DIY has been getting a lot of good press lately as we all process the lessons of the Great Recession and get more in-touch with our self-reliant selves. But is DIY always the smartest way to go? Considering money saved versus potential money-earned and other cost-benefit analyses, when is DIY a smart saving strategy, and when is it a waste of time? Here are seven typical DIY projects and approximate associated savings. (See also: Why the Time-Value of Money Matters)
1. Basic Auto Maintenance
You don’t need to take a class in auto mechanics or invest in a pneumatic impact wrenches and a hydraulic car lift. But by checking fluids and tire pressure regularly, knowing how to replace an air filter or fuse, and learning a few other DIY auto maintenance skills, you can save some serious cash in the short- and long-term. Though car repair and maintenance costs differ based on the state you live in and the task, hourly rates of mechanics in the US range from $115.00 to $150.00.
2. Tax Preparation
One of the wonderful things about the Information Age is the access each of us has to software once reserved for the pros. This access comes in particularly handy at tax time when, if your tax situation isn’t too complicated, you can complete and file a simple return online all with the help of intuitive software and easy-to-use programs — sometimes even for free.
Like most things in life, the key to stress-free tax preparation is keeping meticulous records and carving out enough time to do it and do it right. Next year, crunch the numbers yourself and see if it makes sense to prepare and file your taxes on your own — especially considering that according to the National Society of Accountants, the average cost to file a federal return in 2013 was $261.00. (See also: Turn Last Year’s Taxes Into This Year’s Financial Spring Cleaning)
3. Yard Work
It’s hard to convince most people of the joys and health benefits of yard work. Considering that the average cost of two hour’s worth of lawn-mowing services in my part of the country can be as low as $11.85, I can see why many folks opt to skip this particular form of DIY in exchange for a little R&R. This handy ZIP Code based rate calculator from Homewyse can help you see what the high and low lawn care rates are in your neck of the woods.
Still committed to the idea of DIY lawn care? Relieve some of the drudgery by involving the whole family and sharing the work for a few hours a couple of days each week, then reward everyone with a movie and pizza afterward. Not so skilled at the finer points of lawn care? Try this recipe to turn that brown lawn into a carpet of green.
4. House Cleaning
House cleaning is a lot like yard work — it’s easy to lean toward a non-DIY approach because of the sheer drudgery and time commitment involved. According to Angie’s List, average hourly rates for house cleaners fall between $25.00-$35.00, though those numbers seem a bit high for many parts of the country. In this category, a clear cost-benefit analysis has to include factors like how much stress a dirty or disorganized environment causes you, any gains in productivity you’d achieve with this particular to-do off your list, and — since housecleaning doesn’t pair well with multitasking — the amount of leisure time or productive time that’s sacrificed with this activity.
5. Car Washing
My local touchless car wash has four pricing options: The “deluxe” option is $8.00, and it includes a wash, spot-free rinse, the application of some sort of wax protectant, and a blow dry at the very end. Options decrease in price and features from there, going as low as $5.00. Granted, I could save a buck or two by washing my car myself (the old bucket, sponge, and shammy method), but honestly either option seems better than paying for a full-service hand wash. An express hand wash at the location nearest to me is $31.00. With tip, that’s four times more than the most expensive touchless option.
The lesson here is this: There are varying degrees of DIY. Even when we resolve not pay someone else to our grunt-work, there’s a range of what I call “semi-DIY” options that are still convenient and relatively quick.
6. Dining Out
Though we may not think of this way, every time we pull up to the drive-through window or sit down to order in a restaurant, we’re outsourcing cooking and meal prep. With dining out, however, the costs are a bit more difficult to pin down; prices vary based on region, type of meal, service level, food choices, gratuity, and other add-ons.
Still, it’s important to think of the costs of restaurant meals holistically. What are the health consequences of not being able to control portion size or ingredients? What comparable dish could you make at home with minimal effort, tools, time, and money?
For example, if dinner at your favorite restaurant costs $17.00, how much would it cost to create a similar meal at home and how might that meal be healthier? How many more meals would the ingredients produce? Would cooking be time lost, or is it something you enjoy and could pair with another activity? What’s specifically is gained in buying prepared food and are those gains impossible to maintain if you cooked at home?
If you’d like to try more DIY meals, start a collection of quick and simple recipes that you can make without dozens of ingredients and a kitchen full of specialized wonder-gadgets. If you have the time, make more than you need or make a few meals ahead and freeze the rest for quick and healthy solutions that keep you miles away from McCuisine. (See also: 2 5 Healthy Recipes for Lazy People)
7. Dry Cleaning
A dear friend of mine works in an office where business professional attire is the standard. And, though I have no firm numbers to prove it, her monthly dry-cleaning expenses must exceed my monthly cell phone bill. Still, she continues to buy clothing that can only be dry cleaned. Suits and formal wear aside, with all the advances in microfibers and washable wool, why are we still stuffing our closets with items that need to be carted off to a specialist to be properly cleaned?
Okay, now I’ll step off my soapbox and suggest a few DIY options and alternatives for some of those dry-clean only items. Hand-washing in cold water and air-drying, using an at-home dry-cleaning kit, or freshening up clothes with a good steam ironing can keep you out of the dry-cleaners or at least make your visit far less frequent. At-home dry cleaning kits run about $10.00. Though the effectiveness and number of treatments vary by brand, success with these kits usually depends on thorough pre-treating with water or stain-remover.
Of course, the response I often hear against the idea of DIY goes something like this: “If I earn $45.00 an hour, I actually save money by hiring a lower-wage worker to take care of certain tasks and using the spare time to earn more money or recharge.” And that’s a completely fair conclusion. The key is understanding what the real savings are when we choose to complete a task ourselves or hire it done.
Are you a committed DIYer? What tasks would you gladly pay someone else to do if the costs and benefits supported it?