Things it’s cheaper to do yourself

I'm driving down to my mother's house this morning to work on her roof. Over the years, the shingles have been overrun with moss, so my cousin and I are going to spend a couple of hours scraping the stuff off.

We could hire somebody to clean the roof for us, but this seems like an easy way to save a little money. The entire project reminds of a recent article from Liz Pulliam Weston at MSN Money. Last month, she highlighted five things it's cheaper to do yourself. Weston writes:

You can make a good argument for hiring out certain tasks because it frees your time or because the person you hire will do a better job. In fact, people have. Author Timothy Ferriss turned the idea of outsourcing your life into a best-selling book, The 4-Hour Workweek. But when money is tight and you're looking for places to cut, some of the places you're outsourcing now should get a second look.

Here is Weston's list of five things it's cheaper to do yourself:

  • Food preparation. “The simplest and fastest way for most folks to cut their budgets is to stop outsourcing food preparation,” Weston writes. Don't pay for convenience. Learn to make your own meals. if you have the space, time, and inclination, then start a vegetable garden. Taking charge in the kitchen is a great way to save money and develop fun hobbies and skills. This is an area where Kris and I do well.
  • Home improvement and repairs. You can't do every home repair yourself. For some, such as non-trivial plumbing and electrical tasks, you need to bring in the professionals. But for many household projects, it can be satisfying and educational to do the work yourself. The trick is to learn the difference. This is another area where we do well — in this old house, we've learned to do our own basic home maintenance.
  • Personal care. Some of Weston's readers cut their own hair. Some women do their own manicures and pedicures instead of paying somebody else to do them. If you can't do these things yourself, you may be able to find somebody you know who can help. When I was a poor college student, I “outsourced” my haircuts to a good friend, which freed up money for more important things. Like pizza.
  • Laundry and tailoring. I used to know how to sew on a button. Also in college, I mended my own clothing — sometimes while watching football games with the guys! I haven't done that in years. Now if something needs to be mended, I send it out. I've also become lazy about ironing. I iron my own clothes sometimes, but just as often, I take them to the cleaners.
  • Lawn and home care. Cutting recurring costs for a cleaning service or lawn maintenance can be a great way to save money.

There are other things it's cheaper to do yourself, such as basic car maintenance, computer maintenance, and tax preparation. You may have to take some time to learn how to solve your problem, but after you've done it once, it's much easier in the future.

The first time I repaired a leaky faucet, it was a frustrating experience. By the third time, I knew what to expect, and actually almost enjoyed myself. And I certainly saved some cash by not having to call a plumber. (But I still don't think it's a good idea for me to cut my own hair.)

Have you found that it's cheaper or more fulfilling to do certain things yourself instead of paying somebody else to do them? At what point does it make more sense to pay to have something done? Are there basic skills that the average person might learn that could pay off repeatedly in the long run?

Photo by Chimothy 27.

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Richard
Richard
12 years ago

There’s also the time you can save fixing things yourself. If you need to call Comcast to install a router for your internet, they’ll give you the day and say someone will be by between Noon and 5pm. That traps you at home with no way to leave, while if you could install the router yourself you just saved 5 hours of waiting plus the service charge.

Cap
Cap
12 years ago

Agreed that many minor home repairs can be done by yourself. I fixed some leaking faucets recently after a quick Google. 15 minutes later the maddening dripping stopped. It was so easy it made me feel a bit silly for not taking care of it easier (and in the process I learned more than I ever wanted to know about various types of faucets). I also do most minor/medium preventive maintenance on my car, which saves a significant amount through the years. Although in recent year I’ve gotten quite lazy and usually just visit a quick lube place for a… Read more »

Frugal Bachelor
Frugal Bachelor
12 years ago

My main criteria is what equipment/tools are needed for the job. If something doesn’t need any special tools, then I do it myself. If some sort of vehicle repair needs a specialized tool to pull out some part, then forget about it. Jobs which can be done with a standard socket set or screwdriver set depend. My ‘ideal’ is to have nothing, and let other people worry about the maintenance of stuff, but not practical when living in a country with high labor costs. I know some people who can do DIY any project, but they also have a garage… Read more »

