convenience is now being purchased for it’s own sake, and in far more areas than it should.

    It’s the cultural norm, the behavioral default that we gravitate toward without even thinking. We don’t even see it in the cost of living because we think it’s normal.

    We pay someone else to paint our houses, to clean our houses, we eat out multiple times per week, and buy ready meals instead of real food.

    That’s a lifestyle! And a financial slow bleed.

  8. Johanna says:

    @George: True, but if it’s a one-time occurrence in which there’s a lot of money at stake, learning to do it yourself can still be worthwhile. Thomas said that his collection was worth thousands of dollars. In my few experiences with coin dealers, they tend to charge pretty large mark-ups, so I estimate that the coin dealer’s “cut” in this case would be at least a few hundred dollars, if not more. And I don’t know about other people, but to me, a few hundred dollars is a pretty significant sum, and I’d be willing to invest some pretty significant time and effort for it.

    On the other hand, if Thomas had inherited a single coin with a value in the neighborhood of $50, then selling it to a coin dealer would probably be his best bet (unless he already knew a lot about buying and selling coins, in which case he’d probably want to keep the one he inherited anyway).

  9. KC says:

    I think you have to weigh the pros and cons of do it yourself. Yardwork at my house is hired out. Benefits – we don’t own any lawn equipment and don’t have to buy, store, or maintain it. Cons – we pay more for someone else to cut it over time than it would cost us to buy and maintain equipment. We have a large lot and steep hills that require good lawn equipment, not a push mower. And when fall comes and the leaves start falling…OMG! My husband and I both detest yardwork. It causes me fits with my allergies and I usually lose a productive day or two of indoor work cause I’m sick. My husband does a terrible job of it and he doesn’t enjoy it. He’s also a physician and needs his hands – he can’t get hurt – I don’t want him falling off a ladder trimming bushes. Our friend, a vet, did this and lost 6 weeks of productive work and pay. We do the flower beds and assorted weeding ourselves, but the bush trimming, yard cutting and tree pruning we hire out.

    But we don’t have a maid. As much as I’d love to be lazy and have one it just isnt’ necessary and I don’t detest housework. I have tried and tried to think of a good excuse to hire one, but I can’t think of a good one…yet :)

    Anything else that is dangerous and beyond our skill ability gets hired out – painting, electricity work, anything like that is just a no brainer to hire out. I did some door lock repair the other day, but if I needed to change the key cylinder I’d have to hire that out. I can do repair painting and even paint a small room, but if it requires getting on anything higher than a 6 ft ladder someone else is doing it. I painted a ceiling once…never again! Those are the type of jobs that I’ll gladly pay someone else.

  10. Ward says:

    I did the ultimate DIY project by building my own house. I contracted out some work, such as the concrete work that required more that one person. In the process I figure I saved more than $90,000 in after tax dollars. Definately worth while.

  11. Jon Sisco says:

    Some people mentioned oil changes as something to delegate out, and there isn’t much money saved. I have to disagree. When you take your car in your getting the cheapest oil and filter they can buy. I bet if I bought the cheapest oil and filter I could change my oil for under 12 bucks. If you ask for a premium oil you will pay a lot more than $30. By buying in bulk, and when there is a sale I can change my oil with a top synthetic oil for under $25 sometimes $20. I have a system, and it takes less than 20 minutes if I am not rushing. The bulk of that time I sit on a stool, and enjoy a beer while the oil drains. Depending on when you go, you could wait longer than 20 minutes at a quick lube place, and they don’t serve beer.

    There is also a question of how great that cheap oil is for your car. If you are planning on getting a new car every year or 2 who cares right? If you are planning on putting 200,000 miles on that car a premium oil is cheap insurance.

  12. Rap says:

    I know it’s not your intent Trent, and thats why I am not *angry*… but sometimes you phrase things in a way thats very judgemental about lifestyle choices you clearly don’t approve of.

    “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?”

    Yes. I prefer the convienence of say, spending ten bucks and buying a year’s worth of Tide and then kicking back and watching “Family Guy” to handmaking my own laundry soap (which I have tried and I didn’t like the results of the wash). I think you sometimes push the productivity angle to where you come off rather self rightious in tone. I mean, I’m debt free, I have an emergency fund of 6 months of money, I have a nice nest egg saved… And I managed this without doing my own oil changes, never eating out lest I overpay for service, and by watching a lot of tv.

    I understand your point, but all of your readers aren’t homeowners with families. I earn money and save money so I can *be* lazy. :)

  13. Brandon says:

    Another post where you try to cater to everyone.

    Don’t use services!
    Unless it is something that you don’t want to do yourself!
    You are lying to yourself if you are saying you don’t have “time” to do that, you just want to be lazy!
    Unless the thing is something that deeply fulfills you.

    Back and forth, back and forth.

    Some people fill much more fulfilled by watching an hour of TV in the evening than by gardening.

