A few weeks ago I wrote a post about why changing your own oil (in your car) is a very overrated activity, and used the economic concept of opportunity cost in order to justify my decision to pay someone else to do it for me.
I realized when writing this that it may have sounded like I was bashing DIY (do-it-yourself) activities in general, so I thought I should write this follow-up post to explain that I do indeed like the concept of DIY activities, you just need to be smart about which ones you do.
By "smart", I basically mean that you have to do a bit of self-analysis to determine if the time, money, effort, and required skill learning that it takes you to complete an activity adds up to be less than the monetary cost of paying someone else to do it.
Below I give my list of some common DIY activities and my thoughts on whether or not they are worth the effort.
When most people hear the term "DIY", home repairs are probably the first thing that come to mind. With the advent of the internet, DIY home repairs have become quite a popular activity among men (mostly married men who want an excuse to get away from their wives, I've heard).
To say whether or not doing "home repairs" is cost efficient to too broad, so I will break them down into some more common tasks.
-Changing a Lightbulb: This is probably the easiest home repair you can do. I would argue only a rather obscenely rich person could ever justify that it isn't worth their time. That said, if you are someone like me who lives in an apartment complex with on-site maintenance service, then it is a slightly different story. I can submit maintenance requests and a guy will come fix whatever is broken...for free. For that reason, I actually don't change my own lightbulbs because...well...it costs me nothing. Am I lazy? Yes. But hey, perks of living in an apartment.
-Installing Pictures/ Mounts/ Fixtures: Not technically a repair, but a common DIY-type task. I am notorious for installing mounts (like to hang pictures or curtains) in a not-so-straight-and-level fashion, so the quality of work would definitely be better if someone more qualified did it (or if I stopped being a cheap skate and got better tools...like a drill and a level). In any case, while my work may be described as "half-assed", it still gets the job done well enough, so I don't really think it would be worth it for me to hire someone to do it for me. They would also probably laugh at me.
-Basic Plumbing Fixes: No matter how much money you have, it is advantageous to know what to do when a toilet starts overflowing. I also think that anyone should be able to plunge a toilet because...well...it just seems embarrassing to have to get someone else to do it for you. Unclogging drains is also a pretty simple (albeit nasty) task that can be done yourself, and some other basic fixes are usually just a YouTube video away. Once you get to a certain complexity level, though, it's probably better to let a professional handle it, because you will more than likely f*** it up and end up having to pay them anyway.
-Major House Alterations: By "major" I mean something like installing new kitchen cabinets, putting in a new sink, taking out a wall, etc. Unless you have skills in carpentry, it's almost always going to be better for everyone involved if you just pay someone to do it. To that end, if you enjoy things like woodworking and consider it a hobby, then any cost effectiveness of hiring someone else to do it could be mitigated. Just be aware of your limits and don't get too involved with something that you aren't completely competent with. Especially for things like tearing down walls, remember that some walls are load-bearing and tearing them down could be disastrous, so be careful. If you want to make woodworking a hobby, then start off with small, easy projects and gradually work up to bigger things.
I've never done a car repair more complicated than changing a tire or buffing out a scratch, mostly because I'm afraid of breaking my car. I will say that having a working knowledge of car mechanics can possibly save you a small fortune over the course of your life by either allowing you to make simple repairs yourself or at least know when a mechanic is ripping you off. That said, having such knowledge can take quite a bit of time and effort to obtain, so it's hard to say where the break-even point is. If you drive older cars that frequently have problems/need work, then it would probably save you time and money to do repairs yourself. If you always drive new/leased cars, then they won't likely ever need much maintenance (one of the hidden perks of leasing), so you can probably get away with limited car repair knowledge.
And of course, I don't recommend changing your own oil.
Cleaning/Shining Your Own Shoes:
I am now the proud owner of two pairs of Allen Edmonds dress shoes, and I absolutely love them. One thing that happens when you buy your first pair of nice (and expensive) shoes is that you feel a need to take care of them. Now, from a strictly opportunity cost perspective, if you can afford to buy a pair of nice dress shoes (and further if you need these shoes for a job) then you can likely afford to pay someone a few bucks to clean/shine them for you. That said, I highly recommend that you shine your own shoes. I guess for me it is a similar feeling that some men have towards their car, I just feel a greater sense of ownership towards my shoes when I am the only one that takes care of them. There is also something very therapeutic about the shoe-shining ritual. It forces you to slow down and think about life. It is almost meditative in a sense. It also gives an immense amount of satisfaction to see the shoes gleam in the light when you finally get done with them.