Kate
Kate
12 years ago

Necessity generally breed creativity, right? I’m just thinking about how when I grew up, all of the above suggestions were just a given in our family. My father always did his own home and car maintenance. We rarely got a meal out of the house and when we did, it was a really big treat even for a pizza. We grew up in a comfortable house in a nice neighborhood, but I have a feeling that the only reason we could afford it was because my parents scrimped where they could. Yet I don’t remember ever feeling bad about it.… Read more »

KC
KC
12 years ago

I’m fixing my home up for sale and a lot of the little things I’m tackling myself. Its amazing what a little research on the internet reveals. I did hire some people out and I watched them do wall repairs and such – next time I’ll attempt them – I can always hire then someone if my attempts fail. But use common sense. Speaking of roofs we had a bad windstorm a few years ago in my city. We had some shingles blow off. But since we didn’t have a tree on our roof (the roofers and tree people were… Read more »

Christy
Christy
12 years ago

Because my better half is a costume designer, our sewing needs are taken care of (even if they sometimes have to wait for a show to go up). Because I used to be a theatrical technical director, I can handle just about anything related to building and electrics (I DESPISE plumbing even though I do do it for little things). Recently, however, we knew that the wood portions of our largely stone house needed to be painted. We can do everything on the first story easily ourselves. But the design of the house (a Dutch Colonial) has a second story… Read more »

Studenomics
Studenomics
12 years ago

TO be honest I see matters a little differently. Time is money, I would rather work to make money than spend the whole day doing a little project around the house. If I could pay someone to do a project for me, while I go to work and still make a profit, then I’m happy. Cutting grass may take 10minutes and it is enjoyable on a sunny afternoon. Cleaning a roof, installing new windows, etc. could consume a whole day or two. Would you rather take up two days of your time or just pay someone to do it for… Read more »

Chris
Chris
12 years ago

How about washing and vacuuming your own car. (How about keeping the interior clean in the first place by not eating in your car, or using your car as a trash can.) That can save a ton of money. We clean our own carpets. We bought a carpet cleaning machine many years ago and it has paid for itself over and over. It’s especially helpful to get out stains as soon as they happen. We did our own landscaping, mow our own lawn, do our own leaf pickup, trim our own bushes, etc. We also put down the lawn fertilizers… Read more »

Kent @ The Financial Philosopher
Kent @ The Financial Philosopher
12 years ago

…and if you don’t know how to “fix it,” then try anyway. You’ll learn from the experience, especially if you make a mistake!

What better way is there to learn (and save money) than by experience?

“Education is an admirable thing, but it is well to remember from time to time that nothing that is worth knowing can be taught.” ~ Oscar Wilde

Diatryma
Diatryma
12 years ago

Like all things, it’s a balance. Every few weeks, I get fed up with my house and vacuum and consider being the only grad student in the world who hires a maid service for her kitchen floor. But the fifteen dollars it takes to get my hair cut in town is too much– it’s worth going home, making an appointment with the folks who have been trimming my, my brother’s, my mom’s, and for a while my sister’s hair, who I trust, but not to walk downtown and pay slightly more for someone I don’t actually trust not to screw… Read more »

Don
Don
12 years ago

KC has a good point. Be careful on the roof. One accident will undo a lot of savings.

Bill in NC
Bill in NC
12 years ago

Learn to swap parts – that’s the basis of most home repairs.

Toilet – the flapper and fill mechanism are the things that fail.

Sinks – I just replaced all the stem/check valves in our 20 year old house and the faucets are as good as new.

Washer/dryer – I’ve replaced the lid switch on the washer and the heating element/thermostats on our 20 year old set.