    Also, you are the same person who complains all the time about how you would not waste your time arguing over a small price discrepancy because “it might take away precious minutes from playing with my kids”

  14. beth says:

    “Relaxation refreshes you and makes you ready to succeed in other aspects of life. Laziness passes time and merely reinforces laziness.” I think this is the key…

  15. Mighty says:

    A friend of mine recently pointed out that the average American spends NINE YEARS of his life watching TV.

    @ #8: One of the benefits of frugality is that it can create a synergy between good values. Yes, financially some people can afford to be lazy, but at a personal and spiritual level, nobody can.

    Do you really want to die, having spent 1/6 of your life in front of the television? It would be a shame to say to your grandkids or friends, “Yeah, I know I never read very many of the great books, or spent any time discerning right from wrong, or enjoying my mind and body’s tremendous capacity for creative solutions, but I did watch 3,000 episodes of Law and Order, some of them twice.”

  16. the Dad says:

    When I bought my first home and learned the joys of DIY I was amazed at how quickly building and fixing things became an enjoyable hobby!

    Eventually that enjoyment merged with another hobby (homebrewing) and spun off a website that now earns us a small monthly income. Enough to pay for our internet access and hosting all year.

    Do it yourself, if you can find the enjoyment in it!

  17. George says:

    I think it’s also important to consider tax implications when saying something along the lines of “My time is worth more than it costs to pay someone else to do it.”

    You’re paying with after tax dollars when you pay someone to do something for you. So, hen you’re paying someone $20 to perform a service for you, your real opportunity cost is $25 (or likely more) of your potential “income.”

    I put “income” in quotes because, as Trent stated, people typically aren’t doing anything productive during the time they could have performed the service for themselves.

  18. Georgia S says:


    I agree that many people watch way too much TV. I’m not disputing that. However, I think you may want to recheck your math. If 9 years is 1/6 of your life, you’re only planning to live to age 54!

  19. Sarah in Alaska says:

    There was a reason that Trent added the caveat…he realizes that some things are best left to others.

    We change our own oil, but only because it costs $20 to do it ourselves, $60 to get it done in town.

    As for snow removal, yeah, our landlord pays for a service, but trust me, we do our share of shoveling. When we get 75 inches in a weekend, we dig ourselves and our elderly neighbors out, but we are very relieved to see the front end loader come through the parking lot to remove the 8’+ piles of snow.

  20. Debbie M says:

    You didn’t mention my favorite reasons to do it myself. 1) I care more. I’m going to be more careful. For me, this is especially true with finances, cleaning, and painting. 2) I can customize it more. For me this is especially true for cooking (fiber!), sewing (better fit), and jewelry making (things go perfectly with clothes I already own).

    And you only hinted at the main reason I don’t do some things myself: I have no clue and I don’t have the equipment. You mentioned YouTube for learning more. There are also library books, friends, and web sites. To get equipment, you can buy it, rent it, or borrow it. But people who make something their business can know so much more–more alternatives and options, the best way to get good quality, etc. They may be able to get better discounts, too. And they are well practiced and can be much more efficient. And the good ones are insured, so if they screw up, you’re covered. If I screw up, too bad for me.

  21. Fred says:

    Hired services that consume your time are great items to do yourself.

    Example – haircuts and oil changes. I’d spend more time traveling to and from a barber than I can do it myself.

    Same with oil changes. I can change the oil myself in far less time then it would take to drive to an oil change place, wait in line, have the service completed and drive back.

  22. Alexandra says:

    #8 Rap

    I totally agree with your perspective on this.

    I think that in the quest to be frugal, some people may have missed the fact that money is just a means to an end. The real value of money is that it is a way to afford a type of lifestyle.

    And no one should be judging what that lifestyle is.

    I work full-time, then come home to an active toddler, who I take care of without help from my husband (he works in the evenings). When she goes to bed at 8, damn right I sit on the couch and watch some tv. That’s my downtime, and I deserve it.

    To me, the goal behind earning and saving money and getting ahead is to be able to increase the time I put my feet up and relax. If that means paying someone else to do the things that increase my leisure time, then that is money well spent.

    Isn’t that the whole point?

    “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.”

    Thanks, but I’ll idle away the time. I’m not going to spend 40 years working hard and only reward myself with “idle” time when I am retired. I’ll take some of it now and enjoy every last second.

  23. AJ says:

    I totally agree with this. I have been working on doing my hair myself. So far so good. I am proud of myself. Now, if only I could shape my eyebrows on my own or make clothes lol.

  24. Michael says:

    Why pay for sewer service when can just go to the bathroom in a wheel barrow and haul it down to the creek next door?

    Why pay for any clothes at all when you can just wear a trash bag and call it Gucci?

    Why pay rent/a mortgage when you can just find a nice big cardboard box and imagine its an updated 40’s bungalow with granite countertops and hardwod floors?

    This can be such a tired, tired argument. Life is not about endless cost/benefit analyses. Some people just don’t want to cut the grass/change their own oil/have a vegetable garden. If they can comfortably afford it, who cares?

