Updated on 09.09.14

Trimming the Average Budget: Household Operations

Trent Hamm

Housing – household operations – $984/year

Household operations? Think housecleaning services, nannies, babysitters, child care, and the like – services people pay for to keep their household running efficiently.

Quite often, these expenses are purchased in order to buy time for other things, like leisure or spending time with family – and that’s understandable. However, there are still many ways to peel back a bit more on the average household operations budget.

Cutting Down Your Household Operations Budget

Make sure you’re actually utilizing the time you’re saving

If you’re paying for a housecleaning service just so you can sit around each evening and do nothing at all, you might want to reconsider your choices, particularly if you’re swimming in debt. Household services are fine if you actually need the time for something positive and productive in your life, but if you’re not utilizing that time, it’s probably time to reconsider the whole thing.

Cut back on housecleaning services and see if it makes a difference

If you pay for a housecleaner, reduce the frequency of the visits and see if it makes any sort of impact on your life. You might find that with just a bit of casual picking up, you don’t really need that much time from the housekeeper, thus saving you money.

Buy services in cooperation with your neighbors

A few houses on our block negotiated with a lawn treatment service in order to get a reduced rate for all of them. If you utilize services that people you know also use, look into negotiating for a better group rate for all of you. This particularly works well if you’re a new customer or if you overlap geographically in a way that’s convenient.

Look for opportunities for a more flexible working schedule

A more flexible working schedule allows you to rely on childcare and other services less, directly saving you money. Look for telecommuting opportunities, alternate work schedules, and so on.

Start a babysitting co-op

In order to reduce babysitting costs, several families in our area have a babysitting co-op. One weekend evening (often, it’s Fridays) on a rotating basis, one of the sets of parents offers free babysitting for all of the other parents in the co-op, giving those parents a date night or an evening to take care of other business. The babysitting service rotates through all of the families, and each week, all families always have the option of using the service provided by another family. This saves on “date night” babysitting costs for all of the families involved.

Alternately, start a direct babysitting exchange

Another family I know has a direct exchange with another family. One Saturday a month, they watch the children of their partner family. Another Saturday a month, that partner family watches their children. This gives both sets of parents one free weekend day to take care of projects or spend time together without the children – and it’s free. This is often much better than hiring a babysitter each month for a full day.

Try doing things for yourself

Instead of hiring a lawn treatment service, I got a small fertilizing and seeding cart and learned how to do it myself. I just spread seed and dry compost in the spring and more dry compost in the fall using my spreader. It takes about an hour and just replaces my exercise session for the day – and there’s no service fee nor no cost for the fertilizer.

Always shop around

Sometimes, the service you want for the price you want isn’t available when you want it, so you wind up with your second choice (paying more or receiving a lower-quality product). If you find yourself in that situation, always put yourself on the waiting list, then switch when the opportunity comes around. Just because there isn’t a slot for you right now doesn’t mean there won’t be, and you can often improve your “bang for the buck” by being patient and switching when there’s an opportunity.

I want your help! In the comments, please let me know which of the tips you find most useful for trimming these costs. I’ll include the top choices in a comprehensive budget trimming guide at the conclusion of the series.

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  1. Shannon says:

    No more shelter costs :(

    Trent, at least acknowledge the numerous typos you’ve made with series.

  2. chacha1 says:

    Shannon, don’t you mean “with this series”?

    For heaven’s sake, it’s not a grammar blog.

    My fave tip here: cut back and see if it makes a difference. A tip I’d like to suggest: if you need a yard service, ask around among your friends who don’t have yards to see if someone wants to adopt yours. (I would love to get my hands on some of the butt-ugly yards in our neighborhood.) Maybe offer part of your backyard for garden space in exchange for cutting the grass in front, etc.

  3. @Chcha1 – That’s a great idea! I despise yard work and would gladly offer up some of the space for a garden to anyone who would look after the yard.

  4. Sherry says:

    I wanted to pass along a change I made in the past which has ultimately saved money. With a very hectic work schedule (RN/oncall many nights of the week), I had a gal come & clean my house every other week. This was my gift to myself!! But about a year ago, her school schedule changed & I was trying cut back on expenses. So..no more cleaning lady!! Have I saved money, absolutely, but has my sanity been preserved & has my house been cleaned regularly…NO! My husband has stepped up & helped with the cleaning but for the most part, it falls on me. One thing I did to help “streamline” the whole cleaning process was to get organized & de-clutter. That has been a MAJOR payoff!! My home was in good shape before, but now it is great! Overall, it was/is the right decision, but do I miss walking into a clean home & knowing I don’t have to do it myself-ABSOLUTELY!! In this economy, we all need to save where & when we can, but I also believe our time has a value to it. We are all stressed as it is….be kind to yourself as you cut back….

  5. We informally swapped babysitting with another family. Since babysitters cost $10 an hour, you are earning a nice pretax hourly wage–for playing with your kids. What could be more fun?

    Ditto for housecleaners–mot services charge $35 for an hour or so. Another nice pretax hourly wage…

  6. Bill in Houston says:

    We have no lawn (the previous owner put in decorative gravel). We do any landscaping ourselves because my wife truly loves it. I’ll rake leaves and get on the roof to clean the skylights.

    The bug inspector checks for termites once a year. Gotta be done in tropical Houston.

    We do all the house cleaning (tile floors) and laundry, and our only cleaning expense is dry cleaning (incredibly cost effective for me), which costs $15 a week for my wife and me.

    Our total household operations expenses, including soaps and polishes and dry cleaning and pest control/inspection is about $825 a year. Not awful.

    Hiring a kid to cut the lawn? Even our small property would be $25 a week. A maid? $50 a week. That’s nearly $4000 a year.

