Ever sat there spending 3 hours cleaning your house or apartment on a beautiful sunny weekend day because you simply didn’t have any other time to do it? Or maybe you spent two hours mowing the lawn, felt tired the rest of the day, and went to bed that night wondering where your time had gone.
We’ve all been there at one time or another. So why do we keep doing it? Well, this site majors in personal finance and minors in frugality, so it is a rhetorical question. However, at this point in my life I have never paid someone else to do this kind of work. And I’m starting to wonder why.
Paying the Specialists
Sure, I’ve paid the ‘pros’ in the past. I don’t know a thing about plumbing, electrical work, installing a drainage pipe, or fixing my furnace. And from a time value and even strictly financial standpoint, it’s really not in my best interests to learn all of the ins and outs of these professions, where skilled laborers have spent years learning and perfecting their craft. If I somehow screw up the job, I’d be out 2, 4, or 10 times what I paid for someone else to do it! On a side note – here are some tips for hiring a contractor, if you need one.
If you run a business, it is probably to your benefit to have an accountant, lawyer, and tax pro on your side versus learning the ins and outs of each.
It almost always makes sense to outsource these kinds of jobs, and we seldom think twice about it. But I’m talking about something different.
Paying for the Stuff you Hate
I’m talking about the stuff that all of us can do (that is usually very time consuming), that very few of us really want to do – cleaning the house, mowing the lawn, doing the laundry, shoveling the driveway, and even cooking for many of us.
In a post that I wrote recently, I highlighted a list of 55 self-employment opportunities, or ‘marketable hobbies’, as I phrased them. The impetus of that piece was to highlight the infinite world of opportunity to do things that you are good at and enjoy doing and have others (who are not good at or don’t enjoy doing them) pay you for it. This discussion is shining light on the other end of that scenario.
A Logical Way of Looking at Whether or Not to Pay for Help
The conclusion that I am coming to on this topic is that you should only pay others to do your dirty work for you if the opportunity cost of doing it yourself is higher than what you would pay to have it done. In other words, just because I hate cleaning the house and I have disposable income does not mean that I should pay others to do it for me. Let me explain further.
A Look at Opportunity Cost with ‘Susie, the Logo Designer’
Let’s give a very real life example of when it might make perfect sense to outsource some work.
Let’s say that ‘Susie’ has become quite an expert at designing logos for businesses as income on the side. Each logo that Susie designs takes her about 4 hours to complete and she make $200 from it (or about $50 an hour). And She loves doing it! In fact, Susie has become so good at it, that she’s having to turn down referred clients because she simply doesn’t have the free time to work with them all.
At the same time, it takes Susie four hours to clean her home each week. And she hates it! Susie is considering hiring a housemaid to help her with the chore. The going rate for housemaids in her area is $25 per hour. Does it make sense for Susie to hire one?
Absolutely! But… she should be designing logos during that free time. In fact, I’d argue that if Susie were to work those hours doing the work that she enjoys, it would make perfect sense from a quality of life and personal finance perspective for her to pay up to $50 an hour for a housemaid. Or maybe she could work just two hours, break even, and use the other two hours to take her dog for a long walk. The bottom line is that Susie would be trading the act of doing the chore that she hates for the work that she loves. Why wouldn’t you make that trade?
The Dangerous Trap that Comes with Outsourcing your Life
Where ‘outsourcing your life’ gets dangerous is when you begin to justify paying someone else to do your dirty work so that you can just kick back and relax. That is dangerously irresponsible personal finance, in my opinion, unless you have met all of your financial goals in life already. It’s very tempting to say ‘I’ve earned it, I should just kick back and relax for the day’. It would be very easy to justify why you have earned the right to relax. And maybe you have ‘earned it’ in some cases. But be cognizant of getting caught in that trap.
The takeaway that I’d like to get across, because you really don’t hear it often from a personal finance blog, is that if your time has a measurable monetary value on it and it might actually be a very wise decision from a financial, quality of life, and business angle to pay others to free that time up. And you shouldn’t feel guilty about it. In fact, you should pat yourself on the back. Just don’t pat too hard.
- What do you pay others to do that you can do yourself?
- Have you ever looked at the opportunity cost and value of your time in this way?
Very intelligently written post that provides a lot of food for thought. I’m pretty frugal, so I’ve never considered hiring someone to ‘do my dirty work’ as you put it. But lately, I’ve found myself to be extremely overwhelmed with everything going on in my life. I need some relief… It probably makes sense for me to get some help.
It’s a nice theory, but its practically irrelevant for the vast majority of people that arent freelancers or bloggers, with freeform hours.
I, like most people, have a full time, 40 hour a week job. I cannot choose to work and get paid for as many hours as I wish. There are very, very few jobs for which this would be relevant advice, certainly the vast minority.
