3 Things We Pay For That Prove We’ve Become Lazy Americans

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.

Housecleaning Services

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.

Lawn Care

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, 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?

19 Responses to 3 Things We Pay For That Prove We’ve Become Lazy Americans

  1. Michelle says:

    Luckily W works at a car dealership so we get extremely cheap oil changes and anything else that relates to cars! Not going to lie though, we have thought about hiring someone to clean our house.

  2. I agree with you on house cleaning and lawn care. On oil changes there is the problem of disposing of the used oil. In my case the amount of driving I do only get my oil changed about once a year and I have it done at a local garage. There are advantages to a mechanic looking over your vehicle once a year.

  3. Christian L. says:

    Daniel,
    I’m trying to sell my car as we speak to eliminate all its expenses. They’re just not worth it for a depreciating item. Otherwise, I don’t have any expenses that prove I’m lazy.

    -Christian L. @ Smart Military Money

  4. Money Beagle says:

    I think house cleaning among middle class has picked up simply because of the more common practice of having both people work at full time jobs. Fifty years ago, when only the well off had house cleaning done by someone else, most households had one stay at home person, which made it sort of a no-brainer to do that stuff yourself.

    I have never changed my own oil simply because of the mess involved, having to dispose, and the understanding that if I somehow screwed it up, I could cost myself many thousands of dollars. Not worth it.

  5. I found this post very entertaining and sadly true. Luckily, I only partake in one of your categories, I couldn’t change the oil in my car to save my life. :)

  6. J Ascher says:

    Changing your own oil certainly makes sense, but I wouldn’t be surprised if doing so voids the car’s warranty.

    As for lawn care, if you have serious allergies, paying someone might make sense.

  7. David R. says:

    Agree on the housecleaning and lawn care. I also change my own oil, but more for my own satisfaction because I don’t think it saves that much money. You can often get coupons for a $19.95 oil change or even cheaper, which is about as cheap as you can buy 5 quarts of oil and an oil filter.

  8. Jules@Faithful With a Few says:

    I do my own cleaning and lawn work, so I guess I am not lazy yet:) I don’t know a thing about changing oil, but we always use coupons for oil changes:)

  9. I agree with the housecleaning and the lawn care services. Even if you all have a full time job, you can always find time to clean the house and do the lawn. This way, you can save around $250. But I guess it still depends on one’s lifestyle; some people are just too busy to do it themselves.

    About changing my own oil, I think it is still better to have it done in the local garages since it doesn’t need to be changed every month and it doesn’t really cost that much. Besides, having your car checked by a professional is important.

    I also know some men who cut their own hair to save money. Having it done in a barber shop or at a salon does not mean you are lazy, but it sure can save you around $500 a year or even more.

  10. Little House says:

    We do our own cleaning (no lawn to care for, but in the past we did have a gardener). But lately I’ve been weighing whether we need one. Neither of us have the time to clean the baseboards the way we want or keep up with all the dusting – we have too many other obligations. I think in today’s society with both people working and extracurricular activities, it’s really hard to do it all on your own.

  11. Anna Matetic says:

    I completely DIS-agree on housecleaning. It all depends on what you are doing with that extra time. I am working on a side-business to help diversify my income from my full-time job. I would rather spend the $140 a month I put into having my house cleaned regularly and take that time instead to put into my side business, which I hope will make me well over $140 a month.

    If you just sit at home watching TV, then maybe you would consider this savings. But I in no way consider myself lazy for outsourcing a chore I dislike to spend on something I enjoy more and hope to make more money from. We are a one-car household with no car payment and no cable/satellite TV. I’d rather go without TV than without my housekeeping.

  12. You are so right…and that means I qualify as a lazy American right now. For those 3 things listed above I pay $260/month. My wife and I also work a combined 120 hours a week though…lazy?? It is a very tough call…Thanks for the thought provoking post!

  13. We have thought about getting a housekeeper, but for now have decided against it. Sure there are ways I’d rather spend my Saturday mornings, but I’m too cheap to pay someone else to do it for me at this point.

  14. Simon says:

    I think all of this is relative to…

    -The amount of hours you work
    -The amount of disposable income you have
    -Other commitments, e/g family

    If two parents work long hours then the time spent with their children will be precious and limited, thus if they can afford to they may choose to employ a cleaner and/or gardener.

    On the other hand if a single person (with no ties) working a regular week on a modest income chooses to do the same (whilst possibly sacrificing saving for the future) then yes I agree this could be deemed as ‘lazy’.

    @ Anna Matetic

    I also agree with you, IF you can make MORE money working when you would other be cleaning then is make complete sense to employ someone to do this. Not only are you helping the economy working you are also helping someone else stay in a job.

    • eemusings says:

      @Simon, Agreed. Your priorities vary depending on your lifestyle and income. T is reasonably handy and changes our oil. We do all our own cleaning (lawns taken care of by the LL) but when we buy a house and have kids I’d love to get a regular cleaner in once a month – we both hate cleaning and honestly never do deep cleans.

  15. Jose says:

    I’m not guilty of either of the three! But then again, I am a DIY nut so oil changes and lawn care are pretty easy for me (compared to some of the other projects I tackle)!

  16. Lori F. says:

    I figured that somewhere on your list would be “make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich”. It confounds me that people will spend more than double the price to buy frozen pb&j versus buying the fresh ingredients and making it yourself.

    As for your list, thankfully we still do all 3 of these. I am a SAHM and my hubby works 50 hour weeks but he still changes the oil in our vehicles. As for the lawn mowing, that’s what the teenager is for. We don’t let our son get over-scheduled on activities that would prevent him from fulfilling responsibilities at home.

  17. This list is so true, and somewhat saddening. How is it possible for some people to be so lazy!? America needs to implement “Frugality 101″ into its school system.

    Also, house cleaning and mowing the lawn both provide me with some much needed “exercise” (if you can call it that).

  18. Take out food instead of enjoying the process of making one yourself.. I’m guilty of this and a couple of some things mentioned above. But I try to do some chores from time to time. if I don’t have a deadline to catch.