When it Pays to Call in the Experts

By Jason White on 21 July 2008 18 comments
Photo: Torpe

I'm pretty good around the house.  I can make most small, household repairs, and have even been known to take on a larger DIY project or two to save a buck.  However, I know my limitations, and will gladly call in the experts when I am out of my league.  Some guys just can't stand the idea of asking someone for help, because they think admitting they don't know how to do something is a sign of weakness. In fact, I think being able to admit you don't know something is a strength.  There are times when we have to push frugality aside and call in a professional, or pay for a service, because it is not practical, or not safe, or because we just plain don't know how to do something.

Injuring the Hand that Feeds You

I read an article on Yahoo Sports recently about Miami Dolphins quarterback, Josh McCown.  McCown and his brother were chopping wood and Josh injured his hand, requiring six stitches and jeopardizing his availability for the start of NFL training camp, set to open in a few weeks.  I don't know why they were out chopping wood, but I have to imagine two NFL quarterbacks would know better than to do anything that could injure their hands.  After all, a quarterback with an injured throwing hand is just about useless on an NFL roster.  Surely they could afford to have someone chop wood for them, or buy pre-split firewood.  Who knows--whatever their reason for engaging in wood-chopping activity, it has proven to be a career-threatening move, at least in the short term.

Spend More Time Earning, and Less Time Working

In some cases it makes more financial sense to pay someone to do something rather than take on a project yourself.  For example, if you need your house painted, but work in a job where you are not able to take paid leave, painting it yourself could result in a week's worth of lost wages.  But if you hired someone to do the work for you while you continued to work, chances are you will come out ahead, financially.  This is a difficult concept for the most frugal of us to understand, because the idea of paying someone to do anything evokes fear in frugal households.  It is still important to work with the person you hire to get a lower rate, perhaps by negotiating aspects of the project, or offering to do prep or clean up work.

Often times I hear stories of entrepreneurs hiring someone to read their emails, or run errands, or handle their shopping, and I think, "What a waste of money!  Why don't they just do it themselves?"  Well, it could be that "doing it themselves" takes them away from what they do best--earning money.  I often emphasize the importance of living frugally, but don't be so afraid to spend money that it costs you more in the long run.

Tagged: DIY, DIY, frugal living
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Guest's picture

I always pay my accountant every year to do the taxes for my small business ventures. She has saved me thousands of dollars each year and I spend a few hundred. It would cost me a lot more in time, effort and energy to do my own accounting than what she charges. Invaluable in my opinion.

Andrea Karim's picture

I read an article a few years ago by someone who advocated hiring people to do all kinds of things - I think he was a consultant who made something like $100-150 an hour, and figured that going to Staples to buy himself some supplies would cost him roughly $70 in income, but he could pay someone else to do it for $20, so it made more sense to outsource his shopping.

The only fault with this reasoning, to my eyes, was that he was assuming that every hour of his day was billable. Most people work an 8-10 hour day in the US, and once the work day is done, so is the pay... so I would assume that going to Staples in the evening wouldn't result in any lost income for anyone, as evening hours are generally not billable, unless you are a workaholic or a lawyer or both.

Same goes for other activities that can be done when I'm NOT working. Painting a house is an example that would clearly require more coordination than I have to offer, so I would certainly consider hiring someone for that. But I hesitate to do it for other endeavors, like yard work, even though I could TECHNICALLY get a second job on my weekends and make more money that way.

That said, I would probably pay half of my paycheck to have someone wash my dishes. I really hate doing dishes.

Guest's picture

Maybe they enjoy chopping wood.

Guest's picture

Sometimes it may be easier said than done when it comes to earning more money and letting someone else do it. I wish that I could go to work and simply request more money if I work overtime, unfortunately I can't. I'm also very stubborn. I if I think I can do something myself I will do my best to do it even if it completely falls to pieces in my lap.

Xin Lu's picture
Xin Lu

I always want to hire someone to clean my place, but my husband refuses on principle.  He says that I should clean my own place and I say that I earned the money to hire someone.   Sigh...

Guest's picture

I agree with you completely. Why do it yourself (especially a job that you hate) when you can pay someone to do it and you can continue to work and earn more money than you would have saved. This is my mentality when it comes for paying for things. I do always try to save as much as I can, but I would always pay someone to do something I hated if it saved me money

Guest's picture

Probably the reason why outsourcing work is a nice business venture now a days. There's even a book that suggest that you outsource your life to be rich! Check out 4-Hour Work Week book. Really inspiring.

