The DIY movement is alive and well. Taking the bull by the horns and getting a job done can save massive amounts of money. Early retirees get to their exalted status because they kept costs low. Frugal people are drawn to DIY projects like flies to honey. With so many people undertaking projects on their own it is time to ask an obvious question: Should you be doing that project on your own.
I have seen some really bad DIY jobs over the years. Buying a large number of rental properties over the years revealed some doozies. Still, I handle a large percentage of jobs around the office, home and farm on my own. There are times I do need to take a knee and bring in somebody with experience.
Each individual has their own level of competence. Personally I am more comfortable with a wrench in my hand than a hammer. When a building project comes up I generally call in the cavalry. Over the years I have spanked several roofs on homes and did a good job. Painting also falls under my purview. When it comes to the car I change my own oil and handle minor maintenance. Appliances are within my comfort zone. Over the last few years I changed a sensor in the washing machine, changed the element in the oven and the oven display. YouTube turns many of us into experts when it comes to minor repairs.
Where I run into trouble fast is new building. Fixing an existing building stretches my skills, but the façade breaks when I try to handle an addition on my own. It takes special skills and some experience to handle more complex building issues. Experience, like so many things in life, makes all the difference.
There are two choices when you are over your head: hire the work done or bring in someone skilled in the field to help you. There is no loss of honor in asking for help. By hiring an experienced helping hand you start getting the experience you need for future projects.
There are a few reasons for people to do things themselves. First, most people want to save money. Second, many people get great pleasure from doing the job themselves. Third, some people cannot trust someone else to do the job. If you enjoy the work I encourage you to find your bliss. You might want to get beyond the ‘nobody can do it, but me’ attitude if the third reason applies to you. What I want to spend the rest of the day on is the ‘cost’ issue.
We automatically assume we save money if we DIY. This is not always true. There are also times a professional can get the job done faster, better and cheaper than you can on your own. Mistakes can really add to the cost and every DIYer has been there. The venue also makes a difference. When I remodeled my farmhouse I hired an extra set of hands to help lay sheet rock. It made my life a lot easier. I know it can be done alone, but it was faster hiring someone who had done it before to help me.
The car is another perfect example. I own a set of ramps so I can change the oil in my car and I always do. The problem starts when it requires getting the car up in the air. The neighbor across the street has a lift in his garage and he handles most other auto repair issues for me. Last winter Mrs. Accountant backed into an ice snow bank. She hit it so hard she bent the muffler. The bend was so severe the brackets no longer reached. I screwed around on the project for an afternoon to bend it back again to no avail. I called my neighbor and we got the car up in the air. Now we could heat the pipe with a torch and bend it back. It took two of us pulling to bring the tail pipe back in line. There was no way in Hades I would have completed the job on my own. My neighbor charged me ten bucks.
The tax preparation industry is filled with DIYers. Many people can and should prepare their own tax return. Probably a third of my clients could do their own return, but choose to have me do it instead. There are many people doing their own tax return that should not. A new client I just finished up came in because they were getting audited so much. They also did not know how to report their rental income so they disregarded it assuming it would be a wash. Yicks!
We could relive all my adventures, but before long you would want to start gouging your eyes out. You know your level of competence in regards to the project at hand. Sometimes it is cheaper to have someone else do the job. I prepare taxes cheaper than a lot of people can do on their own because I have a better setup. The lift in my neighbor’s garage is a better setup than my ramps. Equipment and setup are as important as experience.
Here are a couple of pointers I use to decide if I should do the job on my own or call in backup:
- Don’t be stubborn. Ask for help, if needed.
- Just because I can do something does not mean I should. (See Keith’s Rule #4.)
- Assess the project before you start.
- If your goal is to save money be sure doing it yourself actually saves money. Experts sometimes have economies of scale that trump DIY savings.
- Know your limits. Some jobs should be handled by professionals. I handle many electrical and plumbing jobs myself, but many people should pass on the electrical projects for obvious reasons.
- Engage other DIYers. Some guys get serious about their passions and build a very useful setup to work specific projects. Every neighborhood had several skilled backyard auto mechanics. They are a close and reasonably priced resource. Nothing makes a neighbor friendly faster than a few dollars sliding his way.
- YouTube is the most powerful resource a DIYer has. By reviewing the process to complete a job you can determine if you need help or not.
Completing a project with or without help is always gratifying. Knowing you had something to do with fixing an appliance or painting a room is satisfying. Knowing you can manage on your own is a major ego boost. Too many people wander though life without a clue on how to survive in the most minor of inconvenient situations. Since most people reading this blog are interested in saving money it is best to start with a cost analysis before starting a project. If it is cheaper to have someone else do it, you can always watch or help them to increase your skills. When your skills are up to task, you can enjoy the satisfying feeling of a job well done while enjoying the bulge of cash still sitting in your pocket.