  25. Sara A, says:

    What do you do when you try to garden but can’t? I give lots of love to my plants but in two years worth of attempts they have yet to produce :(

  26. J says:

    I’m going to agree with Brandon on this. Some insight into how to select services that might be worthwhile or how to estimate the declining (or appreciating) cost of DIY might be have been more interesting. Also, the word “overpriced” does not belong in this sentence:

    “However, the more things you do for yourself, the less money you spend on overpriced services.”

    Services are available at a certain cost and are largely determined by what the market is willing to pay. Someone is keeping that lawn service in business — and there’s likely another one that’s trying to undercut on price, provide a higher quality service or that can get the job done more quickly. The person getting paid for providing said service can be anything from entrepreneurial teenager to a small business owner supporting their family to a minimum wage earner at a big box retailer.

    When I make a “buy versus DIY” decision, I’ll often try and find out the following before I get started:

    – Is this something that I’m going to do regularly?
    – How much time will it take a to complete the job by an experienced/trained/skilled/professional person? (I then double the time if it’s my first time doing it as a starting point)
    – Are there special tools required?
    – Do I need to pull a permit?
    – Are there hazardous conditions or materials involved?
    – What is the cost of failure (alternatively, what is the worst that can happen)
    – What’s the back-out plan?
    – Will I require a helper / backup?
    – Is my gut telling me I’m getting in WAY over my head?
    – Is there a warranty or other guarantee that protects me if something goes wrong?

    Also, your analysis versus the TruGreen guy is stacked in your favor. What did your little cart cost? Where do you store it? Does it require any maintenance? How long does it take you to get the supplies at Home Despot? What is 20 (or more) minutes of your time worth?

    There are other reasons for paying for things like trips out to restaurants. Maybe you don’t want to clean up. Maybe there’s a cuisine that requires a lot of exotic spices you want to try out. Maybe you want a night away from the kids. Maybe you want to meet up with some friends and not clean up. Heck, maybe you just want to get out of the house.

    And finally, for God’s sake, people, keep your safety in mind! Playing with electricity and other things that can kill you (cutting down large trees, getting under the car) are often best left to professionals or best handled by finding someone experienced and letting them mentor you. The risk is not that you do something wrong, but more that you leave out a critical step that you just didn’t know about that the YouTube video didn’t explain. There are LOTS of things that can kill or maim you out there.

  27. spaces says:

    I can’t begin to tell you how many accountants, lawyers and economists I know who are thoroughly intimidated by a screwdriver or a wrench. These folks are bright and well educated in their fields, and in touch enough with money to be reasonably frugal, but honestly believe that even very simple tasks require expert skills that are beyond their reach without a substantial investment of time and money in training and tools. In the past five years, I have seen professionals earnestly express that they want to do things themselves, but chicken out of even attempting, tasks including changing out a ceiling fan, changing out a kitchen faucet, changing a water filter in a refrigerator, and (I kid you not) filling in holes with cement.

    I’m sure some of it’s cultural, and a lot of it is how they were raised. It consistently surprises me, though, how many simple household things people don’t know how to do, and scared they seem to be of getting outside their own comfort zone and trying something new.

  28. Michael says:

    “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.”

    Hehe. My brother in law tried to replace their dishwasher. He took a quick look online at how to do it, then ended up with a flooded kitchen. Appearance the importance of Teflon tape wasn’t obvious from the videos/instructions he used.

    He ended up paying several hundred for a repairman to come fix his mess.

    Plumbing and electric skills aren’t brain surgery, but they can quickly get more complicated than it may appear on Youtube.

  29. Eden Jaeger says:

    I support this concept mostly for the idea of learning how to do things myself. To play some more with the oil change example: I have changed my own oil, I know how to do it, but I don’t enjoy doing it so I pay someone else to do it. At least I have the knowledge/ability to do so if necessary. And my mechanic runs coupons for $19.95, which I probably wouldn’t beat on my own anyway.

  30. Andrea says:

    1) How much was the push cart?
    2) You could offer to do your neighbor’s yard while you’re at it for $60…

  31. k2000k says:

    As much as I love the DIY aspect of doing things, I have built my own computers for myself and friends, there are times when it can become a real hassle. If that DIY project ends up costing you twice the amount of time you expected, then was it really worth it? Enjoyment should be the major factor, Trent enjoys making homemade laundry detergent, I don’t and I don’t want to risk homemade detergent on my dress shirts, so I cope out for some no bleach Gain. I value fitness to the point that I read medical nutrition journals, research exercise techniques, time my nutrition, and spend a whole lot of my free time on it because I enjoy it, other individuals are content getting their 3 squares with their daily allowance of fruit and vegetables.

  32. ArmyArt says:

    We try to do most things ourselves but with hubby overseas right now it is difficult. Hope to get back to it soon. I gotta have a garden. Love anything outdoors.

  33. Mona says:

    If you are a young healthy male go change your own oil – do your yard work – unfortunately all of us are not young men. :) I just paid someone to clean my gutters out – $165.00 – could I have done it myself without hurting myself by falling off the ladder? I doubt it.

