Author Topic: Time versus frugality  (Read 5641 times)


  • Stubble
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Time versus frugality
« on: March 29, 2012, 12:04:34 PM »
There are a number of frugality tactics that really revolve around the idea of saving money at the expense of time.  If you are already FI (and presumably are "time wealthy"), then these tactics make perfect sense.

But for those of us who aren't there yet: sometimes (at least to me), it doesn't always seem practical to give up time just to save money.  A good example of this is DIY home maintenance/repair.  Let's say I need something done, and that thing requires a certain degree of skill.

For example, say my furnace stopped working.  Now, it seems to me, there are probably a decent number of HVAC problems that can be solved relatively easily by an ordinary individual.  But if I've never serviced a furnace before, it's going to take a lot more time than calling (and paying) a specialist.  At a minimum, I have to go through the manual (which I'm assuming has a basic troubleshooting guide).  Next step might be to use the Internet.  Now what if I find I need to replace a part?  I can probably do it, but I have to find a place that sells it, and then install it.  Installing it may require a fair amount of dis- and re-assembly.  And what if it still doesn't work after the parts replacement?  Due to my inexperience with such things, I mis-diagnosed the problem, and now it's this other part that I have to replace...

If I have a full-time job and a family, I really don't have time for this.  I'm either giving up time at work, sleep, or time with my family.  Work time is the same as money, family time is most valuable to me, and both of those implicitly suffer if I sacrifice sleep.

In the scenario I've described, is it un-Mustachian to call the specialist?  I think the answer is yes, since if I sucked it up and fixed it myself, that would be badass.  :)

But another way of looking at it is to use ideas from Your Money or Your Life.  I should know exactly what one hour of my "life energy" is worth (by computing my real hourly wage, based on take-home pay, minus work-related expenses and adding in additional time for things like commuting).  Let's say my real hourly wage is $50/hour, and this problem will take me 10 hours to resolve.  If I can pay someone $500 or less to fix it, I think I come out ahead.

On the other hand, that's not a completely fair analysis, since fixing it myself also gives me experience and knowledge.  Experience and knowledge pay dividends in the long run.  Next time a similar problem comes up, I can probably fix it that much more quickly.  So perhaps I should factor in a "tuition value", and calling the specialist must be below my wage-based cost minus tuition.

Just wondering how other folks look at the problem of saving money at the expense of time?  Particularly those of you who aren't yet FI, and are still working a for-pay job.


  • 5 O'Clock Shadow
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Re: Time versus frugality
« Reply #1 on: March 29, 2012, 12:47:07 PM »
I'm a big fan of Your Money or Your Life and there are many instances where I don't mind 'outsourcing' some of our tasks.  However, one thing I've been faced with it the difficulty in finding a so-called specialist that will do a conscientious job.  Recently, I took our vehicle in to the dealer for a diagnosis and they gave me a $1800 estimate.  Over half the things they wanted to do, had already been done in the last six months. 

Thanks guys, but not thanks. 

It ended up being a $20 part that took me fifteen minutes to install myself.


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Re: Time versus frugality
« Reply #2 on: March 29, 2012, 01:13:55 PM »
Having worked as a general handyman for the last 6 years, and having taken advantage of other people thinking the same way, I am inclined to disagree.

We (technicians) don't know as much as we like you (our clients) to think.  We have a general understanding of how mechanical things work, and maybe a set of common problems we have seen in the past, but a whole lot of it is just taking things apart, looking at them, and figuring out what is wrong - and sometimes trying things until something works.

If a specialist can diagnose and solve the problem in 2 hours, you can probably do it in 3.
If it takes the specialist 8 hours, he is gonna charge you a lot more than $500 in parts and labor.
Because our time is valuable too!  We charge for the parts, and then enough to cover the hours, the mileage to drive to your place, whatever company overhead, and then end up with profit to tuck away for retirement.

Just like BenDar, I had a client who took her van to the dealer because the side door wouldn't open, and they quoted almost 2 grand.  She asked me to look at it instead. I took it apart, found a faulty $20 motor, (and charged about $100 for the labor to diagnose and install the new part).

Besides, whatever time the tech is working on it, you can't be at work, and you can't be at the park with your kids anyway, because you have to be there to let the repair person in.
On the other hand, if you do it yourself, you don't necessarily have to do it all in one go, you can do a little here and there when you have a free moment.  And in the end, the skills you learn will make it that much faster to do the next job.  Actually, that's how I learned to begin with; just doing my own maintenance, and then doing it for friends and family, until I felt confident enough to charge strangers for it.

But wait a moment... $50 real wages?  Unless my math is way off, if you are working full time, that would be nearly $180,000 a year salary.  Well heck, with that kind of income, sure, outsource all your labor, why not?
Especially if you live in the SF Bay Area.  I have good rates ;)


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Re: Time versus frugality
« Reply #3 on: March 29, 2012, 01:40:02 PM »
We (technicians) don't know as much as we like you (our clients) to think.  We have a general understanding of how mechanical things work, and maybe a set of common problems we have seen in the past, but a whole lot of it is just taking things apart, looking at them, and figuring out what is wrong - and sometimes trying things until something works.


As my old IT mentor once told me, "Technical support is 10% knowledge and 90% luck. It's not that we actually know what we're doing, we just know how to spin educated guessing into a career."


