I remember graduating college and living alone for the first time. I was a new sales representative in Cheyenne, Wyoming and had no idea what it meant to live on your own. Fortunately, I lived in an apartment building where the management company took care of all the maintenance and upkeep of the grounds. All I had to do was pay the $800 a month in rent, and the couple hundred dollars a month in necessary monthly utilities (electric, water etc.). At the time, those numbers seemed like a lot, but I would love to go back to those days. I was sheltered from all the monthly maintenance items that are required to keep a home in check.
Now, married and living in the suburbs with a kid and two dogs, there are a whole host of responsibilities I’ve had to take on. The list goes on and on: mowing the lawn,cleaning a large house, pest control, leaf removal, yard fertilizer, etc. When the responsibility isn’t yours, you forget how much upkeep a house takes.Growing up as a child, my parents worked a lot, so all our home services were taken care of by professionals. This gave my parents the ability to spend time with my sister and me during the weekends and holidays. While this is certainly valuable, I had no idea how much money these things cost.
That’s where we get to the topic of today’s post: the real cost of home services. I’ve laid out the different standard home services a house of my size cost. For reference, I live in an approximately 4,000 square foot house located on a one-acre lot.
- Lawn Maintenance (includes mowing, trimming, leaf removal, fertilizer etc.): $4,740/year
- House cleaning: $3,600/year
- Pest control: $600/year
- HVAC maintenance plan: $200/year
Keep in mind that that list is not all-inclusive. I’m not incorporating services commonly included by the city or county (trash removal, debris removal, etc.) or necessary monthly expenses (electricity,water, etc.). The services listed above are all things a homeowner could do themselves or don’t necessarily need to have (you’ve seen those people who never rake leaves off their yard, right?). With that being said, the grand total is still approximately $9,000 a year! If you saved that amount each year for 30 years at 7% interest, you would have ~$900,000 in your account at the end of the time period. Think about that for a second: almost a million dollars saved by taking a few hours each week to take care of regular maintenance items.
Now I know many of you are saying that paying for these services allows you the flexibility to spend your free time with family or doing other things that you want. There is certainly nothing wrong with that. I’ve thought about hiring our yard maintenance after our next child is born in order to spend precious time bonding. That’s certainly worth it. But after doing this analysis, I’m going to make sure I don’t get too comfortable with that service. By taking a few hours each week, I might be able to save enough money to put all my children through college. I’m sure they will forgive me for that.
Beyond the financial benefits,spending time in your yard pays off in other ways. For example, I was able to discover some rotted wood on the side of our house when completing my quarterly pest spray application. If I hadn’t been conducting this task, I could have missed this and had a much bigger problem on my hands. I’ve also started viewing my yard work as a different form of working out. Instead of spending time at the gym, I spend it in my yard.
Regardless, I just want to make sure you understand the implications of hiring out regular services. While it may seem great to get that time back in your schedule, it comes at a pretty significant cost. If you start to view your regular home activities in a different light (e.g. a workout or a way to prevent major home maintenance),you might be able to swallow the few hours a week it takes out of your schedule. It doesn’t mean you have to spend less time with your family. Get creative on when you do it, and how you incorporate them. After all, my wife always says one of the best parts of having children is that you have people to help you out with your weekly chores!
Although I agree with Patrick on the value of doing things around your home yourself (in fact, it was the subject of one of my recent posts), for the sake of providing a different perspective, I’ll play devil’s advocate in this discussion.
Time itself is one of the most valuable resources we have at our disposal during our time on Earth. To quote Warren Buffett, “[Time] is the only thing you can’t buy… I can’t buy time.” But what if you changed your perspective on time as a commodity and found ways to actually buy more time?
No – I’m not talking about extending your life via some magical tonic. I’m talking about finding ways to view transactions as a way to buy time. Patrick acknowledges this point in his writing above, but I’ll take a slightly different spin on it.
Rather than viewing these transactions simply as a way to buy time to spend with family and friends, what if you viewed the transaction with opportunity costs in mind, strictly from a financial standpoint?
Let’s say you spend $4,000 per year on lawn care or house cleaning – chores that otherwise would have taken about 10 hours per month to complete yourself. The hourly rate for these jobs is hired out at about $33/hour in this example. The financial opportunity cost of doing this job yourself is whatever you could have done otherwise with this hour.
Let’s assume you decline overtime at work on a Saturday because you have to clean your house or do yard work, or you pass up some freelance work for the same reason. You would be better suited to accept the overtime or accept the freelance work and hire the housework if your hourly rate with these jobs is greater than the $33/hour. This says nothing about the doors doing the work might open for you down the road.
Perhaps your freelance assignment pays only $25/hour, but helps get your foot in the door with a new client from whom you may receive more assignments in the future. While this type of situation is hard to run financial calculations on, it doesn’t make it any less likely to happen in the real world.
Savings is certainly important because it allows you to put the money you otherwise would have spent to work. But just as importantly is increasing your top-line earnings. If you can put an hour of time to use increasing your top-line income beyond the expense of hiring home services, you would come out ahead doing work and hiring the chores.
However, if you would take the 10 hours per month and not put that time to productive use, then doing the home services around your house makes perfect sense. Or, as Patrick discussed, if you plan to spend that newly found free time with family and friends – it’s up to you to value that quality time.
All that said, in full transparency, my wife and I do our own yard work and our own cleaning. For us, the savings is worth the work. Down the road, I’m open to hiring these jobs out, but it will likely be due to one of two factors changing in our calculations:
1. We may want to free up time on the weekends for more family activities as our schedules get busier as our daughter gets older
2. If any of our side hustles provide opportunities to invest time for a return greater than the expense of hiring some housework
In the end, everyone’s situation is different. The amount of free time, the demands on that free time, the amount of work to be done, the opportunity costs – these are all variable by person and variable over time. Just because you can’t make the math work to hire the job now doesn’t mean that will always be the case. The key is to objectively assess the situation as things change in your life and keep making the right decision for yourself and your family.