  34. Noadi says:

    It’s all about balance. What can you do well yourself and have the time for.

    As an example:
    Haircuts: I will trim my hair myself to keep the style up but being a woman with very long curly hair I need a professional to do it every few months.
    Food: I rarely go out to eat because I enjoy cooking.
    Detergent: Sorry, I like my clothes too much and go for store bought detergent. Just don’t trust the homemade stuff for my nice clothes. Since I prefer keeping my clothes looking nice for as long as possible it’s worth it.

    Know the limit of your skills. I can replace a faucet or empty the trap on my sink. Anything beyond that I get someone who knows what they’re doing. I know how to refinish used furniture and if can be fun, however I wouldn’t try to reupholster a valuable antique chair (if I owned one).

  35. DivaJean says:

    I certainly agree on the yard work aspect of doing it ourselves- but once electricity and water are involved in potentialy expensive home items- its time to hire out.

    I had co-workers who spent thousands each year for plots of land the same size we have. In the spring, they spray for weeds, then they have to have seeding done because so much is killed off, etc- it becomes a vicious circle. In the spring, we have 2 dandelion pullers. They look like a screwdriver, but the end has a slight fork to it. Whenever kids go out to play or hubby goes out for a cigarette break, a certain number of dandelions get pulled. Once we get to about Memorial Day, nothing else is needed. Just weekly mowing- the end. The gardens we mulch well to keep weeds down to a dull roar. Rain has kept us from needing to even water our veggies this year- they’ve done fine with little intervention.

  36. Rap says:

    You’re proving my point entirely. :)

    Frankly, I’ve only been in debt, in my life, for *major* things, namely my education and a car. I am completely debt free. I’ve NEVER had credit card debt. I only buy things that I can afford to pay for without carrying a balance. I have emergency savings, and retirement savings and investments… and apparently because I’d rather watch Family Guy and spend ten bucks on laundry detergent rather than blow a half hour making my own soap, I’m lacking good values and will of course live a useless drone consumer life that is really a sort of living death.

    After all, I *watch tv* instead of spending every waking moment productively improving myself. Do you see how perhaps thats a little preachy? I mean, would I be a better person if instead of watching my dvds, I spent an hour or two coming up with figures on how cost effective each of my dvd purchases is?

    Is the only valid reason to be frugal to increase the amount of time you spend on productive, self improving activities? And where’s the list of official productive activities that will make me a better person? Obviously making time for Family Guy makes me well, not a better person certainly. :)

    I thought being frugal and managing your money wisely so you could afford to have the nice things and the convienences you want in life without being irresponsible was a valid reason to mind my pennies.

  37. J (21)–I think that the term “overpriced services” in the post might have referred to the fact that if you’re trying to save money, any time you pay someone to perform a service you could do yourself is, by definition, overpriced. Given the type of site this is, any suggestions should assume that people are looking to save money.

    I do my own extermintating. I could pay someone a few hundred dollars a year to do it, but if I do it myself, it takes maybe two hours of my time plus a $12 bottle of bug spray for four treatments. If I choose to pay someone to do it, the service is overpriced. I think people do that a lot, either out of ignorance or by taking the default choice in favor of convenience.

    Good point on doing dangerous work though. I most certainly agree with you that you can take DIY too far by engaging in dangerous work that’s best handled by insured professionals. Roof repair is one that comes to mind. If you fall off the roof and get injured and can’t work for six months you won’t be saving too much money.

  38. J says:

    @Kevin — later on, Trent says

    “In each case, the same theme is clear: you pay a high price for someone else to do something for you. ”

    Much like the “overpriced” services, it’s all relative. You definitely pay a price for someone else to do something for you — but if the price is “high” or not is totally subjective. In my case, I’ve found the cost of some “frugality” things to be “high” and not deliver on the time/money continuum.

    But don’t get me wrong — I do a lot of stuff myself. But there is some stuff I gladly pay someone to do. All of the “it only takes a few minutes to …” and “if you devote the time to figure it out …” and “it’s just a quick search on the Internet …” and “just go to the library and find a book …” things add up in the same way expenses do — and in my world, time frugality can be just as important as money frugality.

  39. J says:

    I guess this “rule” could be make more effective by adding “Consider” to the beginning. So rather than the very strong “Do It Yourself” directive, you get the much more open “Consider Doing It Yourself”, where you weigh the pros and cons of a DIY job versus hiring out.

  40. ChrisD says:

    Knowing the basics is essential. We once had a water leak and called out the emergency plumber in the middle of the night for a fortune. It later occurred to us that the smart thing to do would have been to switch the water off at the mains and to call the plumber out the next day.

    “Here’s the catch, though – what are you replacing that time with?
    This is a major point. It’s easy to read a value judgement into this, but some people feel that because they earn x$/h during the week, their time in the evening and weekend, when they would otherwise earn 0$/h, has the same value. Really it has some value between 0 and x (also see the many articles Trent has written about your ‘real’ hourly wage and before vs after tax earnings).
    However I will add a value judgement of my own and say that I think that almost ANY task has more ‘value’ than sitting in front of the telly, though with Americans working longer hours than any other developed country I can understand if you are too tired.