  • 5 O'Clock Shadow
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Re: Time versus frugality
« Reply #4 on: March 29, 2012, 05:56:07 PM »
I agree. It's worth building a knowledge base about your product. Something very similar happened to me. My furnace died. I opened the cover, checked the pilot light, shut off the gas, and restarted. Googled the problem, looked at the owner's manual. No luck. I did end up calling a tech, but at least I know more about furnaces than I do.

P.S. All the tech told me was to get a new furnace, but he did make it work for the interim.


  • Bristles
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Re: Time versus frugality
« Reply #5 on: March 29, 2012, 06:52:03 PM »
You could involve the family in things you might be tempted to outsource. You can work together on a Saturday to rake the leaves or maintenance the pool. You can take apart that furnace with your kids and learn about it together. You and your wife can install the flooring on a date night.
I can't think of any better definition of quality time than to be learning things with people you love. An added benefit is the personal satisfaction of having done something yourself. There's no way to put a price on how great that feels.


  • Stubble
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Re: Time versus frugality
« Reply #6 on: March 29, 2012, 10:49:03 PM »
The equivalent of this exact topic came up on one of the blogs i follow [MOD EDIT: FIXED LINK] the other day and I do tend to agree with his synopsis. Sometimes, paying someone else to do something does become necessary for several possible reasons. If that becomes the case, one needs to weigh the two and make a fair comparison.
« Last Edit: March 30, 2012, 08:23:46 AM by arebelspy »


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Re: Time versus frugality
« Reply #7 on: March 29, 2012, 10:52:31 PM »
I find that the determining factor for me on DIY vs outsourcing is often safety. If a big project comes along and I haven't done a smaller project in that area I'll outsource it especially if injury or serious property damage is possible. It comes down to the "peril of ignorance" - when we are most ignorant with overestimate our knowledge more significantly than when we learn more - we don't know enough to know we just did something really stupid.


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Re: Time versus frugality
« Reply #8 on: March 30, 2012, 12:34:03 AM »
Personally I think the investment of time is worth it for the returns of growing your capability to deal with these things later (unless you are extremely time poor, and maybe for emergency repairs. i.e. you've had a crack at the boiler, it's not in the manual and you're without heat in winter). With something involving gas or electric, if it's not in a manual I'd be inclined to get a specialist simply for the safety aspect, FI is no good if you've electrocuted or carbon monoxided yourself to death.


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Re: Time versus frugality
« Reply #9 on: March 30, 2012, 12:44:58 AM »
Outsourcing jobs can go both ways.  Sometimes you get a qualified repair person who shows up on time, is able to fix the problem in one visit, and bills you a reasonable amount.  But sometimes you get rip-off artists or incompetents who waste your time, overcharge, and do shoddy work.   So it's not always a simple time-for-money tradeoff.  And of course if your spouse can't meet the repair person at home, then you may have to take time off work for the initial visit and the repair/installation.

I think it's always worth doing a google search or consulting a home repair manual to see what you might be dealing with.  Even if you do decide to outsource it, you'll be in a better position to deal with the person you hire.  It's amazing what you can find on forums and YouTube to help you solve home repair problems.


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Re: Time versus frugality
« Reply #10 on: March 30, 2012, 08:25:52 AM »
Absolutely, outsourcing is worth it to me a lot of the time.

Most Mustachians like to be handy, DIY type.  MMM himself embodies this.  It's not for everyone.

I will happily outsource things I don't like to do, cannot do, etc.

Real Life Example: I gladly pay my lawyer lots of money for his expert knowledge, rather than trying to DIY with forms found on the internet and how to books found at the library.
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Re: Time versus frugality
« Reply #11 on: March 31, 2012, 02:26:21 PM »
I'm right in the middle, I apprenticed as a plumber for 4 months and do a ton of handyman work for myself and others.  I install sinks, hot water heaters, fix leaks, etc.  I also do a lot of construction work, I even created a whole room out of a section of my garage.  Electrical is a piece of cake as long as it's straight forward work, more complex stuff gets an electrician.

But I don't install shingles, I hurt my knees years ago re-shingling my house and it's not for me anymore.  I also don't paint, can't stand doing it, so I hire it out if my wife won't do it.  That cost me a pretty penny last summer when my whole house got painted.  Carpet and vinyl aren't worth it to me, I'd rather hire that out as well.

I make plenty of money to outsource it all (while lengthening the time to FI), but I feel strongly that we need to stay connected to the physical aspects of our houses and our lives.  Life is not safe, I'm not going to start acting life things will never change.  If I can do a job, I usually do it.  I don't buy the "real hourly wage" idea, it's useful to a point, but there is much better rules of life to make those decisions by.


  • 5 O'Clock Shadow
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Re: Time versus frugality
« Reply #12 on: March 31, 2012, 03:16:24 PM »
Of course it makes sense to outsource some things. For instance, I'm not going to drill my own tooth or do surgery on my leg.

I think you need to consider a couple of things:
  • Is this something that you have a reasonable chance of learning how to do? If it involves highly specialized equipment or knowledge, then probable not.
  • Is what I will learn likely to be useful in the future? If I will use the the new knowledge frequently, then I'm only inefficient or really slow the first time that I do it. The cost of acquiring the cost the first time may be worth it in the long run.