Theoretically I could freelance doing god only knows for a few hours a week, but that’s hardly practical to get around doing the dishes once a week. I’ve been there in the past, and freelancing is hardly the panacea many would imagine it to be – you’re still working for someone else in the end, and to a large degree, you still have hours and responsibilities that are out of your control.
As an aside, I’m also philosophically against the idea of turning your free time into money. I think you have the dangerous trap backwards. Whats dangerous is not being able to relax because of anxiety that you “could be making money right now”.
I’d also like to add that even in the case of someone who freelances and looooves their job, and has so much work that theyre turning it down, this theory can often sound better on paper than it does in real life.
Think about it…what’s so bad about washing dishes? About cleaning the house? About mowing the lawn, or any other undesirable chore? That you *have* to do it…whether you like it or not. It’s the really the compulsory nature of it that makes it undesirable – in fact, that’s what makes some people hate what are seemingly otherwise enjoyable jobs/careers, and why the whole marketable hobby idea I think would tend to backfire for most people.
But the point is, whether or not super Susie is designing logos or washing the dishes, she still *has* to do it, and that in and of itself is going to make the logo designing a chore. So she might as well just wash the dishes.
Because not doing so breeds a particularly dangerous mindset – that “I dont want to do this because I dont like it!” mindset. The kind found in…toddlers. The reason our parents gave us chores when we were children was not because they were too lazy to wash the dishes, or really hated it, but because we had to learn that sometimes you just have to do things that you don’t like. And you’re not supposed to like it, you’re supposed to DO it.
Mark, not to sound like the toddler you mentioned, but why?
As an adult, I do indeed have to do many things I rather not – job, house maintenance, paying bills, etc. If I can easily afford to outsource out the things I hate the most (cleaning and lawn care), why wouldn’t I take advantage of that?
I think the slippery slope is hit when people stop prioritizing and simply try to buy everything they want. My current guest post at Free From Broke is all about prioritizing recurring expenses (http://freefrombroke.com/2010/04/recurring-expenses-kill-budget.html).
Almost everyone reading this spends more than they absolutely have to in order to survive – car, internet, phone, fast food, something. I choose to pay for biweekly house cleaning and lawn care but skip daily coffees, cigarettes, and alcohol.
Shouldn’t everyone wisely budget their money in order to cover their financial basics, their future, and as a tool for happiness?
If you aren’t covering your basics or your future, yeah, you shouldn’t splurge. Otherwise, isn’t that what money is for? You definitely can’t take it with you…
@ Mark – who pissed in your coffee today?
Reading what I wrote back over, perhaps I wasn’t entirely clear what I meant.
My issue mainly stems from the relative irrelevance of the advice to most non-bloggers/freelancers. You can think of what your time is worth based on what your job earns you, but actually applying that thinking specifically to avoid things you don’t want to do in real life isn’t really feasible. As it’s posted, it’s not a matter of budgeting within your means as you recommend (and which I agree).
Extending your means by working more to make enough money to hire professionals to do things you don’t want to do however, is a very different story. It works on paper, but I don’t think it’s practical or effective. Either way youre compelled to take care of the dishes. Even if you’re drowning in work you love (which is rarer than most bloggers seem to care to admit), there has to come a point where the compulsion to do something is going to detract from that enjoyment. And having been down that road, I recommend people not actually make their hobby a job if they wish to continue enjoying said hobby.
Basically, we should recognize that unless we have trust funds from a billionaire uncle, everyone is going to have limited funds, and money does not nor should not be used as a calculation for what is/isn’t worth our time. Otherwise how could you ever relax or even sleep, if you’re constantly putting a dollar amount on your time?
To be even more clear, if you really hate doing the dishes (I do too), by all means pay for someone to do the dishes. Especially if you’re lucky enough to make $50 an hour doing something you love with completely flexible hours. I’d even do dishes all day for that kind of money and flexibility.
I just don’t think it’s very constructive to think of time as money like that. Technically, Susie could make $400 extra a day by forgoing sleep, or perhaps $100 extra by cutting it to 6 hours a night. That shower cost her $25…surely she could pay someone that much for a sponge bath while she works? Perhaps she might enjoy showers now…but I know I’d enjoy a shower (or sleep) a lot less if I thought about how much it “cost” me by not working instead.
@ Mark, I think that’s the point here though. I mean, unless you have side income, you can’t put a value on your time like that – unless you make a ton of money. That is understood. But at the same time, why don’t most people have those opportunities? They could if they really wanted them. But most people are too lazy or bogged down by all the other stuff, or just plain not confident in themselves. This post isn’t for those people though. This is a blog for young professionals who are web savvy who are much more likely to find this type of article interesting, relevant, and motivating. So why bring all the naysaying unhelpful garbage?
