Outsourcing to Balance Time

I've posted multiple times about how time poor we feel. My wife and I have struggled with finding a balance with our responsibilities and my guess is many working families struggle with this. I feel its likely a particular challenge for those of us who are frugal. Since college I've happy exchanged time for savings since time was in abundance and it seemed like a good trade to maximize our savings.

These days the tables have turned and I'm struggling with balancing my time:

  • I'm older and more attuned to how valuable time is. If I live to be 80, I'm closing in on the midpoint of my life. The clock is ticking and its fair to say I'm more conscious of it these days.
  • I'm juggling more responsibilities than ever: trying to maintain a career, 3 rental properties, family, etc. My time hasn't increased, but my commitments have grown expontentially.
  • I still have a innate instinct to trade time for money. Without thinking I typically reach for the lowest price point product, will spend hours doing research before a purchase, will happily go to multiple stores to pick up items if it costs less $.
  • We are still have a big hill to climb to reach our financial goals. Once we reach our goals I suspect finding balance will be much easier as one major factor (our finances) will have a lot more flexibility.

I've previously posted on our thoughts on trying to outsource more to help balance our responsibilities. Here is an updated view of primary items that we look at outsourcing:

  • Home Cleaning - We have avoided an sort of subscription on cleaning, but we have been getting our house cleaned a couple times a year when the cleaning service offers a $20/hr promotion. If we were to find someone to clean our house for < $15/hour on a regular basis we would probably do it as its not something I consistently help with and I know would help my wife
  • Home Repairs/Improvements - We now have a neighbor (in school) who will help on several tasks for about $20/hour. I still do the majority of the work around the house, but have had him take on some small projects for me and am looking for his help with some larger home improvement projects we had in mind when we bought the house in the future. We have also been trying out some painters to try and find one that we think provides a good value - at this point I just assume have a painter do all the painting around the house if they are < $20/hr. This is a big change from before where I would just assume do all the painting to keep our expense to a minimum.
  • Rental Repairs/Maintenance - We've been able to find some good help here and continue to have success in minimizing the time spent keeping up our rentals. We have had a couple handyman taking care of two rentals in close proximity for us (costing us $20-$35/hr depending on the handyman) with good success. We've had a contractor help us with some projects at the 3rd rental and if we find a reliable handyman that we feel is a good value we will use them regularly.
  • Oil Changes - We continue to get our oil changed at a car shop for <$20/change. I never paid anyone to change my oil before I met my wife, but I'm now very comfortable paying someone else to do it as it is a good value for my time. The cost of the materials alone typically makes the actual cost for the work a no brainer.
  • Lawn Maintenance - I generally like working on the yard and continue to maintain it myself. It will be a very sad day for me if I ever have to pay someone else to mow my own yard.
  • Car Wash/Cleaning - right now our cars just suffer from a lack of being regularly cleaned. We don't have the time currently to clean them and will use a car cleaning service when we feel compelled to clean them.
  • Trash Service - We are closer to getting trash service. I currently haul our own trash to the dump every 3-4 weeks and find it a generally enjoyable activity. However, the cost for the time savings is relatively low and with a second child on the way I suspect I would need to travel to the dump more frequently from the increase in trash. Also when I purchase a replacement car I will be less inclined to haul trash in it.

Are there other major areas that you spend money to save time?

Related in Outsourcing:

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Cost of Convenience (Jul 03, 2012) I'm on an unplanned trip to China for work with 12 hours notice to get on a plane. Its been a mad dash to make travel arrangements and given there has been no time to prepare Ive been been paying...

Best Kitchen Time Savings Technique (Apr 30, 2012) I have found one very powerful time savings technique that has really paid off for us more than any other in terms of saving us time in the kitchen and still being about to eat really well with our busy...

Comments (7)


Income taxes could be another ripe area from a $/hr standpoint.

I cannot fathom having someone else do my yard. 1.) I actaully like maintaining, changing the landscaping around from time to time. 2.) It's considerably cheaper. I live in a typical suburban cookie cutter neighborhood were lots range from .5-.75 in acreage. It takes me an hour and half to trim, weed whack, and mow. Still some of my neighbors spend over 250 dollars a month on lawn care. At that rate you can buy a new mower and weed whacker every year and still save money!

You've lived in China. I'm currently living in Dubai. I totally understand the economic trade-off when it comes to paying for menial mind-numbing tasks to be executed by people willing to trade their life (wage hours) for my skilled labor. Just let yourself go, you are still young, and if you are this skilled, maybe you'd be happier being more skilled in the future to escape the rising tide of skilled labor? I still believe, as maybe the minority in the minority of ER's, that being FI but maybe in control of future income, that the freedom we have achieved is enviable and should not be cast away... That's the one thing that keeps me at the office - that retirement and frugality is a dead-end as opposed to further specializing and realizing that we are invaluable. I listen to a lot of www.econtalk.org just to ground my math/science psyche, makes me realize just how far ahead of the average I manage to be, and strive to continue to be.

I use a economics to determine the cost of my free time and if the service is more than the cost of my free time, and I'm capable; Then I do the task.

Ex. If I earn 52,000/year that's 1,000 week take home income. If there are 168 hours in a week and I spend 49 hours sleeping(7hr per night) and 50 hours at work. That leaves roughly 70 hours per week of free time. If I have $1000 in 70 hours to spend; my free time is worth $14.26 an hour.

Some people tell me I'm completely off my rocker, but it has served quit well.

As someone who has enjoyed this blog and other financial publications through the years, the toughest thing I did was to turn my financial planning over to a passive investment adviser. While I liked the rush of stock picking and had some success with it, I figured out I spent two whole weeks a year managing my investments. When you factor in the tax loss harvesting and ability to keep my asset allocation straight, I'm way better off now even with the adviser fee. Plus I have that two weeks back.

Erica, you touched upon an interesting subject that I hope 2MM addresses at some point - there are places in the world (China, India) that the trade-off between US skilled income and 3rd world labor makes it ridiculous to do lower-skilled tasks. As Econtalk rightfully highlights, the most advanced economies (where elite skilled labor is rewarded disproportionately) are the most successful. I think college-educated people hold themselves back when they take on too many silly dutiful tasks (house cleaning and certain home improvements like painting). Lawn mowing and physical home improvement is always a grey (gray?) area because it is so different from a 'desk job'. I've had some of my best thoughts while pushing a lawnmower or unloading a dishwasher, but weed-eating and hanging pictures is not so rewarding... Of course, in Dubai you can get someone to wash your car for 100 AED/mo (roughly 1 USD/day), which is worth it's weight in gold in Sharjah in July!

I like how you've mapped out the tasks you want to outsource. Really helps you figure out what you can actually outsource and whether outsourcing those tasks really will save you both time and money. I personally go for a home cleaning service when I'm absolutely pressed for time and the mess is piling up. I figure that whatever I pay for it is worth the extra time I get to use on my other responsibilities.

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