However, I did pay over $2000 to have our freestanding tile shower torn down to the studs and rebuilt.

nuke3ae
nuke3ae
12 years ago

With the wealth of information on the internet, normal people can perform tasks that used to require a “specialist”. If I don’t know how to install/fix something, there is a forum/website dedicated to that exact task.

Peggy
Peggy
12 years ago

There are some areas in which I take this DIY to the extreme. I am very distrustful of the medical mainstream lately. I have been educating myself and researching the home remedies that have served my ancestors well for hundreds of years. Yes, there are some things I don’t mess with, but for basic health care, I find good maintenance helps a lot. We have built our homeschool on the concept that if you have a basis in the basics (math facts, logic, fundamentals of scientific inquiry, reading and writing skills) and the knowledge of how to teach yourself what… Read more »

Money Minder
Money Minder
12 years ago

Time is money. If a chore is within your ability and will save you the cost of out sourcing it, then of course you should do it yourself. If on other hand the chore at hand would cost less to out source per hour than what you can earn working per hour, you would be financially better off to outsource the job and spend your time working.

Neil
Neil
12 years ago

Some great idea’s. I’m all for doing repairs around the house yourself. I get great satisfaction out of a job well done. However, if you are going to do a home repair or reno make sure you do it right. The previous owners of our house installed a bathroom in the basement. They cheaped out on the plumbing, which caused a pipe to burst, which resulted in hot water running all day. Further it soaked a carpet which we couldn’t dry fast enough, so mold set in. The end result, I had to install new flooring. For the record the… Read more »

Chris
Chris
12 years ago

For us not going out to eat and changing the oil in our own cars was the 2 biggest ways we started to control our budget. I have considered at times to pay someone to do my yard but just can’t justify the cost.

I’ve also put in our own laminate flooring which was a huge cost saving and not that hard to do.

Momma
Momma
12 years ago

I have a couple ideas with regard to DIY… (in my opinion, it almost always makes sense to DIY) 1) LAUNDRY – How about a DIY laundry rack? We have one of these that my husband built, and I am crazy about it! Saves money on drying clothes, and I feel like I’m saving money every time I use it! (Plus we MAKE our own laundry pretreater, and that saves us more money!) http://www.engineeradebtfreelife.com/search/label/laundry 2) BULK COOKING – it is so true that cooking at home saves you BIG money. My husband is bulk cooking expert – everything from burritos… Read more »

Janet
Janet
12 years ago

Yes and no. I clean my own apartment, I cook, I can sew a button, I paint my own nails, etc. I will NOT cut my own hair, nor will I attempt to figure out how the engine of my car works. The thing with paying others to do things — it makes the world go round. A plumber will have a paycheck if my toilet goes haywire, and a lady who runs a salon out of her home? I can support her business by visiting her once every 2 months. Time is money, and I’d rather have my weekends… Read more »

Allison
Allison
12 years ago

Dog grooming. I have a standard poodle and a professional groomer charges between $50 and $75 to completely groom a poodle. I’m in the process of picking up grooming items on sale so I can learn to do it myself.

Bloke
Bloke
12 years ago

My brothers-in-law and I team up on all of our home maintenance/improvements – one or two projects a year. 3 Years ago: They helped me hang siding on the house. 2 Years ago: We laid carpet at one BIL’s palce. This year: Did the parents’ roof and gutters. Next year, Another brother-in-law with a deck. 2 Years from now, the last brother-in-law is planning on building a house, and needs help with running wire, Cat5 and other things. We keep track of tools so if repeating comes in, we know who has what. Note: I’m terrible at home repair, but… Read more »

Tim
Tim
12 years ago

Life is too short to waste on trivial tasks like mowing the lawn or raking leaves. Hiring those tasks out is well worth the cost if your lawn is of any significant size.

