Friday, August 29, 2008

Outsourcing Our Chores - Do We Overvalue Our Spare Time?

Outsourcing chores to free up more spare time is a good idea but more often than not laziness is the real reason while the spare time just generates more expenses

I just finished cleaning my house. I try my best to thoroughly clean it at least once a week. There’s something about starting the weekend with a fresh, clean home which I greatly enjoy.
Having started working over 50 hours a week, as of late, I find the weekend to be the only time left for tending my personal affairs. Sometimes I wonder whether I should be “spending” the time cleaning by myself.

Many of my friends pay for housekeeping services which mostly include cleaning and maintenance. Cleaning takes, on average, 3-4 hours for a small apartment (like ours) and it’s needed 3-4 times a week. A quick multiplication amounts to paying hired help for 9-16 hours each month.

Outsourcing Chores is an Industry

It doesn’t end there though. Apparently many of the people I know value their spare time so much they’ve found paying for other such services worthwhile. Chores take up a significant amount of our spare time and it’s truly a delight handing them away.

  • Eating out - Many of us have already outsourced food, at least a couple of lunches every week. Buying groceries and cooking takes some time and it much easier eating out. The time saved adds-up quickly, think of the time saved on grocery shopping, cooking, cleaning the dishes, packing a lunch and getting up 10 minutes earlier every morning…

  • Laundry – A relatively new initiative, at least in our neighborhood. Pack up your dirty clothes and send them away. They return fresh, scented and folded. Again, the time saved is very significant.

  • Ironing – A whole other successful initiative is outsourcing ironing. This back-aching and frustrating endeavor which I never get done right. For a decent amount of money you can have your shirts and pants ironed to perfection and delivered to you as well.

  • Shopping for groceries online – I’ve recently wrote a post on the many merits of shopping for groceries online. We obviously pay for them extra.

The Subjective Math

Still, my wife and I are set in our old ways and refuse to “outsource” our chores. We both try our best to limit eating out to twice a week at most (including lunches and dinners). We do our own laundry and ironing. We’ve tried shopping online but the produce wasn’t satisfactory and we clean our apartment on our own.

I can attribute our behavior to the education we got at home according to which no one should clean our mess. There’s something intimate, in my opinion, in chores but that’s not the reason we’re haven’t outsourced them. I believe many of us overvalue our spare time.


Many of us do a simple math trick. We calculate how much our working hours are worth and boldly make the claim our spare time is too precious to waste on chores. A very wrong conclusion, naturally, as the alternative “cost” to the time we spend on our chores is not work or income but spare time and leisure.

Valuating spare time is subjective and difficult but I do have the feeling we often overvalue it. As I’ve already mentioned I’ve recently started working for a different, private corporation. I’ve went from 40 hours a week (which was quite dull but enabled me to invest more time writing here, at The Personal Financier) to 50-60 hours work weeks. The difference is astounding as my spare time dramatically reduced.

Naturally, a scarce resource is worth more and I’ve considered the thought of outsourcing my chores to create more spare time. I must say I’m pretty convinced chores are a good use of my time, as paradoxically as it may sound.

Working 12 hours a day leaves me at least 3-4 hours to myself (Riding my scooter from work to my home takes about 10 minutes – Consider this as a great alternative to create more spare time).

It’s more than enough to get two posts done a week, spend time with my family, catch up on news, exercise and read. The chores themselves take up 3-6 hours every weekend which I usually try to get over with when the weekend starts.

The financial comparison is pretty much straightforward and tilts the balance in the direction of performing our chores ourselves. The monthly expense required to outsource all our chores (a couple) is surely greater than $500, an under estimation I believe (without the cost of eating out).

  • Ironing – $2 per business shirt and $3.5 per pants – At least $60-$80 a month and frees up 10 hours a month.

  • Laundry – $0.75 per pound – At least $100-$150 a month and frees up 15 hours a month.

  • Cleaning - $20 an hour – At least $300-$350 a month and frees up 15 hours a month.

