Beyond that one crucial question, though, there are plenty of smaller issues that can help you decide which tasks will save you money without inhibiting your productivity and which will end up just being a waste of your time. These questions will help you bring balance to both your spending and to your time.
- Do I have the skills necessary for the task? Sure, I can probably save a boatload of money by fixing my own plumbing. Just getting a plumber to come out and look at a problem could cost me a hundred dollars. And there’s guaranteed to be a couple hours of my time that gets used up along with my money, while I wait around for the plumber to show. But, unless the problem is extremely minor, I’ll probably hand over my money to the plumber. The fact of the matter is that, even with a home repair guide by my side, I know I don’t have the skills to fix most plumbing issues. And the ones that I can puzzle through will probably take up far more hours of my day. We’re not going to even think about the cost of my making the problem worse.
- How much do I enjoy the task? I enjoy gardening, which I could probably forgo in favor of buying vegetables at the supermarket for a lower cost in terms of my time. However, I enjoy my hobby and I’m more than happy to spend a little time on it — even if the return on my time may not be quite worth the time I lavish on my hobby. In contrast, there are a couple of tasks I absolutely hate — like just about everything having to do with cars. I’ll pump gas, but the odds of getting me to do something like change my own oil are slim to none. I’ll gladly pay money to get out of that particular task.
- Is a compromise available? So many tasks seem to fall into one of two categories: you either do it yourself or you hire someone to do it. But there are plenty of tasks that you can compromise on: you can do the easy parts of the job and only pay someone else for the parts you don’t find worth your while. A good example might be setting up a website. If you’re a designer, you would probably be very comfortable doing all the design work on the site, and even coding it up yourself. But you might hire someone to write some or all of the website’s content. And if you find someone you can work well with for paying projects, you can often increase the amount of work you can take on — upping income for both of you.
- Can I get this done without spending money? There are plenty of options for getting people to take on tasks without paying cash. There are, after all, other incentives. Students of various types are often looking for experience, such as student massage therapists who while offer free or cheap massages while they’re studying. There are occasions where you get exactly what you pay for, but it’s a strategy often worth investigating. Other options can include bartering — trading something you’ll be doing anyhow for a service from another person is ideal. I’ll often pick up something from the store for my neighbor in exchange for her pet-sitting while I’m traveling.
- Is it really practical for me to take on a given task? While I really like the thought of raising my own chickens so that I can stop buying eggs, it isn’t a practical option for me. I’m going to keep buying eggs at the grocery store for a while — at least as long as I have a landlord who would lay an egg of his own if I suggested the idea of keeping a layer or two around. There are thousands of examples of points in our lives when time and other concerns make the effort to save a few dollars entirely impractical. Do-it-yourself doesn’t always make sense, I’m afraid.
There are lots ways we put value on our time: there’s time we could use to earn money, to spend with our families or to devote ourselves to a hobby. And, yes, we can often save money or make a dollar stretch further by doing certain tasks ourselves. But we must balance between the value of the dollar we might not want to spend on an already-made shirt and the hour we might spend making one. Productivity and personal finance have to go hand in hand — what sense does a budget make if you don’t know how much time you have to spend on both earning money and how much you can spend on tasks that might save you money. As you start planning next month’s budget, it’s worth pulling out the calendar and thinking hard about just how much time you have available in with to do things yourself.