Right now we have three major home projects that need dealing with: a leaky shower valve, a metal roof in need of a tune-up, and exterior lights that require new electrical boxes to be hung correctly. What this means in real terms: 1. Our shower has been leaking for weeks, though we’ve been using buckets to collect that water, which we in turn use to flush the toilet and to fill our water filter. (We hate waste!) 2. When it rains, we’re getting small leaks in the house from the roof. And 3. we have no exterior lighting, but do have some fun exposed wires. Um, yeah, we live like grown-ups.
We want to fix these issues, but we haven’t been able to get to them. And we’ve been unable to bring ourselves to just call a plumber, a roofer and an electrician, because we know that we should be able to tackle these projects ourselves. The problem is not willingness, it’s time.
But despite this perfectly reasonable explanation for not being able to fix these things, we feel stuck. We’ve so ingrained in ourselves the frugal DIY mindset, that it feels like any outsourcing is a failure.
Frugality tells us we should fix this stuff ourselves. Common sense says we should just call in the pros and write some checks. If frugality is so logical, how can frugality and common sense be in opposition? Today we’re taking on the question!
Time Vs. Money
In the future, when we are retired, we’ll have more time than money. But right now, we have more money than time.
There are for sure people in the world who have lots of money and lots of time, but they are the rarity. For most of us, we have more of one or the other (though undoubtedly most of us believe we have an insufficient supply of both). We can trade our time for more money, or we can sacrifice the money in the interest of time. Trade-offs.
When we have more time on our hands, it will be easier to get home projects done, even if they’re intimidating projects that require shutting off the water to the house (the leaky shower) or roping up to climb onto the steep roof.
The Frugality Trap
The DIY mindset is fantastic, and something we’re huge proponents of. The worst thing we can become as humans is helpless, and knowing that you can handle your own business is hugely empowering. Self-reliance ftw.
Sometimes that same mindset can be a trap. Feeling like we must make the most frugal, self-reliant choice puts this pressure on us not to just hire out the work and be done with it. Sure, it would be great if we had time to do everything ourselves, but we don’t, and yet not doing this stuff makes us feel like we’ve failed, like we haven’t lived up to the frugal standard. Like we’re possibly even frauds.
Frugality makes a big assumption: that we have time to do everything ourselves.
Almost none of us, at least those of us who are still working, have time to do everything. (And judging by the comments that retirees often share, you guys don’t have time to do everything either!)
We have to make choices about what to insource and what to oursource. It’s easy to buy bread at the supermarket for cheap, so purchasing bread instead of making it doesn’t even feel like oursourcing. But hiring a plumber sure does, even though in reality it’s not different, it’s just that a loaf of bread is a lot cheaper than an hour of a plumber’s time. But we place this judgment on the bigger ticket outsourcing than we do on the small scale stuff, even though most people will spend a lot more in a lifetime on bread than on plumbers.
The Reality of the Choice: Frugal Vs. Common Sense
So far we haven’t made any calls, so by default we’re still in the DIY camp for the shower, roof and lights. But in reality what “DIY” means in this case is “DIMS” (“Do It Maybe Sometime”), which effectively translates to: stuff ain’t happening. Taking a dogmatic approach to frugality is getting us nowhere.
Which is better? Not doing something because we lack the time, or paying someone else but then having it done?
Frugality says: Find the time.
Common sense says: Pay someone and move on.
Right now, frugality and common sense stand in opposition from one another, which is not a fun place to be. If frugality really is an overarching principle for life, it should not come with glaring inconsistencies or unrealistically high expectations. It reminds me of economic models that believe consumers make perfect choices, because those models assume we all have perfect information.
There is no perfect. No one knows everything, and no one has time to do everything.
Instead of Frugal, Practical
As fun as it’s been to schlep buckets of water and pretend like our bathroom exists in the pioneer era, we can’t do this forever. We need our shower to stop leaking, just as we need to resolve our roof issue to avoid causing serious problems in our house. (Thank goodness we live in a super dry climate, so mold isn’t a real concern!) This stuff needs to get done.
And that means we need to change our mindset.
We need to stop making the perfect the enemy of the good, and just weigh things according to the situation. So how’s this:
We will still do as many things as we can ourselves, in part to save money, and in part because we love feeling like we can manage our own things.
But we’re not going to hold ourselves to an impossible standard. We’re not going to beat ourselves up if we have to outsource work in our home. And we’re not going to suffer with unresolved maintenance issues until we can magically find the time to fix them ourselves.
What Do You Think?
Where do you draw the line between frugality and common sense? Have you had any decisions like this come up recently, and if so, what did you ultimately do? Any great definitions of frugality out there that help you navigate this when you get extra short on time? Let’s continue this in the comments!
UPDATE: We spent $230 on a plumber and $160 on an electrician, and now have a leak-free shower and no more dangling wires on the outside of our house! Just waiting for a roofer to call us back…