Back when my parents were kids, budgeting was pretty simple. You needed to set aside money every month for shelter, food, and transportation (maybe – a lot of families still didn’t have a car, or two, when my parents were children). Life was simpler then, so it seems like because of all the new technology we have, we’re considered lazy Americans.
Our grandparents’ generation didn’t have to worry about paying the cable or cell phone bill, expensive gym memberships, and many of the other luxuries we’ve come to incorporate – without a second thought – into today’s monthly budgets.
But even today, there are certain things that people budget for that they don’t really need, and, more to the point, for things they can do themselves. Not only are these things evidence that Americans are prone to throwing money, but it’s also tangible proof that many of us have become lazy Americans.
I don’t employ a housecleaning service myself, but I know plenty of people who think this is a crucial part of their monthly budget. Some pay per visit, others pay per hour, others a flat monthly fee for a cleaning company to come in their house on a regular basis. One of my closest friend’s spends $150 a month on housecleaning services.
Here’s my beef with that: unless you’re working 80 hours a week, you have the time to clean your own house. Yes, you’ll have to shell out a little cash to purchase cleaning supplies, but otherwise, this is something you can do basically for free. If my friend were to put that $150 back in his monthly budget, he’d have an additional $1800 a year to put into his 401(k) – an account to which, by his own admission, he rarely contributes.
Changing Your Own Oil
“But this is too difficult!” you’re probably saying. It may not be the cleanest job you’ll do, but it’s not an overly complicated process. The only cost is the motor fuel. – Your local garage is really overcharging you for this!
Last year, I changed the oil in my car four times. At $35 a pop – including all taxes, fees, etc. – it came out to $140 to pay someone else for something I could do on my own.
And even if you’re not willing to take on the task of changing your own oil, at least take a look at your vehicle’s owner’s manual. You may be surprised to read that your car’s manufacturer recommends changing the oil every 5,000-7,500 miles, rather than the 3,000 miles suggested by most mechanics.
Drive out to the suburbs, and you’ll see neighborhood after neighborhood of perfectly manicured lawns – and in front of a lot of those lawns, you’ll see a company’s truck. Lawn care services vary from region to region, depending on the terrain, topography, size, and condition of the property in question.
I know people who pay the neighbor’s kid $10 to mow the lawn each Sunday; I also know people who pay a company $25 to mow the lawn once a week (some homeowners pay professional lawn care companies as much as $41.87 per mow – via LawnStarter Los Angeles), then spend even more on add-on services like fertilizing, trimming and edging, and aerating the yard. When you break it all down, these folks are paying thousands of dollars a year for something they could do themselves.
Maybe you don’t own a lawnmower, though, and you think you’re actually saving money by paying something to do your lawn care – after all, if you only have to pay that neighbor kid $10 a pop, it might seem like a deal. But consider this: a self-propelled (aka, push) lawnmower starts at under $100; you can get a cheap walk-behind for under $200. With the typical growing season lasting about six months (that’s 26 weeks), you could pay for a nice mower by the end of the summer for what you’d pay the kid down the street.
Are there any places in your monthly budget where you’re paying for services you could do yourself?