Why? Because I disagree with it. I have legitimate issue with thinking about money and your life in that way.
You’re most certainly welcome to your viewpoint and opinion as well.
Yes, I think that gets at what I’m saying to a large extent.
The main part of the post that really ruffled my feathers is this”
“Where ‘outsourcing your life’ gets dangerous is when you begin to justify paying someone else to do your dirty work so that you can just kick back and relax. That is dangerously irresponsible personal finance, in my opinion, unless you have met all of your financial goals in life already. It’s very tempting to say ‘I’ve earned it, I should just kick back and relax for the day’. It would be very easy to justify why you have earned the right to relax.”
Naturally I’d expect a finance blog to be money-centric to a degree, but this is taking it to extremes. IMO, money is a means to an end, not the end itself. I never have to justify to myself the right to relax, it is something I take for granted – because it IS granted. I’m not interested in personal finance to maximize my earning potential, rather it is to set up a stable and financially independent lifestyle, where I don’t have to constantly worry about money, or the “opportunity cost”. Where, I can relax, instead of being anxious over my financial situation.
I also take exception to the idea that you could ever “meet your life’s financial goals”. This is a moving target, a carrot on a stick. Financial responsibility, planning for your future, and living within your means is one thing, but not allowing yourself to properly relax and smell the roses until you’ve reached a nebulous end state – that’s madness, and inviting constant anxiety into your life.
The other thing to consider is the opportunity cost on a social level of doing something. For example, not only should missed income be considered (which doesn’t apply to most of us 50 hour a weekers) but so should missed time with my family.
Getting the oil changed in my car is the perfect example – I can do it for free 30 minutes on a Saturday morning. Or, I can pay my neighbor 20 bucks to do it for me. I always pay my neighbor because my time spent laying around with my fiance is more valuable to me than that $20.
I have a feeling that Mark and I are saying the same thing, but coming at it from different sides.
@ Mark – I don’t think our viewpoints are that different at all. The main takeaways here are:
– understand what your time is worth.
– if you have the opportunity to do so (and I believe many of the readers of this blog do) replace your time doing stuff you don’t like with stuff that you do to maximize the quality of your life.
– outsource in a financially responsible manner. Don’t let ‘outsourcing’ become an addictive habit. Who doesn’t like ‘kicking back’? We can all do it once in a while (and perhaps you picked out a statement in the post that I probably over-emphasized a bit much) – but outsourcing shouldn’t become a way of life. As you stated earlier, sometimes you have to do stuff you don’t really want to do.
Great post! Sometimes if we try to fix something that we tried to learn how to do, we can end up making a mistake and spending even more later on to pay an expert to fix what we initially tried to fix. However, that doesn’t mean I just won’t do any DIY projects but I would definitely have to limit myself to things I CAN do…For instance, I certainly wouldn’t DIY an oil change but I might DIY gardening and cutting my own grass.
I would outsource everything in my life right now if I could lol. This was the first year we hired someone to shovel the driveway and I have to say: Sweeeeeeeeet!
There is something cool about waking up to the sound of someone else shoveling your driveway in the middle of a cold January morning.
There’s a big difference between the questions: “How much do you value your time?” and “How much do you value your _free_ time?”. Th real question to be asked is: What will you be doing instead?
There are also potential costs involved. This year, for the first time, I paid someone to shovel my driveway. Had I injured my back while doing it myself, the cost of having to take time off work was considerable.
Nice article, everyone will need to adjust it a bit for their circumstances. I been a freelancer (as Mark) would say for the last 15years. I worked a standard 40hr job and found I never had the free time to do and live life. In the 15years I worked 1 year part-time (but was almost full-time) as a contractual requirement (was the temp CEO of a company). During this year I ended outsourcing many thing that in the past I had done myself out of necessity.
For me returning to a non-part-time work schedule has been wonderful. I do follow the thinking free time is worth more than people think. I know many are forced to work full-time or do not have the skills or are in debt and don’t have what seems to be a choice in the matter. So this might not apply to them. I never went in for the standard thinking and I have always benefit from not following the herd thinking working full-time is the only way to get things done. So like mark said it works for ones like me and not others.
I also do not have the experience of ever being in debt as I have always paid for things in cash or if on credit I have always had the cash on had to pay but used the credit for insurance reasons. So perhaps this thinking is only good for people such as myself.
Please consider pre-tax and post-tax money. Guy’s at work make fun of me for riding the bus from the airport rather than take a taxi. Well, by me just sitting in a bus and doing nothing I am saving 30 dollars an hour of post-tax money. That means I would have to earn 40+ dollars worth of pre-tax money just to pay the cab 30 dollars from my post-tax wallet. By the way, calling a friend to pick me up would cost me a whole day of favors and that is just not worth it.