Do it yourself… atleast once

Not too long ago my wife and I purchased a new house. Well, actually, there’s nothing new about this house. It’s about 40 years old and full of “issues”. Some of them are purely a product of neglect (it was vacant for almost 2 years prior to our purchasing it), some of them are due to the house’s age, and some of them are simply “things I wish were different”. I’ll be learning a lot of new skills on this one…

I have a tendency to avoid paying someone else to do something until I myself have done the same thing. For example, when I was 19 or so I decided I wasn’t going to take my car to get the oil changed. I’d change it myself. It did not end well…  I emptied the wrong fluid. I dumped the manual transmission fluid when I pulled the plug ( which explained why my oil was purple) and before I knew it my car was in the shop anyway… for a more expensive fix. I went ahead and finished the oil change myself though first.

So why did I decide to do it myself? Is it because I like working on cars? Nope, not really (though I do like to understand how they work just in case). It’s because I wanted to know (1) can I do this myself and save some money and (2) If I can do it myself for less money, can I save enough money to make it worth my time. If there answer to (2) is “no”, then I simply won’t do it anymore. I’ll pay someone else, but I want to know what I’m paying them to do.

I felled a tree with an axe last weekend. It was very satisfying. The tree was approximately 40ft tall with a trunk diameter of around 10 inches. It was a lot of work. And despite the satisfying feeling of watching the tree fall to the ground caused by my sweat and determination I now know WHY I would pay someone to cut down any tree bigger than that one. It is simply not worth my time / pain / equipment / etc to do it myself. Previously when getting estimates I might have thought “200 dollars for that tree… is this guy trying to rip me off?” or “I have to get 5 estimates just to be sure everyone is in the right ballpark”. But now, having done it myself, I know what I would quote myself, and I know that it likely takes me two or three times as long as a “pro” so I can adjust accordingly. I also know that I can spend the time I would spend on the tree working on a new computer program… or doing some house maintenance I’m actually good at… which is likely a far better use of my time. Heck, I might be able to make the $300 working on computer stuff in the amount of time it would have taken me to cut down the tree and haul it out to the curb. In that case, I can rest well knowing that both the contractor and I win. I can write that check with confidence and without regrets or hesitation.

When possible, I suggest doing the things you would pay someone else to do atleast once. Maybe you’ll find you like it and are good at. Maybe you’ll just reaffirm your decision to let someone else do it. Either way, odds are you’ll learn something useful.

(I pay someone to change my oil. I can get it changed for about $13 at the right time of day and it only takes about 10 minutes. I can barely buy all the supplies for that price, and it would likely take me an hour. I know how, just in case, but for now, it’s worth my time and lack of frustration to write the check and rest well knowing that it truly is the right decision as opposed to the “easy” decision.)

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