  41. lurker carl says:

    Education via YouTube videos? Just because someone filmed the experience doesn’t mean the job is being done right.

    Get the appropriate books and manuals from the library instead. DIY is about doing a good, professional job, not spending the least amount of time and money to do it.

  42. Kathy says:

    @Noadi-The soap in Trent’s recipe for laundry soap is regular bar soap you bathe with. Most other recipes for homemade laundry soap call for Fels Naptha or some other bar soap that is specifically made for laundry. I use Fels Naptha in mine. The basic components of home made laundry soap are found in commercial laundry soap, and probably the brand you already use. Also, I use vinegar as my fabric softener and the combination of the two work much better than any store bought laundry soap and fabric softener I have ever used. My clothes are not stiff and the colors have not faded from washing. I have never had any outfit of mine get ruined from using home made laundry soap.

    And in case you were wondering, my clothes don’t smell like vinegar. The proportion of vinegar to water is such that the smell is diluted.

  43. Kelly says:

    @Mona #26 I’m a young FEMALE and I do all my own lawn work and change my own oil. No, I don’t fear the car will fall on me, the tools and ramps were a gift from my dad and his own collection and I can buy the oil and filters for under $10.
    I do it because I value my time and hate to wait around at the mechanics.

    @Rap – I also love that I can relax and watch Family Guy instead of working more hours to afford a lawn service. But I get your point and I’ve had this question to Trent before. Somehow his “spend time with children” is productive while my “spend time without children” = lazy.

  44. Jim says:

    Safety is a big factor people shouldn’t overlook.

    People need to be especially careful if attempting to do any DIY electrical projects. You can kill yourself. Let me repeat that. You can kill yourself. Dozens of people die annually by attempting DIY electrical work.

    Also if you don’t do electrical work properly you can burn down your house.

    And its not just electrical work that can seriously injure you. Simply falling off a 6′ ladder can easily put you in the hospital. According to EFSI.org: “In 2002, approximately 365,799 people in the United States ended up in the emergency room after attempting home improvements.”

    I’m sure most people think it will never happen to them, but it can.

  45. Tyler Karaszewski says:

    I’ll do tasks myself that I enjoy doing, or if it’s actually cheaper or easier to do it myself than to pay someone. I won’t usually bother for a fairly marginal savings. For example, I’ve recently been digging up my backyard to plant a new lawn, by myself, by hand. It’s a *ton* of work, but I get satisfaction from it, so I do it myself, regardless of how much it might cost to pay someone else. Meanwhile, I pay someone else about $75 to change the oil in my car. I don’t feel like climbing under the car, knocking dirt in my eyes, ruining my shirt when I drip oil on it, and then storing oil somewhere until I can find a place to recycle it. I’ve done it before, but lost interest, I’d rather just pay someone now.

    I’ve done a lot of things myself at least once. Some I’d do again, other’s I’d pay someone else to do.

  46. Rap541 says:

    @ChrisD – Believe it or not – I think its perfectly fine if *you* prefer to spend your free time engaging in an acceptable, self improving productive activity. That’s where we differ. I’m not judging you as less for the fact that you enjoy activities I don’t. And believe me – I see no moral high ground in spending a half hour mowing my lawn *which, btw I do myself* over watching a half hour of tv. In fact, while I mow my lawn myself rather than pay to have it done, I really don’t feel like I am a significantly more productive person, doing something of great value when I mow my lawn.

    @Kelly #36 – I understand what you mean, although I am trying to not turn into a kids vs no kids thing. The reality – I choose to not have children because I see no value in it. I don’t like kids… It sure seems like I’d be a bad parent. But if Trent is happy with kids – and he certainly seems to be – good for him. I just would hope he’d accept the feedback that not everyone who reads here is interested in personal finance because they’re dedicated to family and to self improvement in all aspects of their lives. The digs about tv and the analyzing of how every activity can be analyzed for it’s value in comparison to more worthy activities *like* being with the kids sometimes gets a bit preachy and holier than thou and since this is a business venture, I think it’s important to let Trent know he may be alienating a portion of the audience. Clearly I am not the only one who is single without kids. I understand a family man is obviously going to write about family activities etc…. its the constant digs at how valueless and worthless other activities are that can sometimes get my goat.

  47. steve says:

    For you snow shovelers or those who are thinking of doing it themselves, you might want to check out the “Wovel” which is like a super strong snow shovel that you roll around on a wheel. It’s super cool, much easier, safer for your back, and faster than a normal shovel and much less expensive and complex than a snowblower. I’m going to buy one this fall (I almost bought one last winter but I only discovered it in late March so I decided to wait for this year).

    I have not only my own house but also some commercial property in which I need to clear paths through snowbanks and this thing is gonna be *the bomb”!

    I think their website is http://www.wovel.com but I’m not sure.