Doing Your Own Dry Cleaning:
Certain garments explicitly say "dry clean only" on the tag, but you can, in fact, clean these items yourself. Wool pants, for example, can be cleaned by turning them inside-out and laying them gently in a bathtub with about 1" of water and a few drops of laundry detergent. Let them soak for ~10-20 minutes, rinse, and then lay on a towel to dry, and later hang up to dry fully. The important thing is that you do NOT put them into a dryer, as this will cause the fabric to stretch (or shrink, I forget). The benefit of this process is that it takes 1-2 hours from start to finish, whereas my usual dry cleaner takes a few days before I get my clothes back. Most of the time I still opt to take my clothes to the dry cleaner, but this is a handy trick to know in case you realize the night before a big meeting/event that your clothes smell funky and the dry cleaner isn't an option.
I'm a fan of cooking, and I'm not alone, but it does just seem these days that far too many people eat out at restaurants far too often. I've actually had arguments with people before about whether or not cooking for yourself is cost-effective, as they propose that paying for meals at casual restaurants is cheaper than making your own food. If we put some numbers into this and assume that an average person spends ~$5 for breakfast, ~$8 for lunch, and ~$15 for dinner, then that is $28 a day for food, and $852 per month. That's just for one person, if you have a family then it is much higher. Now, maybe you go to cheaper places (or don't eat breakfast), but that is still a large amount to spend on food. In contrast, my grocery bills for a month are probably $240 at most, so I'm saving myself a considerable amount (I still eat out occasionally, mostly weekends). Of course, cooking takes more time and effort than sitting at a table and waiting for food to materialize, and most people would argue the quality of their own cooking is inferior to that of restaurants, but one thing that restaurants have a hard time matching is health quality. The food you get at restaurants is made to be tasty, not healthy (most of the time). I, for one, blame the fact that so many Americans are overweight on the simple fact that so many Americans eat out too often. It's much easier to control portions and nutrition when you are cooking for yourself, so that reason alone is why eating at restaurants should be an "every once in a while" activity, in my opinion.
There is, of course, the option to get a personal chef that takes your dietary needs into account, but this an expensive option that only the very wealthy can usually afford. There are, however, other services popping up that basically do "meal preps" for you, which is a more viable option for people who aren't on a first-name basis with a financial adviser.
Back before women had rights, it was left to them to make sure a house was kept in order. Nowadays that job is left for both women and men to do begrudgingly. If you've ever lived with people who aren't clean, then you know the importance of cleaning, and if you've ever lived by yourself, then you know how annoying it is to have to clean everything. While cleaning, by itself, isn't too bad of a chore (if you do it often enough), laziness usually sets in for me and I tend to go way too long between cleanings. I've been contemplating hiring a maid service to at least do my bathrooms and carpet for some time now, and think that it just might be worth it.
"There is only one bad word: taxes."
People tend to disagree on the concept of how much the government needs to take from us every year in order to not do all the things that it says it will, but most can agree that the ritual of filling out and submitting tax forms is aggravating at best. I'm still unsure as to why, in our modern digital age, we need to submit tax forms. It seems like the government should already have all the info they need, but whatever.
As a single gent with no dependents and very few deductions, I do my own taxes. Last year, I even did them by hand using a spreadsheet and following the instructions on the forms. It was a bit scary because I figured I had missed something, but comparing my return to this year's (where I used a software) I think I actually got it right! I got to make a spreadsheet, too, which makes me happy.
Tax softwares make the process pretty easy if your financial life is decently boring, but if you have many investments, own a business, are doing taxes for multiple states, or have other weird situations, then it will probably save you money to hire an accountant. Accountants can probably find tax loopholes that you didn't know about, so most people say that they are well worth the money. It also frees you from having to pour over financial documents and read all the boring tax code literature.
Those are all the things I can think of off the top of my head, I hope you are motivated to re-examine your daily activities and determine whether or not certain things should be done by yourself or others. I, for one, think that knowing how to do many things yourself is extremely fortuitous, as self-reliance is a very beneficial trait. Don't use your lack of basic skills as an excuse to not do certain things. Instead, learn how to do things, and then assess if they are worth your time.