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Wednesday, August 13, 2014

When should you do it yourself instead of hiring a professional?

Over at the MMM forums, and among most demographics dedicated to frugality, the idea that you should be doing most if not all things yourself is almost a sacred cow of sorts.

While the fundamental idea that you shouldn't be paying for things is sound, I think it does a disservice to people to imply that everybody can do almost everything themselves, and if you pay for professional work you are just being a lazy "complainy pants".

It is true that people can do many more things themselves than they initially think, and thus save incredible amounts of money in the process. But you have to be honest with yourself on BOTH ends of the spectrum, and take certain factors into consideration, namely:

-Nature of the work
-Likelihood of future DIY jobs in the same arena
-Marginal Savings
-Cost of possible errors
-Fixed costs of DIY
-Marginal Time difference

Nature of the Work: 

There are two different things you are paying for when you hire somebody; their time, and their expertise. Most jobs require a combination of the two, but others are heavily weighted in either direction. If you are predominantly paying for somebody's time to do work that doesn't require much expertise, then you should consider doing the work your self. Other jobs require a level of mastery of a subject that would take you a long time to attain to get equal results. In those situations you should move forward with figuring out if hiring a specialist is cost effective.

Likelihood of future DIY jobs in the same arena

Even though an impending DIY job may require a fair amount of expertise, it can be worth it to learn if it is something that you may have to do more than once. If you own your own home learning to put on a new roof may not be worth it, as it will only come up every few decades. However if you own  12 rental properties you might be able to save a nice amount of money by doing such jobs for yourself over a 30 year period.

Marginal Savings

Obviously one important aspect to consider is how much you would save by doing it yourself. remember to include your time as a cost as well. Professionals and businesses often deal with economies of scale and other issues that make it cheaper for them to do the same job. So you will actually be paying MORE for parts, tools, rentals, etc. So they only thing you are really saving is a portion of the profit margin they add on top of their costs. Pull out your calculator and find out exactly how much you would really be saving. Sometimes it's not as much as you think. Other times you could save a shocking amount.

Cost of possible errors

It is a bad idea to go approach a job with the attitude that you can't do it and are going to mess the whole thing up. It is also a bad idea to assume it will go perfectly and there is no chance that you could make a mistake.

Make an honest assessment of the risks of doing a particular job, and what the costs could be if mistakes are made, or if other issues are uncovered once a job is started. Sure the professionals occasionally make mistakes too, but you don't have to pay for it when they do (as long as the company you hire is insured/bonded).

Fixed Costs of DIY

As I implied above, doing a project yourself may cause you to incur costs that the professionals don't have, or can amortize. Any needed tools and supplies must be purchased. Any specialty tools must be rented or borrowed. Do enough research to find out what you have to have ahead of time and factor it into your discussion.

Marginal Time Difference

Even if a DIY job passes all the other tests, if it is going to much much longer to complete a job then it might not be the best idea. Consider not only actual time spend working, but interruptions as well. It might only take you 6 hours to do a job, but if you only have 1 hour a day to work on this project, then it is going to be problematic. Especially if the job requires any setup, organization, or cleanup, etc. You will have to do all that each day you start working again.

With all that being said, I strongly suggest that everyone stretch the limits of their comfort zone when choosing if you can do something yourself. Be realistic about your abilities, but if the only thing stopping you is laziness or fear of messing up, then you should put some serious consideration into doing it yourself. Go through the points on this list and identify if there are any REAL reasons why you can't or shouldn't do it yourself.  Making the right decision will save you money, even when the right decision is paying somebody else to do it for you.

-The Money Monk

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