  48. steve says:

    @ “This can be such a tired, tired argument. Life is not about endless cost/benefit analyses. Some people just don’t want to cut the grass/change their own oil/have a vegetable garden. If they can comfortably afford it, who cares?”

    Dude, this article is clerly intended for those people who might want to make a change but haven’t had the possibility pointed out for them. The people you’re talking about can do whatever they want.

  49. steve says:

    @ “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.”

    Hehe. My brother in law tried to replace their dishwasher. He took a quick look online at how to do it, then ended up with a flooded kitchen. Appearance the importance of Teflon tape wasn’t obvious from the videos/instructions he used.

    He ended up paying several hundred for a repairman to come fix his mess.

    Plumbing and electric skills aren’t brain surgery, but they can quickly get more complicated than it may appear on Youtube.”

    I have rarely seen a YouTube video that thoroughly covered everything that you need to know to do something. Usually they are good at explaining one or several aspects of something or giving an outline or giving *one* of several methods of doing something.

    It’s always prudent to use several sources of information when learning how to DIY something. Like a book or two and several web sites to start.

  50. littlepitcher says:

    The best tool you possess–all of you–is Occam’s Razor. If you check the simple stuff first, often it causes the problem and you can repair it.
    Plastic plumbing leaks are easy to repair, and I can do many of those and plumbing repairs.
    Dishwashers are difficult, and it took our maintenance man and his helper three times to get this one working perfectly and reliably.
    I know how to change oil and don’t do it because I have arthritis in my hands and can’t get the plug out any more. Allergies prevent me from using exterminating chemicals. Other than that, I’ve installed a woodstove and prefab chimney to code, without help and without experience, have replaced multiple
    auto parts and can still lube, and have conquered my fear of ladders and heights. If a woman of no mechanical talent can do it, so can you.

  51. jreed says:

    Maybe the guy across the street works hard everyday and doesn’t want to come home and do yard work. Paying someone for childcare? Some people will take care of the lawn but send the kids to day care… and then blog about how “sad” it is that everyone doesn’t share the exact same values.

  52. Randy Conley says:

    “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.”

    Great post, Trent. As usual, as the comments build, more and more hyperbole and self-justification of the status quo is evident. Different strokes for different folks, for goodness sake!

    I am a well-paid professional, no debt, own my home, but still take 5 minutes to refill my printer ink cartridge (saves $25)!

    Keep up the good work!

  53. J (32)–Regarding a “Do it yourself” directive vs. “consider”, I much prefer the former. I like that Trent is definate about what he says. I think that’s a lot of the reason most of us come to blogs for information and conversation. People say things here and own it.

    The mainstream media waffle on what they say and print, “this is what’s happening…but, there’s also the possibility of that happening”. They’re so afraid to be wrong, to say something that might offend someone that they talk out both sides of their mouths. I don’t get anything out of that. Blogs are a refreshing change; there’s no PC police here.

    The worst example of talking out both sides of your mouth, IMHO, was Alan Greenspan. Yes, I know that in many quarters he was considered a genius, the Maestro was his nickname, but his speeches and testamonies were just plain tiring. He could go on for an hour and say a lot without saying anything, leaving everyone to interpret what he meant by the something he might have emphazed (or not), or left unsaid, or indicated in his body language, facial expression or tone of voice. The guy could never be wrong because he could never be pinned down.

    I much prefer someone being definative of what they say or write, even if I disagree. The disagreement alone can make for an interesting exchange where we all lean plenty. The proof is in the number of comments that follow many of his posts.

  54. dsz5463 says:

    Posts like this seem to bring out the rancor in people. Nowhere was it written that one must take on projects beyond their abilities or comfort level and I did not see any condemnation of watching your favorite television show.
    Everyone has a different situation. Some are able-bodied and strong, others may not be so physically inclined but can cook or sew. Some have little kids and love to read while others get a kick out of comedy shows or like board games or cat naps.
    The examples given are just that-examples not edicts. The point of the post, I believe, is to evaluate where you spend your money and see if there’s a less expensive DIY alternative. Can you try to do something on your own, even if you have to invest some time and learn a new skill? If you’re not physically fit, don’t get on the ladder. If you’re not absolutely confident you won’t fry yourself, leave the electrical alone. But at least consider the possibility to do those things you can.
    As to the TV comments, no one is condemning television-you enjoy your shows and want to relax, that’s good. The point was after you’re done watching your shows and you’re just flipping through to find something, anything to watch just to kill time maybe that’s the time to shut it off and do something else, maybe something that will improve your living situation and bottom line.
    I think Trent wants to keep us thinking and evaluating and learning from one another how to make our lives financially secure and fulfilling.
    My personal opinion is there’s a difference between choosing not to do a task for whatever valid personal reason and choosing not to even consider it when it’s a viable possibility. We are getting lazier and less self-sufficient as a society. I’m not saying we should all grow our own wheat, but I know in my life not much comes close to the feeling of looking at a completed project and knowing ‘I did that’. Our country was founded on the principles of freedom and independence. Making enough money to have the freedom to pay someone to do a task for us is fine, but sacrificing our financial security because we’re too lazy to consider doing something for ourselves as we’re able is self-imposed slavery. Where each of us draws that line is a personal decision, but shouldn’t we evaluate that line from time to time?