Kaitlyn
Kaitlyn
12 years ago

Before I started my current job, I always saw myself as the type of person who hires people to do something. Now, I can tell the difference between a hexkey and a torque, I can cut, polish, and install copper tubing, etc. Who knew chemists needed that kind of skillset? Very surprisingly, I found that I enjoy such things! My next goal is to learn how to change my own oil and the basics of car maintenance. Sadly, I can’t do that at my apartment complex. Living in SoCal, people think I am crazy that I refuse to hire a… Read more »

McKenna
McKenna
12 years ago

Like someone else mentioned, you need to factor in safety with some of these home projects. An inexperienced person on a mossy roof could be a disaster waiting to happen. Be careful, JD! My husband owns his own home repair and remodeling business, which is booming right now. He can fix or build anything, but he no longer works on roofs (ours or anyone else’s). We have three small children, and we can’t afford for something to happen to him–his physical body is too precious to our income. In the pre-kid days, he wouldn’t have thought twice about jumping up… Read more »

elisabeth
elisabeth
12 years ago

I love to iron — every sunday morning, I set up the ironing board and watch the political talk shows while I iron. As a result, my dear husband looks great at his office job and we take a lot fewer things to the dry cleaners, since I can also spot clean and brush things etc…
but we happily pay for lawn service — we have some steeply graded areas that really require a big mower and it is better to hire this out.

icup
icup
12 years ago

Just out of curiosity, why bother cleaning the roof? Moss does no damage and adds an extra layer of insulation to her home. Its also cutting down on her cooling bills in the summer by not absorbing as much sunlight as dark shingles would.

Julianne
Julianne
12 years ago

There is a difference between being frugal and cheap. I am consumer debt free and save about 25% of my take home pay. However, I work hard and I choose to pay to have someone cut my lawn, give me a pedicure and highlight my hair. I don’t view this as wasting money or being extravagant. The choices in my life (I don’t have kids or pets, have a 10-year old car, bring my lunch to work, and use the library instead of buying books and movies) have provided me with discretionary income so that I can pay someone to… Read more »

Brian
Brian
12 years ago

A man’s haircut is pretty easy. Growing up my mother cut my hair, and then I had a long hair period during college. Now I cut my own hair. $30 for clippers eight years ago, 15 minutes every couple of months, and nobody can tell the difference, even after I tell them I do it myself. 1″ on top, 1/2″ on the sides, and then my wife trims the neckline (I used to do this myself with two mirrors). Getting our dogs nails cut costs us more each year. (Something else I should re-learn how to do, I used to… Read more »

EscapeVelocity
EscapeVelocity
12 years ago

Bikini waxes are really worth having a professional do–saves a lot of time, mess, and pain. I only get them in the summer. Lip waxes I can do–two yanks and it’s over, and you can see what you’re doing. And I tweeze my brows. I do all my own yard work, except tree trimming. I put in a French drain a few years ago. For now, I do roof repairs, but I’m planning to have the asphalt shingle roof replaced with metal, which I’m hoping won’t leak but which I don’t plan on getting up on. Or installing. I may… Read more »

Jessica
Jessica
12 years ago

These are great tips, but where are the tips for those of us who already do all these things because we never could afford to outsource them?

Glenn
Glenn
12 years ago

My mother’s cut hair for all of the heads in our family since far before I was born. Growing up, I had no idea other people paid for haircuts–it was always just a trip to the basement whenever one of us started looking shaggy. Likewise, we always vacuumed/dusted our house, mowed our own lawn, raked our own leaves and shoveled our own driveway(s). In the event of unusually drastic snowfall I don’t pay anyone to take care of it, I just ask a friend to help out and then head over to his house to help with his driveway. Since… Read more »

Bloke
Bloke
12 years ago

For dogs, using a dremel instead of clippers work great for big dogs.

It was expensive, a chore and I was running out of groomers willing to fight off a 100# dog to trim his nails.