Fix My Personal Finance

Guest's picture

i agree - why do it yourself when you can have a professional do it better and more effectively? for all my house projects i use "servicespider.com" to find a good contractor. it is a website similar to Ebay (but for services). if yo need something done to your house you just post the project on the website and local contractors come in and bid for your job. that way you can get the cheapest (or most reputable) contractor to do the work for you. i know the site having a promotion this fall so you can save even more money by getting gas and gift cards from them.

Guest's picture

I totally concur with Andrea Dickson. With my job, I'm salaried, so no matter how many hours I put in, I receive the same bi-monthly wage. I think most middle-class Americans (i.e., those who earn significantly less than $100 p/hr) is in a similar boat.

If I can't coordinate the time over several weekends for hubby and me to accomplish said paint job, I would have to take personal time off (with pay, like accrued vacation time) to accomplish it. Spending nearly one thousand dollars to have my house painted by someone else is ludicrous. I have a difficult time with anyone saying this is a "need," but instead, a "want". I have a dear friend who lives in a gorgeous home and she and her husband make double what we do and they have no kids at home (we have 2 teenagers), but she constantly complains about their lack of money. However, you need to know that the Number 1 "need" on her list of expenses is the two of them going out to dinner 5 nights a week. Strange and sad that her "need" to have someone else do her cooking because she "doesn't like to do it" is draining her bank account.

Unless a task is way over your head (the initial point in the blog's opening paragraph) and to accomplish it requires special training and/or purchasing special tools and materials, I think those folks who are genuinely frugal would make an effort to do it themselves. The others, it seems, are frugal only when it's convenient. And if that's the case, God bless ya, but justifying spending money simply because you "don't wanna do" something is potentially just the tip of the root of any financial hardships you're experiencing. If you can afford it, I'd never consider chastising you for how you choose to spend your money. However, if you are financially strapped and on the edge of disaster, it should be self-evident that paying someone else to do something for you that you could handily accomplish is likely an ill-afforded luxury, NOT a need.

My friend who goes out to dinner 5 times a week justifies the expense as something she "needs for mental health." I think that's just an excuse; if she and her husband were serious about solving their financial problems, eliminating restaurant dinners right off the bat would be a no-brainer. But it's always easier to whine about being broke than to make wise choices (i.e., perceived sacrifices) that would begin resolving the financial crunch.

Guest's picture

A few of you have come up with extreme examples - a really, really expensive task that you'd rather do yourself for obvious budgetary reasons - but you're forgetting about the value of your time outside of getting paid at work for it. What about the value of spending time with your spouse or with your kids? What about the value of spending time pursuing your non-career goals, such as reading, learning another language, exercising or playing sports, volunteering, or other life goals that improve your self, your confidence, your happiness and ultimately, also improve your performance at work (leading to a better job or a raise)?

Or on a really basic level, what about paying someone to do a task that you would do yourself on a Saturday morning so that you can perform another task on your to-do list at the same time?

I grew up in a DIY-until-you're-about-to-die family. We call someone in when we've almost electrocuted ourselves, or have fallen off the roof once and almost cracked our skulls. When I came into a fixer-upper house, I had to revise my philosophy a bit. I was devastated by the amount of work I had to do, outside of work.

Some things that have to be done on a regular basis are not as expensive as a full paint job, but can take a very serious chunk of your energy away when you're genuinely not very good at them. It has nothing to do with "not feeling like it." I'm genuinely, genuinely bad at tending my yard. It takes me 20 minutes to start the lawn mower. I can spend hours clearing weeds out of a bed, but I'm very slow at it and only cover several square feet. I try and I try and I try, and I *want* to do it myself, I *want* to not pay someone else to do it.

But you know what? The amount of energy I spend trying hard to do something I'm not good at is a negative return. I have little time left over to relax, to not worry about what I haven't gotten done, to pay attention to friendships and hobbies because I spend all my time focusing on these chores.

If, on the other hand, I pay a lawn guy $40 a month to mow my lawn and generally keep my front yard clear of weeds, what do I gain? It's more than $40 worth, I can tell you that. The freed-up time, the regained energy, and the simple, relaxing act of looking out my front window in relief and not dismay.

And EVEN if I got paid as little as $8/hour, a fraction of 1 work day (out of a whole month) going towards this benefit exceeds the 12+ hours I would have spent trying, not very efficiently, to do it all myself.

It's generally accepted in the workplace to "focus on your strengths, not your weaknesses."

The concept applies to all work, not just your job.

