On April 1st, I got an unpleasant surprise, and it wasn't an April Fools joke or gag. I found out that one of our renters didn't have enough money to pay all of his rent.
Since nothing like this has ever happened before, I was definitely caught off guard. Still, it wasn't the end of the world. Since I pay all of our mortgages ahead of schedule, waiting a few weeks for payment wasn't going to affect my bottom line. And after talking with my tenant, I agreed to accept partial rent on the 1st and the rest of the money on the 17th of April.
I usually wouldn't make such a big exception. However, this particular tenant is a responsible man who treats our property with incredible respect and care, even going as far as fertilizing and edging the lawn. Since he and his wife have lived in my property for four years and never paid late, I was more than willing to break the rules just this once without giving them any grief. No big deal.
But once our tenant left, my usually frugal husband, Greg, had an idea that shocked me. “We should just let him mow our grass this summer and forget about the $400 he owes.” Our renter did work in landscaping, after all, and he had expressed interest in mowing our yard in the past. However, I wasn't fully sold on the idea.
We aren't saving extremists by any means, but we've always been the kind of people who do everything ourselves. We clean our own house, do our own yard work, and manage our own rental properties. Greg does our taxes and accounting and I even color my own hair. We rarely farm out any of our responsibilities, and we have saved a lot of money by choosing to be self-sufficient. In fact, that is basically how we dug ourselves out of debt. Some of our first steps toward a healthier financial situation included cutting out unnecessary services and becoming more self-reliant. Since adopting a frugal lifestyle is what got us where we are today, I was extremely hesitant to hire out any of our responsibilities. It seemed like a giant failure on our part and I felt like we were taking a step in the wrong direction.
An unsustainable future
Still, trying to do everything ourselves can sometimes take its toll. A few weeks ago, Kristin Wong wrote a post about being a workaholic, and I could definitely relate. Greg and I both work full-time and have various side hustles and freelance writing gigs. We also have two small children that require a lot of energy and care. For the past year, we have easily worked 55-65 hours or more per week, in addition to doing all of our household chores and being parents. It's been great for our pocketbook, but it has been extremely hard to maintain a high level of productivity at work and keep everything else running smoothly.
Occasionally, something has had to give. And to the likely disdain of our neighbors, that something has usually been our yard. Last year, we were unable to find time to mow on several occasions, and the result was that our home stuck out terribly on our quiet street of beautifully manicured lawns. Whenever that happened, we were stressed out and overwhelmed until we finally found time to get the job done.
Is a reasonable amount of lifestyle inflation okay?
Considering the circumstances, paying someone to mow our grass started to sound amazing. But, would that really be a responsible decision? Or would we just be giving in to the chief sin of frugality: lifestyle inflation? My husband assured me that this arrangement would work out great for everyone involved. Our tenant wouldn't owe us the rest of his rent for the month, and in turn, we would have an entire warm season free from yard work. He reasoned that we just cannot keep working so hard without burning out. And, as usual, he had a point.
“It's time to stop trying to do everything ourselves. We need to find a way to have more free time or we will eventually go crazy.”
He spoke the truth. Aside from vacation, we haven't had much free time in the past few years. We had been working so hard, had paid off all of our debts, and were able to secure various streams of income. However, we were running short on time to get anything else done. And while working hard wasn't a problem in itself, the hours we were putting in meant that our other responsibilities were often neglected. Nevertheless, I didn't want to get carried away by our new penchant for lifestyle inflation. It was important to determine what we really wanted to hire someone to do, and what we would continue to do ourselves.
My husband made another thoughtful suggestion, “let's just do the math and see if it really makes sense.” So we did. Our tenant currently owed us $400, and we figured that we probably mowed our grass fifteen times last year. That works out to about $25 per mow. And since it typically takes either of us about two hours to get our yard mowed, we would only be paying $12.50 per hour to buy our time back. Looking at the numbers from that perspective made me feel completely different. Was it worth it to pay someone $12.50 an hour to complete a task that we could rarely find time to do? Without a doubt.
We decided to call our tenant and see if he would agree to our suggested arrangement. He was thrilled to have the opportunity, and I was relieved that we would have summer free of yard work after all. And even though my husband suggested that we also hire someone to clean our house, I'm still mulling that suggestion over. I'm just not willing to make several changes at once, and I don't want to end up paying someone to do everything.
A healthy dose of lifestyle inflation
Even though I was feeling like a failure for not being able to do everything, I am learning to accept that fact that it may make sense to occasionally hire help. And the truth is, I used to clean houses in my early twenties, and the people I cleaned for weren't lazy at all. They were busy. They knew that their time had become worth more than what they were paying me to clean their home, and I now realize that they were wise to delegate those responsibilities.
In the end, we decided to do what felt right. And since we are finally debt free and starting to earn more, it was time to start reevaluating the way we have been living. Time is our most precious asset, and we needed to spend more time living instead of always cramming in as much productivity as possible. It's become against my nature to pay for services, but I'm coming around, slowly but surely. And this summer, when my kids are playing in the dirt and I'm enjoying the last hours of the evening, I'll probably wonder if the money was worth it. I can only hope that the answer is yes.
Do you do everything yourself? Or do you hire out certain responsibilities? What factors do you take into consideration when making those decisions?
Author: Holly Johnson
Holly Johnson is a credit card expert, award-winning writer, and mother of two who is obsessed with frugality, budgeting, and travel. In addition to serving as contributing editor for The Simple Dollar and writing for publications such as Bankrate, U.S. News and World Report Travel, and Travel Pulse, Johnson owns Club Thrifty and is the co-author of Zero Down Your Debt: Reclaim Your Income and Build a Life You’ll Love.