  • Eating out – A whole different game – anywhere from $500-$1,000 a month and frees up 25 hours a month.
The average cost of each spare hour is approximately $20 an hour.


End up shopping in your spare time?

There is another element to the comparison which is I believe is rarely considered. What do people do with so much spare time? My answer (and that of the western civilization as a whole): Shopping! Spare time? Let’s go to the mall, go to the movies, drive somewhere or just sit and watch TV. We need new ______ (choose: furniture, clothes, gadgets, games, etc… ). Spare time incurs more costs.

We’re not only paying to get more spare time but we spend more during our spare time. I truly believe our spare time is overvalued.

I also believe very few people really plan out their spare time rather than wasting it away idling somewhere. The main motivator behind outsourcing chores is probably laziness. It is important to note that I believe having a big family, with two kids and more, changes the basic premises. The time required to properly tend to several children is obviously much greater and changes considerations.

Still, I would carefully consider and balance everything before I go outsourcing my chores.

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Images by: Jana Christy

15 comments:

Capital Couples Finance said...

I think your last point is the key. What do we do in our spare time? Try to fill it up. How do we fill it up? By spending money. Love it!

Greener Pastures said...

I agree with capital couples, I love that line! Since I've gotten married, we try to do all of the chores ourselves. When I lived alone I paid someone to clean my house. I'd have spent all my free time doing chores, otherwise, and still not have completed them! I think it depends on the circumstances. I stumbled. Lisa

Dorian Wales said...

Thank you for commenting (and stumbling!).

We're still holding on but I suppose it might change as well.

Naturally, I agree circumstances may dictate otherwise.

Funny about Money said...

Hmm... When I work for clients on a contract basis, I bill out my time at $40 to $60 an hour. So...would that make it worthwhile to pay a housekeeper $80 or $100 for the four-hour job of cleaning my house?

So far, I've thought not. However, as I age, I move slower and my enthusiasm for scrubbing floors and washing windows steadily wanes. The time may come when when I do think it's worth it. Other factors than just free time would then figure into the equation: waning strength to do very physical work (which cleaning most certainly is!), boredom with tedious jobs, less time in which to do things I'd much rather do.

Kelly from Almost Frugal said...

This post has been included in the 141st Festival of Frugality at Almost Frugal, going live September 2, 2008. Please link back to the festival when you get a chance!

Matt said...

I have to agree with the previous commenters if you're freeing your time up to do nothing then maybe you should just do your chores. Granted if you're working a 70 hour week some down time is nice but when its only a 40 hour week then you're not only being lazy but wasting your money.

I've been thinking about the whole shopping as a hobby phenomenon and the more I think about it we've conditioned ourselves to shop to spend our free time. When we were growing up we had hobbies and did activities but when we get older somehow we replace those with spending money (and then wonder why we're in debt).

Great post.

Beyond Paycheck to Paycheck said...

Love the post including the line about balance. No doubt, for some people there is no time (demanding jobs, large families) and the money is there to outsource certain tasks. For others, not so much. But for many, there's a middle ground. You CAN, for instance, hire a cleaning service to come once a month instead of weekly and handle the day-to-day cleaning yourself. Similarly, you can hire somebody to do a deep dive into your yard once or twice a season while keeping the weekly mowing to yourself.

Savings Toolbox said...

Your post seems to include rates of big city, professional rates for a lot of the services. Perhaps with the difficulty of making ends meet these days, a neighbor's mother or a friend of a friend may be happy for the extra income. You'll gain some more hours a week and instead of spending money, perhaps then is a good time to consider how to make extra money.

If all else fails...try the barter system!

Abby said...

My, my but you have some outraged folks on MSN Smart Spending! It's vaguely comical that people still can't remember that opinions are like... elbows.

Okay, here's the deal: For someone in my position, you're generally quite right about it not being worth the cost. My husband and I live on very limited income and have debt. I think anyone who has significant debt has no business paying for it unless it's a physical problem.