Guest's picture

Every task has an opportunity cost attached to it, regardless of how big or small. In some cases, your time would be better spent working, especially if the money you earn is significantly higher than the cost of paying someone to do the task in your place. Sometimes, the opportunity cost is not fiscal at all, but rather something like personal relationships. Some people are so adamant about saving money by doing things themselves, that they neglect those around them. In such instances, it is much better to invest your time with the wife and children and pay someone to what you otherwise would have done yourself. I wrote about a similar subject in my business blog back in December, but the theme applies to both business life just as well as it does to one's personal life.

Guest's picture

Some things are worth paying someone to do (my taxes) and some are not (pumping gasoline, changing my oil) as far as I'm concerned because I get a thrill and relaxation out of doing manual labor since I do intellectual stuff all day.

Perhaps that's why they were chopping wood? Either way, it's a bad move to do something that could endanger your income potential- especially when you're in such a specific career field.


Guest's picture

The Fortis Property Group is leading the “Northeast-based private real estate investment group” that has agreed to acquire the 1 million-square-foot State Street Financial Center at 1 Lincoln Street in Boston for more than $880 million, or $880 per square foot, according to sources familiar with the sale.

The Brooklyn, NY-based Fortis and a group of other New York investors are expected to close on the 36-story office tower from a joint venture led by American Financial Realty Trust (NYSE:AFR) and an affiliate of IPC US Income REIT by the end of this year or early 2007.

Fortis apparently set its sights on Boston following several high-profile Dallas deals where it agreed to pay about $280 million for the three-building, 1.4 million-square-foot office complex known as Galleria Office Towers in Dallas.

Earlier in the year, Fortis teamed with Trimarchi Management, also from New York, on the nearly $100 million acquisition of two other Dallas office properties, Harwood Center and Saint Paul Place. It also invested in the $282.5 million purchase of JPMorgan International Plaza in Dallas.

The addition of State Street Financial Center will build out Fortis’ portfolio considerably. The privately held firm headed by CEO Jonathan Landau is controlled by the Kestenbaum family. Joel Kestenbaum is the son of Louis Kestenbaum. Fortis manages some 3 million square feet in commercial properties and about 454 residential units.

The group of investors joining Fortis in the Boston deal could not be learned. American Financial announced the pending sale last week, but did not identify the buyer.

American Financial, a Jenkintown, PA, REIT decided to formally shop the 36-story tower in the last couple of months. The company is pruning its portfolio and repositioning itself. The REIT paid $705.4 million or $688.84 per square foot in February 2004 to acquire the property. Later that year, it sold a 30% stake to an affiliate of Canadian REIT IPC US Real Estate Investment Trust, for $60.3 million.

The building is fully leased with triple A credit tenant State Street Corp. occupying most of the building under a lease that runs until 2023. State Street also leases the property’s 900-space garage on a 20-year triple-net lease.

Guest's picture

Smart guy, that Louis Kestenbaum, as is his son Joel. Wonder how they're faring in the current economic climate...

Guest's picture

A Sordid Lawsuit Shakes the Satmar Chasidic world .

Brooklyn N.Y. Lezer ( Louis ) Kestenbaum chairman of the ODA in Williamsburg Brooklyn NY resigned from the ODA soon after settling a lawsuit filed in May 2008 in U.S. District Court for the District of Florida for an undisclosed sum alleging he had a sexual relationship with a minor, Joel Kestnbaum the son of Louis kestenbaum will become chairman of the ODA.

Guest's picture

I hear he, Louis Kestenbaum is doing pretty well - managing to stay afloat! Shame on you, Yocheved, for pasting his name on info that actually belongs to someone else's deeds.

Guest's picture

Louis Kestenbaum is a very wise businessman. It's a shame that people who are jealous must feel the need to tarnish his name by posting false information about him. Louis Kestenbaum and Joel Kestenbaum have done quite well for themselves, and continue to do so, even in this economy...

-John S

Guest's picture


Brooklyn Bar Association accepting stolen $$$ from the Chasidic Maddoff Thug Louis & Joel Kestenbaum to sponsor the Cocktail Hour.

It is a travesty of Justice when the Bar Association is accepting donations when actually this money comes from defaulted loans. How did 22 year old Joel Kestenbaum secure over 1 Billion dollars in Bank Loans which are now worthless guarentees and wiped out Banks like Corus Bank, Wachovia Bank, Bank of Netherland etc. View Madoff Kestenbaum History:

*Criminal Indictment in Ohio CR- 1-99-0023
U.S.A. v. Louis Kestenbaum for defrauding Proctor & Gamble millions of dollars.