Last year I read an article in Redbook declaring that mothers should hire people to do some of their household work and errands for them. The article made the popular argument that if you can hire someone to do your housework for less than what you make doing something else, you shouldn’t waste your time with menial chores. It even took the concept a step further, suggesting that at-home mothers’ work is worth $40 per hour, so these unpaid mothers should still consider hiring out their most onerous tasks.
I cancelled my subscription to Redbook shortly after reading this brief but preposterous article. I couldn’t relate to a magazine that urged me to hire someone to do my work with money I don’t actually earn.
By trying not to alienate its readers who don’t make a regular salary, Redbook defied the laws of logic. But would it make sense for me to hire someone to do my laundry if I actually did make $40 per hour? I don’t believe it would.
Please, don’t waste your time trying to explain to me that I should spend my time doing the things that bring me the most money and that I can be most efficient by focusing on jobs that require the highest skill levels I possess. I understand the argument for hiring someone for less than what I make; I just disagree with it.
I am not against the idea of hiring someone to do work for me. In fact, I gladly pay people to cook for me the six or seven times a month I go out to eat and would do it much more often if I had a limitless income. I just don’t believe that my salary is the best criterion to use when deciding whether or not to do something myself.
Those who believe in hiring someone to work for them for less than what they make often forget that time and money are limited commodities. Each day gives you only twenty-four hours to use, and I have yet to meet anyone who can spend all that time earning money (or anyone who really wants to spend all their time working). In a sense, you are buying a portion of someone else’s time when you hire that person. You can get more of your work done that way, but your own income is still limited by how many hours you personally can spend working.
Taking the argument of “hire someone who works for less than you do” to its logical extreme, if you make $40 an hour and you hire someone to cook for $20 per hour, someone to clean for $10 per hour, and someone to do your shopping for $20 per hour, each person makes less than your hourly rate, but you are already spending more than you earn. Furthermore, even if you hire only one person, the amount of money you possess always decreases when you pay someone for goods and services. No matter how much or little you pay an employee or contractor, you have that much less to buy something else. You might see it as decreasing your own income — if you pay someone $10 per hour while making $40 per hour, you are really only making $30 per hour. (Of course, you are still paying taxes on $40 per hour, which decreases your earnings even more.)
So what criteria should you use when deciding whether to hire someone or do it yourself, if not your own salary? I will suggest these five:
How much do you hate the chore?
You might actually enjoy some of your tedious jobs. I know I do. Sure, I could hire someone to do my laundry for less than what I could make doing something else, but I don’t really mind doing it. In fact, sometimes I relish the opportunity to give my mind a break and do something with my hands instead. Hiring someone to do your household chores is like any other purchase decision — would you rather spend the money you have on something else? If so, why not do the chores you don’t mind and save your cash for something you would really appreciate?
What are you skills?
Consider whether you can realistically do a job to your own satisfaction. If not, hire someone with skills and training in that area. You may even have to pay more than your hourly rate to get someone who knows how to do the job right.
How much time will it take you?
A professional may be able to finish a job in half the amount of time it takes you. Those who believe in asking, “Do they make less than you?” would use this fact to support their argument: If you can hire someone at $20 per hour to do a job that would take her two hours, while the same job would take you four hours (and you make $40 per hour), you are paying $40 for a job that would be worth $80 of your time.
But how likely are you to be making money during the time you would be doing that job? Many chores and home improvement jobs are done during time off. Instead of considering your salary, you should ask yourself how soon you really need to have something done and consider the value of the other activities you would be doing during that time. Is it worth it to you to spend $40 on a housecleaner so that you can spend those four hours of free time watching a game on television or $400 on a carpenter so your deck will be finished before your party? If so, consider hiring that person. If not, do it yourself.
How is your health?
If you are allergic to grass, you may want to hire someone to mow your lawn. If you have a bad back, you will probably need someone to do any job that requires shoveling or heavy lifting. If your health is particularly poor, you may need your savings to hire someone to take care of you. If your health is good now, you should still consider saving that money you can use to hire someone to do a mildly annoying chore so that you can afford to pay someone to help you to do something vital when your health fails and you really need the help.
What is the intangible value of doing something yourself?
You might not earn money doing your chores, but you can learn new skills, build character, or benefit someone else. I could go back to work full time and earn more than what I would pay a daycare to watch my kids, but I believe the value of raising my children myself — giving them the gift of my time and having the opportunity to teach them the values important to me — is far greater than any amount of money I could earn. At-home parenting may not be an option for you — or even something you want to do — but most types of work provide intangible benefits, some of which you may find highly valuable. Don’t fail to consider those benefits in your rush to hire out a task.
Whatever criteria you use to decide whether or not to hire someone to help you out at home, be sure to evaluate whether you really can afford to hire out the work. If you don’t have the money, consider how important the job is to you. Maybe it doesn’t even need to be done at all.
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