And in that vein, my husband has agreed to cook if I do the dishes. (We each loathe the other's chore.)That was our major expense.

But there are some parents out there who work ridiculous hours and see their family rarely. So, yeah, maybe they should make it a game since kids eat that stuff up. But I can kind of see prioritizing and deciding some time spent *not* forcing your children to do chores is worth the money.

Or one woman who only sees her husbands on the weekend because they work in separate states.

But you're absolutely right when you say that we tend to overestimate the value of our free time. Just as we overestimate quite a bit of our self-worth in this country. It's the same attitude that got this country into the subprime mess: We *deserve* a really big house, new car, etc.

x said...

sorry i can't agree.
I work 2 jobs and have a small company. As soon as the cleaning lady starts charging me 175 per hour I'll consider doing it my self. (70-80 hrs per week is enough). My wife only has one job, but even with her tiny wages it only costs a couple hours of her pay for a 4 hr job... similarly I have no desire to power wash the exterior when it can be done professionally for 500$. Since I have plenty in the pipe, i see no reason to delay those efforts by wasting time on lower yield tasks.

Abby said...

I liked this post a lot, so I went ahead and talked about it in a post on my blog: http://ipickuppennies.blogspot.com/2008/09/most-of-us-arent-worth-it.html


I really hope I did you justice. And I hope it sends a little extra traffic your way.

Dorian Wales said...

Thank you again for all your comments. A bit of clarification is in order.

Anyone familiar with my writing knows that my arguments are based on economic principles. I’m the last person to try and monetize everything and I’m actually speaking against it.
In my post I claim many of us use the excuse of the monetary value of their working hours to justify paying professionals to do their chores while usually corrupting away the spare time created.
I couldn’t agree more with the concept of prioritizing and the arguments made by the commentators to this post are actually in accordance with my argument. Spending time with your children or with your spouse should obviously have a higher economic value which most certainly justifies outsourcing our chores. I was merely trying to offer my readers a refreshing way of thinking about their spending habits. I most certainly believe most people have the time available to do their chores and choose to outsource them as this is a common practice these days. I personally don’t know many people who work 70-80 hour work weeks….
The last sentence in my post was “It is important to note that I believe having a big family, with two kids and more, changes the basic premises. The time required to properly tend to several children is obviously much greater and changes considerations”.
Maybe I should have been a bit clearer on the subject. I do apologize if I offended anyone. It was never my intention. It did get my writings a mention on MSN money ….

Marcia said...

Very interesting post. I have thought a lot about this. Many of my friends outsource their chores, and fill up their weekends going to the beach, eating out, and shopping.

We have always tended to fill our weekends with cleaning, laundry, and household maintenance...with some sports and things tossed in.

Then we had a baby...who became a 2-year old. With two jobs and a kid, I finally decided to bite the bullet and outsource cleaning (I still cook almost all our meals, maybe we eat out once per week, tops). It is AMAZING. $15 an hour, 5 hours every two weeks. It would take us much longer to do the same type of job - probably 3 hours for the both of us, on a Saturday morning. And my house is finally CLEAN. All at the same time!

I'd rather spend those three hours at the park with my kid.

Lise said...

An interesting take on this; truly worthy of an editor's pick.

In the past I've argued for outsourcing things that are "not worth your time," but this post makes good points about how this is based on the assumption that we are uber-productive in the time we gain by outsourcing. Most of us aren't. Heck, I'm not.

I maintain that if money weren't a concern, though, I'd eat out every night, just because I don't enjoy cooking and a high-quality restaurant meal is a real joy to me.

Anonymous said...

I do all my chores myself, even though I value my free time highly. The way I show I value my free time highly is in that I don't work long hours, I don't carry a cell phone (which would mean that my free time would be interupted by phone calls), I chose a job with great vacation time, I don't waste time with activities of little value like TV (although I guess I do waste time online), etc.