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Paying Someone versus Doing it Yourself [Sep. 19th, 2006|10:40 am]

A common frugality tip is to not pay people to do things you can do yourself. In the face of that advice, there are always some people who are quick to say that their time is worth money, and so it's worth it to them to hire people to do all kinds of things for them.

But whichever way you lean, there's another important dimension in the matter and that's how well you would do a job compared to how well a professional would do a job.

First I'll talk about you. There are some things you are good at and some things you enjoy. There are some things you are ignorant about, but could learn, and other things you have no talent for at all or really, really don't ever want to have to learn.

Now I'll talk about professionals. On the one hand, they are experienced. They have honed their skills. They have seen the mistakes. They have the right tool for the right job. On the other hand, they are rushed. They may or may not care about the quality of their work--to them it's a paycheck.

In a comment to My Open Wallet's post "Rule #9: D.I.Y. versus P.A.Y.", an anonymous poster recommended hiring professional painters because they do a better job and are insured. A few years ago I got a bid from a painter to paint the outside of my house. For a huge pile of money, they were willing to just slop the paint on. That I can do myself. I wanted the scraping and the sanding and the caulking and the edging. I can't even imagine how much all of that would cost.

Industries whose professionals are especially notorious include home renovation, auto repair, and financial advising. I would say that if you have any ability in these kinds of areas at all, you should really look into learning more skills, at least until you find a professional you can trust.

Other industries are especially good at doing what individual people can't do well or cheaply on their own such as build cars, provide energy, and turn cocoa beans into chocolate. In these areas, even people who have an interest and talent may still pay others.

Below are some examples of the choices I have made in this area.

Easy for me, so I do it myself, even though professionals might do just as well or better for at least a halfway reasonable price:
* wash dishes and do other housework
* cut my hair - Actually now that it's thinner and won't grow as long as it used to (so I can't reach it as well), I have to ask someone, but it just involves a straight cut across the bottom. I have wavy hair so any imperfections remain undetected. I mean I had someone do it one-handed once, with the other hand sticking up in the air like some kind of sword fighter, and it was just fine. (One could argue that I should have a better hair style that is more professional or compliments my face better or something, but we won't go into that here.)
* decorate - Maybe a decorator could give me some hints, but I don't care.
* shop - I don't even know how other people could shop for you. That's so weird.
* income tax preparation - A lot of people pay others for this, and I might also one day, but now my taxes are still easy for me. Doing it myself also keeps me aware of related actions I want to take (like save receipts, and, when reasonable, sell stocks in the same sized lots I bought them in and not for at least a year after I bought them).

I'm better than professionals, so I do it myself:
* cook - I don't cook as much as I should, but it's so nice to have some recipes so that I don't have to rely on others staying in business. I especially like my spaghetti, scrambled eggs, pancakes, chocolate cake, and peanut butter cookies because they are so yummy. I also like that I use no transfats and use only whole-grained wheat flour, so my food is often less evil than food made by others. (I admit that I do also pay others to cook for me--both at restaurants and for packaged goods, but some cooking belongs in this category.)
* take care of my own finances - Let's just say that I am much more motivated than some stranger, and I know myself very well and do not have to resort to statistics to make decisions. By "statistics" I mean statements of how most people are. I am like "most people" in some ways but not all ways.
* gardening - I think professionals are just way too expensive here, and I've heard that landscape architects often don't even know much about plants; if I'm doing it I'll have native or at least xeriscape plants only, with no added poisons.
* schooling - If I had kids, I might home school them, depending on how well they did in classrooms compared to at home. I often school myself via library and internet resources.

Professionals are better or cheaper than me, so I hire someone:
* grow food - Farmers have a lot of expensive equipment and supplies, and their products are subject to intense competition so the prices are extremely good. However, some things are better grown in the backyard--we should be growing our own tomatoes and herbs, for example. And, um, spinach.
* stock up on movies for me to watch - I let Netflix do that for me.
* learning physical skills - I sometimes hire people to teach me physical things because getting help can be more efficient than learning on your own. I have paid people to teach me swimming, dancing, guitar playing, ice skating, and yoga/pilates/tai chi.
* car and house inspections - Even if I did trust myself, which I don't, it's also good to get a professional opinion. I will always hire people who do only that, not people with conflicts of interest

Hard for me, so I hire someone, even if they're not that good:
* auto repair - I have someone I trust (although less so lately), and cars are just so complex.
* plumbing - I'm too weak to unstick some of those connections.
* sewing - I buy most clothes ready-made even though I can do easy sewing and could learn hard sewing and sometimes my sewing machine works. But clothes are so cheap (especially at thrift stores), fabric is expensive, and sewing is very time consuming. (Sometimes I will make repairs or alter something myself or make something I just can't find in stores, like my last purse.)
* movies and books - Yes, I could make movies and books, but there are so many good ones out there, I'd rather use some of them.

Neither or both, when I trust neither myself nor the professionals, or when I value both myself and the professionals:
* take care of my health - I feel like I have to pay attention to things and look things up because medical professionals have to know too much to be able to get into depth about everything. But of course I still go in for annual check-ups and call or visit about anything disturbing. I just can't treat everything they say like gospel--I research it all myself and try to get lots of options and ask a lot of questions.
* repairs that I have tried and given up on - My dad once started a company when he was still learning the skills from library books, and often people would call him in for repairs that were too simple for them (plug in the device; turn the device on; switch the circuit breaker back on). I like to look for these simple fixes myself. I also like to look up additional quick fixes in books. But after that, it's time to call someone in. You have to find someone to recommend someone and/or get several bids or estimates.