Having money, or at least earning money, sometimes makes people pay for things they could do themselves but they just don’t want to. They are not just paying for things they are physically (or otherwise) unable to do.
Our friends and colleagues (able-bodied, intelligent people) have cleaners, nannies, gardeners and private laundry services. They get their food delivered, packaged and ready to be cooked (or already cooked) delivered to their door each evening. Generally speaking, they always have somebody they can call if “something goes wrong“.
They do not need any of these things – they would just prefer to spend money than take the other route: doing it themselves. That is fine if they value that trade, but we try to do things ourselves and expend a bit of effort to save the money. What’s more, by doing it ourselves we learn and gain valuable experience in getting things done.
Cleaning and laundry
Luckily, the YFGs don’t mind cleaning their house. Mrs YFG likes doing certain things and I like doing other things, and we are perfectly happy to put in the effort to clean our own home. To be fair, we couldn’t probably afford to pay someone enough to clean our house as often, or as thoroughly, as we do.
We of course do our own laundry, except for the two items we dry-clean per year (we deliberately try not to buy dry-clean items). Me not wearing suits helps immensely with this – I appreciate that a job that requires suits often requires those suits to be dry-cleaner.
We are amazed at how many of our colleagues would pay for cleaners, gardeners, nannies and laundry services. Often, they’d be working half of their day just to pay for the army of paid helpers doing things easily within their grasp.
One of the things I vowed to do when we bought our house is if there was a problem I’d try to work it out and fix it first (provided it was both safe and somewhat within my abilities to do). Not only has this saved us thousands of pounds in tradesmen costs it’s meant that we’ve often got things sorted out much more quickly.
There’s another benefit beyond just money – that is over the years I’ve learnt to do much more “DIY”. When we first moved in I could barely hold a screwdriver. Since then, I’ve repainted the whole house, re-hung most of the doors, re-felted the shed roof, wired in new sockets and light fittings, landscaped the garden and replaced old waste pipes. It wasn’t all fun and games, lots did go wrong and there were many swear words (and no doubt there will many more). But generally speaking its given me a lot of confidence and ability to sort things out before they become a problem. That doesn’t mean we haven’t had skilled tradesmen in – for our dodgy boiler, for a partial re-wire, and fixing out leaking roof – and I’m becoming more aware of my circle of competence.
One thing I’ve found when getting skilled tradesmen in is that the good ones love to talk about their job. If we have works done, I usually watch them (and often times help where I can, usually lifting heavy things). Most of the time they will enjoy answering questions and telling me what they are doing and why. I’ve learned a great deal about how electrics work, how boilers work etc.
Knowledge and experience
This leads me onto the second part of Do It Ourselves – not only do you save money, but you learn how the world works. I was quite disappointed to read one of Financial Samurai’s latest pieces about why “middle class” American’s need $300k to live a “middle class lifestyle” (I once thorough enjoyed Financial Samurai’s pieces, but must confess they no longer do it for me). From that piece (and the associated comments) as well as what I have learned through my American friends is that the US seems to be the land of ultimate convenience. There’s almost nothing in these “middle class” societies that you could want or need that you can’t buy or get through cheap labour.
Whilst that doesn’t necessarily mean I think everyone should be doing their own electrics and plumbing – I think that by not even doing the basics of human survival yourself you lose touch with the real world. By that I mean, you lose the ability to work out problems, you lose your natural instincts towards self-sufficiency and perhaps most importantly of all you lose the ability to emphasise with anybody else but your own small bubble of peers. By working things out for yourself you learn to appreciate how hard people other than yourselves work and the wealth of knowledge and experience they have. Having dug out and laid a small garden path, I now much more appreciate how hard landscapers work!
I don’t like to delve too much in to politics, but the thing that worries me most about people like Trump getting elected is that, using him as an example, he has never had to “do anything” in his life. I doubt he’s ever done much physical labour, tried to fix his cars or ever clean his own home. You might, and quite rightly say, why does not being able to change a light-bulb make you unqualified for being president? My response is that it is the wilful ignorance underlying that inability – not caring about how things work and why – that is the issue.
Closer to home, we’ve seen the gutting of the public sector (I am by no means a “big government” type so bear with me). Many government departments and councils have limited to zero architectural expertise (in the 50s London alone had some 1,500 council architects). I bet even fewer have specialist economics or valuation staff (I know, because various government were major clients of my old firms). Why would they? They can always pay for some contractor to do it. But willingly losing all that knowledge has limited our ability to work out whether something is a good deal or not. I have no doubts that the tragedy at Grenfell or the calamities in our rail system are because the people appraising the underlying contracts and service agreements have little expertise in spotting issues that only an expert would see.
Price of everything, value of nothing
My main occupation during my career was valuing things. My job was often to work out whether investments were a good deal or not. Much of that boiled down to understanding how businesses worked, what made them succeed and how people think. It was about looking past the price and understand intrinsic value. I think achieving FI for many people is so difficult because we have a society that readily “pays the price” via conspicuous consumption but willingly makes finding the true value of things difficult. Mr Ermine at (now) Simple Living in Somerset wrote a post about batteries that has stuck with me ever since (you’ll have to trust me on this one). In the post he describes how Poundland touts those cheap £1 massive zinc-chloride battery packs – but he knows through his life experience that these are “old tech” batteries that are rubbish. The slightly more expensive alkaline batteries last multiple times longer and are far less likely to damage your electrical goods. Yet every-time he (and I) go into Poundland I see customers gleefully grab the cheap crappy batteries even though they are getting ripped off. All they can see is price, they can’t see the value.
This leads me back to Do It Ourselves. When you outsource your whole life to other people you lose so much value – both in the short-term, through letting your paycheck slip through your fingers, and in the long-term, by losing the ability to get things done and learn valuable skills. The price may seem small, with unskilled labour “cheap”, but the cost is so high. I think a huge part of reaching FI is realising the value in self-sufficiency – that being waited on is both damaging to your wallet and you as a human.
All the best
Young FI Guy