  55. Leah says:

    I definitely agree that it’s good to do things yourself. But I do pick and choose just some things from this list and allow myself to pay others to do tasks I don’t like as much.

    For example, changing my oil: it costs me $30 to get my oil changed. But I don’t have to get icky, I don’t have to drop off the old oil, and the guys also check a bunch of other fluid levels and top those off. The one time I did change my oil, my friend and I also accidentally changed my transmission fluid. It ended up being fine . . . but I’m not eager to repeat that incident. I now know how to change my oil, but I’d rather pay another $15 to have someone do it.

    But, by and large, I do a lot of things myself. I always move myself (have you looked at the costs of movers ever?), and I do lots of my own little home repairs. And I planted my own garden for the first time this year, and I was pleasantly surprised to learn that it really isn’t that hard. I did container tomatoes and herbs. I’ll definitely be expanding my garden in future years!

  56. beth says:

    I’m sure the cost to “fix” what I tried to fix is not worth the time or money. Being able to do all those things for myself would b unbelievable. I think “desire” to learn is another huge factor to consider. There are some things I must learn (like how to budget and how to clean my house) but other things are specialized.

  57. Elderly librarian says:

    To Michael– I am going to imagine that I have granite counter tops just for the heck of it! I am going to wear a green garbage bag and call it Dior, etc. Well I won’t imagine the part about the wheelbarrow.

  58. Rachel says:

    I have fibromyalgia and am tired a lot. But I still do most things myself. I hang clothes out to dry, cook meals, and clean up, clean my own house, I have had to relax my standars somewhat, but I still get it done. I think that sometimes people don’t do for themselves because they don’t think they can. this is true of my daughter-in-law, she was never shown or taught certain things, and really doubts her ablility at many household chores. I will not pay $20.00 for a bakery birthday cake. I cannot decorate cakes, but I can bake cakes that everyone in my family enjoys, lemon for my husband, and chocolate for my son. these cost around $3.00. I just cannot justify $2o.oo for a cake made with $3.00 worth of ingredients. I do however like to pick up Little Caersars $5 pizzas. By the time I buy the
    ingredients and do the work, I haven’t saved anything. But I don’t buy $5 pizzas if I don’t have $5. I cook whatever I have on hand. Pulling out a credit card in NEVER a good idea!

  59. Sharon says:

    #47 Rachel, consider that doing all these things, like hanging clothes out to dry, has a serious cost for you. People with fibromyalgia, arthritis, and other energy-sapping conditions who expend energy unnecessarily pay for it by not being able to do things that they want to do, or that are more important.

    Also, forcing yourself to do unnecessary tasks will generally make you run yourself down even more. The equation for people with chronic illness is very different from that for healthy people.

    The best illustration I can think of is on a site, “Butyoudon’tlooksick”. Search for “Spoons.” Obviously, if you have an adult son old enough to be married, they should be helping you out.

    Probably the most insane thing I saw was the recipe in a magazine for people with fibro, starting out with getting round steak at the store and then grinding it for ground meat. That was a three-day recipe, starting with shopping, resting a day, then grinding the meat, resting a day, and then getting to the rest of the recipe.

    The slogan should not be “use it or lose it,” but “Conserve it to preserve it.” Bake your cakes and enjoy them, but delegate the cleaning and vacuuming so you can write a story, make a phone call, attend a support group meeting, or go to a movie. Life is too short when you are ill to waste energy on things that don’t bring joy.

  60. Jo says:

    I am an advocate for doing things myself. The only services I would consider hiring are: plumbers due to issues beyond my capability, electrical work for the same reason as plumbing, and pest (mice, cockroaches, termites)removal.

    Last year we paid a ton of money for lawn service, and for the life of me, I was unable to figure out the statement for services rendered. In the end it was a huge regret. This year the weeds are worse than ever, which goes to show that to keep weeds and grubs at bay and the grass lush and green, you have to keep up with it. This can easily be accomplished by doing it yourself for far, far less than hiring a service.

  61. Mo-Town says:

    I’m a big DIY fan, too. Just this year I’ve installed attic fans, added insulation, hung drywall and built a workbench in my unfinished garage, added baseboard and crown moulding, and painted. I have a desk job, and for me, weekend projects around the house are therapeutic.

    But there’s definitely a learning curve. No matter how many DIY books you read, it’s going to take practice before you can do something as well as a skilled tradesman. I wasted plenty of baseboard before I figured out how to make seamless mitred and scarp joints, and I won’t even go into some of the misadventures I had before I mastered painting with an airless paint rig.

    And I second (or third) the comments made about electrical work. If it involves more than swapping out an existing fan or light, I pay an electrician to do it. :-)

  62. KoryO says:

    Trent, did you ever consider that there may be other reasons to hire people to do things for you that you haven’t considered?