Now, I dremel his nails down every two weeks, exchanging a treat for each paw’s wortth of nails. We get it done in about a half hour. Now they are very short…

Steve in Montreal
Steve in Montreal
12 years ago

I live in a cedar sided house. A few years ago I hired a professional to restain the south side. He did a good job sanding off the old finish and reapplying the new. The south side looked brand new. It cost me just over $1500. This summer I decided to attempt the east side. I bought a 28ft ladder for $200 and an orbital sander for $40. The stain cost me about $300 (it’s a 3 step process). So I took a week off work and did it all in that week for less than $400!! I saved $1,100… Read more »

MaxPowers
MaxPowers
12 years ago

The biggest deciding factors were left out: 1) how much you can make per hour versus the time it takes to do the task. If you can make $10 per hour, it doesn’t make sense to pay $20 for a 15 minute carwash if you can do it equally as well. 2) are there benefits to letting a professional do it.. If you screw up a task and hire a professional to fix it, you end up paying more. Also if it looks sloppy or amateurish, then you didn’t really save much 3) For all of you who think that… Read more »

Debt Reduction Formula
Debt Reduction Formula
12 years ago

I’ve been to a barber once… in my whole life. When I lived at home, my mom cut my hair. Since then, I’ve cut my own hair (hair clippers). I get a little help from my wife to spot-check and make sure I didn’t miss any parts.

I finally did a major plumbing repair this summer. I was amazed at the savings — to the tune of $300. Definitely something worth learning how to do on your own.

Carla
Carla
12 years ago

I think for us the small things: laundry, including hanging clothes on the line, basic mending (because I know how to sew), basic plumbing issues and other household tasks are done ourselves. Cooking ? Of course! Cleaning? We dont have clutter and only hardwood floors so its pretty simple and quick. But the rest — time is money and spending X amount of hours to learn how to do complete a task, or fix something and/or having to spend the time to buy or rent special equipment isn’t worth it. We don’t even change our own oil. Taking the cars… Read more »

Frugal Dad
Frugal Dad
12 years ago

I’ll do just about anything DIY unless it is a safety risk to do so. For instance, I don’t do any heavy electrical work–I save that for the experts. I also only do light plumbing after watching my grandfather twist a pipe off inside the wall once and scramble to cut off the main line down by the street. As a kid, I thought it was pretty funny, but as an adult footing the bill for repairs, I can better understand his disgust!

Miss M
Miss M
12 years ago

I did a post of this back when it came out. The things I added were minor car repair and car washes and pet care like grooming. And for the time is money people, if you aren’t using that time to actually make money then it makes no sense to also being paying someone else to do it for you.

Chett
Chett
12 years ago

Some people who have posted on here stated it takes too much time to learn home improvement. 3 years ago I knew very little about home improvement, then we purchased a house, cheap that needed a lot of work. I hired a carpenter to work by the hour with the stipulation that I would work with him and he would teach me what he could when an opportunity came up. We built a 700 sq ft addition from the ground up for less than $22,000. The money I saved in the contruction was just the beginning of the savings. Over… Read more »

Miranda
Miranda
12 years ago

We do a lot around our house ourselves, although we did have a housekeeping service for a very long time, but when they went out of business my husband and I decided we could do the work ourselves, some days I really miss it, but then I do not miss the $160 – $200 a month out of our checking account. I do think there are a lot of was to easily save money by doing things yourself, but if you can afford to hire some help and it will allow you to do something more productive or enjoyable then… Read more »

E
E
12 years ago

I love the idea of DIY, but when we actually tried it, we found that we’re not very good at it. I looked on Google for how to fix a leaky faucet, but after watching the video and looking at our faucet, I decided it wasn’t worth the risk of knocking the shower out of commission to save a few bucks. DH tried replacing some other plumbing fixtures; after hours of frustration, we ended up with leaks. I think some people are just not cut out for this stuff.