    No kids yet, but all the neighbors offer, and my folks are in town. We hope to keep that stuff down, too.

  7. Sara says:

    I don’t have kids, but for those who do, the babysitting co-op or babysitting exchange seems like a great idea — especially if your kids are friends with the other kids (so it’s fun for them, too).

  8. If I can save enough money for myself by doing something myself, and I have the time to do it, then I usually do it.

    The issue is defining what is “enough” money.

    For me, if I can save over $15 for each hour I must devote to whatever it is, then I do it.

    Of course, it is also providing that I have the time to do it.

  9. Ken says:

    I love the ‘babysitting co-op’ deal. We’ll look into that. Good post!

  10. Andy says:

    I get the house cleaned every other week. I grew up helping my mom clean houses, so when I clean, I _CLEAN_. But during the pregnancy the smells made me sick, and once the baby was born I could never get enough time to even scrub the bathrooms. And no, using Scrubbing Bubbles does not clean bathrooms to my standard. My husband attempted to take over cleaning duties, but it didn’t help. This way I can be a more sane SAHM and have more time for HW and studying for my classes.
    As for the babysitting co-op, that requires for ppl to be out going, the shy or awkward will not fare as well.
    I did give up on the idea of getting a lawn service to keep up the back yard. My husband does an awful job at it -think untrimmed bushes and mulching that has disappeared,very tall grass and weeds all over the lawn, but he likes to do it. On days that he feels like doing it, maybe 1 a month, he will stay out there pulling weeds for HOURS.

  11. Nick says:

    I’ll be honest. Now that it’s gone, I kind of miss the shelter costs typo. Now I don’t know WHAT to believe in. :(

  12. Steffie says:

    About those ‘butt-ugly’ yards, my neighbor’s yard started to look a bit overgrown and abandoned. Turns out he was getting too old to do so much physical work anymore. He was 80 at the time. I would talk with him while I was doing my yard work and offered to cut the ‘higher’ branches, pick up the ‘heavier’ stuff etc and it didn’t seem like I was taking over but helping instead. Plus I got some good info about gardens etc. It could be that they want to keep up but can’t. I also got my children involved, taught them to do for others with no monetary award, just a thank you. If there is a neighborhood group maybe they can help or some communities have services to assist the elderly with their yards. I know that this is not really a money saving tip per se but keeping up the other homes/yards in your neighborhood ultimately keeps up property values etc.

  13. Rachel says:

    Every situation is different. I have fibromyalgia and have some sinus issues that are bothering me as well, but I can’t see hiring a housekeeper. I have just had to lower my standards. Today I will vacuum the living room floor where there are pistachio hulls from Sunday’s football game! However my sister is single, works full time and has a special needs child, and she has a housekeeper. For her, this is the right thing to do. It gives her more time to spend with her daughter, who needs more of a parents time, and a little time for herself just to unwind, watch a movie, read a magazine. i think that a housekeeper is a need for her.

  14. We go the other direction by always saving money by doing things ourselves. I am debating hiring someone to rebuild our back door (long story, but a new door would cost $1200+ unknown damage to the crazy 1950s cement bunker we live in!) with insulated panels and an insulated dog door. My husband wants to do it himself, but I keep saying, “Is that how you WANT to spend your free time if we can pay someone a few hundred dollars to fix it?”

    On the cleaning front, we have started setting a timer for 15 minutes in the evening and having everyone pitch in and pick up. Our small home can easily look cluttered, but after a night or so, the clutter can be put away and basic tasks (emptying the dishwasher, etc.) completed in just a few minutes. Then we turn to cleaning. In 15 minutes last night (while I was out!) my daughter picked up her room and emptied her backpack, and my husband quick-mopped the kitchen floor and vacuumed the whole downstairs and the steps. The more we pitch in together, the more the house is done in no time and our weekends are free (with no housekeeping cost).

  15. DivaJean says:

    I can’t imagine that my household spends anything in this category unless you are counting the occasional plumbing or electrical that is beyond our own capabilities (maybe one or two calls/year–certainly no more than $200-$300 at most).

    We have what is basically an informal co-op of babysitting; my hubby does some before and afterschool care as needed- our kids get some respite time with those parents when we could use it.

  16. Java Monster says:

    I was the informal co-op for one of my neighbors for a while for her son. I didn’t mind at the beginning, but she took advantage. She said she *felt* badly about it, since my son didn’t like going over to her house, but after a while, I had to say no thanks. I also wouldn’t babysit for free when she asked me later on–I pointed out to her she used to get paid for what she was asking me to do for free.

    My daughter used to go to a co-op preschool in our area. One of the women tried ousting the teacher, and turned out she also stole several thousand dollars from the treasury. She wasn’t arrested or anything because the new president of the co-op wouldn’t press charges. Many of us left after that.

    I’m not down on co-ops; another neighbor and I do trade off watching our kids. We’re just very careful not to overstep the bounds and take advantage.

  17. J says:

    We used to ask our neighbors to watch our cat while we were on vacation … but they have no cat of their own, so there was no opportunity for reciprocal help and now we hire a cat sitter to come by. It felt a lot like we were taking advantage of them, even though they said that it was no trouble.

  18. jgonzales says:

    I don’t have a babysitting co-op, but a friend of mine runs a daycare out of her home and on the first Friday of the month she & her husband will do a “date night daycare”. It’s substantially cheaper than your average babysitter and a chance for parents to get out. What we do is plan a night with our friends with the intention of meeting there when we drop off our kids.

    You can also trade services that may not be exactly the same. I do housekeeping for my mom in trade for my & my husband’s portion of the cell phone bill. She does babysitting when my husband & I have evening meetings and I cat sit for her when she’s out of town. It helps save money on both sides.

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