    I hire a lady to mow my yard, and I have TruGreen come by and treat the lawn, too. Sure, it might be cheaper to do it ourselves….until you count in the facts that I’m pregnant (not a good idea to get exposed to chemicals at this time, or get overheated), my son has decided not to nap anymore (no way am I going to leave a nearly three year old unsupervised in the house while I go mow….or worse yet, expect him to play quietly nearby while I mow and not run into our relatively busy street), and my husband suffered from a day of allergies every time he mowed last year. With the economy the way it is, we can’t afford for him to take sick days every week just so our lawn meets community standards.

    Add all that up, and yeah, I think spending the money is definitely worth it. Maybe your “wasteful” neighbor also has health concerns that make such an expenditure worth it to him/her?

  63. Jennifer says:

    I have to laugh at how many people seem to be taking Trent’s post as a personal attack. I think what he’s doing here is giving people who say “I never seem to have any money” some ideas as to how they can free up some money. He’s not saying we should all stop buying anything from stores and start slaughtering our own beef. He’s giving ideas as to how those who want (or ought) to be budget-conscious can maybe change some of their ways.

    I like to can my own salsa and jam and pickles and things. I certainly don’t look down on those who don’t, because it can be hot messy work, and I have family and friends who aren’t good with paying attention to stoves. It’s something that gives me pleasure and I get to give inexpensive gifts for birthdays and Christmas. I wouldn’t change my own oil, but I wouldn’t pay someone to mow my lawn either. Different strokes, right?

  64. TomK says:

    Great ideas that really can help you save! Here is a source that can help you keep track of doing many of these things. Lets you know exactly when you did it last and when it’s due again. Good educational and motivational tool. http://www.myhomechannel.org

  65. Jessica says:

    I thought this was a great article. A lot of people argue that it doesn’t apply to their situation, but I don’t think Trent is arguing for that at all. It’s just a reminder that if you are trying to save money that there are little things you can still cut out that make a difference. I’m constantly looking for ways to save money and if it is applicable to my situation, and saving money is really valuable to me in that circumstance I think it is great advice. The fact is sometimes I am lazy and would like to hire someone to mow the lawn, but I am able bodied and can make time in my day to mow the lawn because I don’t want to pay someone $20 for an hour of work.

  66. Rosa Rugosa says:

    I think these posts are all just intended to be food for thought; at least that’s how I intend to use them. I think it hampers the cause to get judgmental. I have a good job, 401K , good marriage, own home, almost debt-free, both cars paid, and we both have tattoos. And we’re not half bad at the DIY and maintenance stuff. I mean really, what do the tattoos have to do with anything? I like tattoos! Oh, and an artist friend did them for free! How frugal is that?
    We all have different talents, desires, and tolerance levels.
    I come to this site because we haven’t always used our resources as wisely as we should have, and I’m rethinking our “easy come easy go” philosophy.

  67. steve says:

    @ littlepitcher who has given up on the self oil changes because of arthritis:

    if you have arthritis in your hands, an electric (corded) or battery impact wrench or impact ratchet (whichever will fit into the necessary space), and impact sockets are your friends. It will get that oil drain plug out in 2 seconds.

    Wear full eye protection and don’t use chrome sockets with them but only impact grade sockets because the chrome ones are harder and more likely to shatter under impact tool usage.

    A corded impact wrench will cost under $50.

    Just be careful to power it down to about 33 lbs-ft so you don’t strip out the oil pan.

  68. steve says:

    Even better, when you’re in there install a Fram Sure-Drain instead of the normal oil drain pan bolt and you’ll never have to undo the drain pan bolt again, but simply screw on a hose adaptor to drain the oil out cleanly right into a waiting container.

  69. IASSOS says:

    I do a lot of things myself, because it’s cheaper, but also because it’s satisfying, and finally because it means I won’t be helpless in an emergency.

  70. Chantel says:

    Some of you are very negative. Don’t get too bogged down in the details, or in this case suggestions. I felt the message of this article was that if you can do something yourself, and you are willing, then when not give it a try. If you are successful, then you will feel great about what you accomplished, and you will know that you can do it again if you need to. As for how cheaply you can get an oil change done if you do it yourself, I don’t believe that was the true message. I think the message was more of the kind that you could work an hour less in a day by spending the 30 minutes to do it yourself. Maybe the first time won’t be as fast, but every time there after will be faster.

    Also, not only did you gain an extra 30 minutes of freedom(not including the time that you might have to wait in line for other cars to finish, the cost of gas and time to get there), but you can also show your child (Learning is achieved only in company.
    -The Talmud )or a friend, or even someone in your community how to do it. What a great way to strengthen relationships and pass on knowledge. After all, if you give a man a fish, he will eat for a day. If you teach him to fish, he you will feed him for a lifetime. I would say Trent is trying to teach you to fish, not command which type of fish you catch. Thank you Trent.

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