Liz
Liz
12 years ago

For about 24 years, I never had to worry about getting haircuts, because my aunt was a hairstylist. When she passed, for the first time in my life, I had to find someone outside my family to do it. Fortunately, I did find the person who has been my hairstylist in the 20 years since – it helped that we were close in age and had worked together part-time in a grocery store while we both attended school for our respective professions. The personal care stuff for me has always been a no brainer, since I’ve always given myself manicures… Read more »

Andrew
Andrew
12 years ago

A note on food preparation: I recently started using rice as the base for most meals instead of pasta. That alone reduced my meal costs. A pound of rice (dry) can feed me for a week and only costs $2. The same weight in dry spaghetti only lasts a couple days and costs just as much (I know you can get pasta cheaper, but even with the dollar brands it’s still more expensive). I make three cups of rice at a time and it usually lasts 2-3 days. It saves time too because I can make rice and topping separately,… Read more »

petunia
petunia
12 years ago

If you have kids, one big area to save by doing yourself is birthday parties. Most of the ones my kids attend cost in the $500 range and the parents are happy because they don’t have to clean up.

Our parties never cost more than $100, cleanup is not much more than a regular playdate and the parties can be longer and a lot more relaxed at our house than scheduled at a birthday party factory.

I make the cakes too, and that does save some money, but is mostly a labor of love.

Paul Williams @ Crackerjack Greenback
Paul Williams @ Crackerjack Greenback
12 years ago

It’s poor logic to assume that it’s worth paying for something if you could earn more money in the same amount of time by working. Why? Because most of us don’t actually work when we pay for those services! We also can’t always work to earn that extra money. For example, I’m a salaried employee so working more doesn’t mean I get paid more (unless I can get a raise). Most of us can’t just do our jobs more and make more money that way. And how many of us would actually put in the extra work? Most of the… Read more »

Cathie
Cathie
12 years ago

All of you have great suggestions for saving money and I follow them often. However, I find that no matter how much money I am trying to save, the day is only 24 hours long. Sometimes, I save money by not doing something. For example, I got tired of mowing my lawn and have let much of it return to it’s naturally wooded state. (It looks great!) And I have traded in coloring and cutting my own hair for a longer, naturally gray style. (It also looks great.) So, don’t forget that sometimes you don’t have to work so hard… Read more »

allen
allen
12 years ago

@Studenomics, Money Minder, others who fall for the time-is-money-fallacy: The simple reason that that argument is NOT valid is thus: Are you being paid during the time you take to do this [project]? In other words, if you spend part of a saturday afternoon working on your toilet, you’re not being paid (in a normal job). If you spend a whole WEEKEND working on your mother’s roof, you’re not being paid then (again, in a normal job). Almost 100% of these projects are things that are using time that you aren’t being paid in. Sure, you could be relaxing, but… Read more »

Money Minder
Money Minder
12 years ago

@Allen and Paul Williams – we don’t all live in a 9 to 5 world. If you have the option of paying to have something fixed while you are able to actually spend that same time working at a rate that will more than cover the cost you should definitely out-source. Unless of course you are a hobbyist and find personal satisfaction in DIY work – you can’t put a price on happiness

allen
allen
12 years ago

@Money Minder: the VAST majority of americans work 40 hours a week. it’s not just the 9-5, it’s also the fact that you have free time/non-working time that you can spend on these projects. Even if you were able to spend all of your waking hours at your job, would you want to? I would point out that most people who have to work two jobs, do so becuase they NEED the money, and that the cost of a plubmer, or a handyman for a few hours work is almost always more expensive then what the VAST majority of Americans… Read more »

Paul Williams @ Crackerjack Greenback
Paul Williams @ Crackerjack Greenback
12 years ago

@Money Minder: I understand not everyone works a typical 9 to 5 or can’t earn more money during that time. You just restated my point – if you can and do work and earn more money during that time, then it does make sense to outsource. We just say it differently. 😉 Most people don’t actually work when they’re getting their oil changed, having their lawn maintained (depends on your schedule I guess), or waiting for a plumber to show up. I realize there is some value to that leisure time, but to call it “saving money” to outsource when… Read more »

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