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Hiring out and DIY

We went to the farmer’s market a couple of weeks ago and I just had to buy the beautiful little box of tiny new potatoes that I saw for sale. Of course I paid a premium for them, but I wanted them, oh, so desperately. So I paid. I cooked them in olive oil and garlic. Oh, so lovely.

Last week my son and I went to the farmer’s market and we noticed that at a stall selling potatoes, they had spuds of all sizes in a box together, including the little tiny tender ones. So my son and I spent about five minutes picking out only the little tiny ones into our bag. We cooked them with olive oil and garlic. Lovely again.

It occurs to me that there’s a general money-saving lesson here: anything you can do yourself, you’re going to pay a premium to have someone else do.

The operative word here is can. I can pick out tiny potatoes just as well as the next guy, and perhaps even better than some of the guys out there. However, this money-saving rule only works as far as the word can. We had a leaky faucet outside next to our garage, and the fact is, we do have a book that probably tells us how to change it out for a new one.

What did we do? We called our favorite plumber.

Plumbing is something that, perhaps, we should be able to do, but we cannot. Ah, the variety of modal verbs and how we use them. Money is saved when one can, not when one thinks one should.

This is something we learn, bit by bit, as we settle into the nth decade of our lives. Some things are definitely DIY: Recaulk the sink. Me. Weather-strip the doors. Hubby. Try out cool idea for faux painting in our breakfast room. Me. Try to fix funny pinging sound in his commuting bike. Hubby.

But we have also learned that DIY can get you into a deep pit filled with money that you are going to give to someone else. Or in other cases, perhaps you can do the job required, but you’d really rather not. In that case, you invest money in having your house free of the coarse language and annoyed body language that accompanies tasks we really hate but think we should do for ourselves.

Bookeeping: DIY. Taxes: Hire it out.

In general, though, DIY can save you a lot of money. If ever you’re tempted to buy something pre-made that you can make, well, you’ll probably save money making it yourself. Case in point: granola and yogurt. We were paying top dollar for good granola. It was probably very high in fat, but I didn’t want to look. One day I did. OK, gotta find a lowfat granola we like. No such thing. So I was off to the cookbooks and the test kitchen, and a year later, all we eat is homemade granola. The stuff we really liked was expensive and fattening. Now I spend $.89/lb. on oats, get nuts at Trader Joe’s, high-priced flax meal because it’s so darn good for us, canola oil, spices in bulk from Indian grocery stores, maple syrup from my parents’ barn. (Convenient, eh?) Voila, a wonderful granola that is usually better than the stuff we bought, and lower fat. (Except for the week I tried out some new ingredients and Hubby’s face was neutral when he said, So what was that, uh, really crunchy stuff in the granola? You know, sorta hard to chew?)

Yogurt: I was buying my favorite Russian yogurt for twice the price I buy the milk for my yogurt. A little energy to heat up the crockpot so it keeps the yogurt warm, even less money per pound for the dried milk that makes homemade yogurt thick enough, and I’m still not much over 50% of the price of having someone else make it. Plus, I don’t have to recycle so many plastic containers.

When I was a child, I remember standing in line behind people in the grocery store. Our cart would be piled high with the fixings for meals for a family of seven. The person ahead of us would be paying for TV dinners, chips, and soda with food stamps. My mother would suggest to the checker, “They’d get a lot more food for their money if they’d just buy some rice and beans.”

Posted in Culture.

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Continuing the Discussion

  1. Household economies – Avant Parenting linked to this post on November 14, 2009

    […] a lot around the house that we would be hiring out for if we were busier. (And sometimes, frankly, we do hire out when it’s worth it!) According to, I’d be making $30,000 a year if I charged another family for my […]

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