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There are times in a man’s (woman’s) life when he has to set aside his pride, put down the tools a realize that he needs to hire a professional. I am not at that point just yet, but with all of the home projects we are taking on, it got me wondering if it would have been better to hire a professional to do that work vs. doing it myself. It really comes down to how much I value my time outside of work. So, I sat down and tried to think of a good formula for gauging how much my time was worth.
The Magic Formula
Here is what I came up with to decide how much my time is worth:
Hourly Wage/Hourly pay I would freelance for x Hourly Wage/Professional labor Cost x $18 + 1/64 – depreciation/net worth x 5 baseball cards + gas money/pizza + picture of me with a mullet from second grade = Time Value
After scribbling down the formula, I realized that it was a bit too complicated to really come up with a workable number, so I just decided to ask myself the question “How much would I pay someone to do a project so I can hang out with my family/friends/dog/strangers?” I’ve realized that number is actually lower than what I make at work, which is interesting to me. I also found that if I am able to do that project with my wife and kid around, the number is pretty much $0. If I can do the labor and hang out with my family at the same time, it’s a no-brainer to me.
Other than what I believe my time to be worth, there are a few other considerations when deciding whether or not to hire a professional:
- Do you have the skills to complete the task? If you can’t find the dipstick in your car engine compartment, I would not recommend “saving money” by swapping out the head gasket in your car. You don’t have the skills required to complete the task, and will most likely end up costing yourself much more money in the long run. I do recommend educating yourself online through how-to videos and forums, but I would not tackle an advanced project without knowing and practicing the basics first. Maybe you should start with “how to check the oil in my car.”
- Do you have the tools? Let’s keep running with the above example; Maybe you know how to remove the intake and exhaust sides of your motor, pull off the valve cover and remove the head of your engine, scrape off the old gasket, send the block and head in to get lathed and to re-assemble the engine with a new gasket, but you don’t have the tools required to do the job. At that point, it’s simple math to figure out if it’s worth it to get the tools. Call around, get a few quotes, and then hop online to put together a list of tools you will need to do the job. If it costs more to get the tools, then maybe you should take your car to a shop instead and save some cash. The other option is to look around and see if the new tools can be used for something else. That could make them more valuable and give yourself a greater return in the long run. Maybe those tools will enable you to complete more projects and save labor costs for years down the road.
- Can I be using this time to make money elsewhere? More and more these days, people are building side hustle empires by working outside of their full-time jobs on their start-up company, website or part-time employment. I recommend using the hourly rate you would earn working these jobs to gauge whether to pay the cost of labor for your project or repair. If you can earn $30 an hour working on your side hustle, you might not want to pay $80 an hour for labor to do work that you can do yourself. On the other hand, if it would take you five times as long to complete the task than if you hired professional help, you are now losing out.
- Is it in the Budget? You knew I would bring it back to this, didn’t you? If you cannot complete the task yourself and have started looking into professional help, the be-all, end-all decider will be your budget. If this is an emergency, do you have an emergency fund in place to pay for the task? If it’s a project that you want to complete, did you set aside money in your savings bucket to pay for it? If you don’t have the money, you can’t hire someone to do it for you. Professionals don’t work for IOU’s, they want money. And if you don’t have the money, they won’t do your task for you. As much as I would have loved to hire someone to build this stupid patio that’s taking forever, we just don’t have the money.
The Times That I Have Hired a Professional
Here’s a short list of the times that I have hired a professional, and the reasons for it:
Buying a home: We hired an awesome real estate agent, Robby Leviton (best agent in northwest Washington state, I highly recommend him if you are in the area!), to help us find and negotiate for our house. He took care of every little detail, negotiated in terms that saved us over $10,000 and was instrumental in helping teach us about home buying. I can’t say enough about how important it is to find a great agent to help you buy a home. I recommend getting a professional whenever you make a purchase of this size. (Ok, so we didn’t “hire” him and pay him money, the seller did. So this one is a no-brainer!)
Repairing my transmission: Well, I was one of those guys who figured out how to change my oil, so I thought, heck, why not replace the motor? My father-in-law had a shop and all the tools, so I printed out step-by-step instructions on “engine removal/installation”. I did in about 2 weeks, but messed up the transmission in the process. Cost me about $600 to fix. I can do most anything on a car, but messing with automatic transmissions is not one of them.
Water Leak in the ceiling: Water damage is something I want to avoid at all costs. I don’t know why they build homes without installing waterproof drywall
The Times That I Did It Myself
Here’s a short list of the times that I busted out my man card and took on projects myself:
Building a Fence: 7 dude, 2 days, lots of pizza and beer. Click the link to read all about it.
Building a Patio/Pergola: The never ending project. We bought used bricks, discounted lumber and paved a 14′ x 18′ brick patio ourselves. The pergola should be done this week.
Replacing our Hot Water Heater: This was one of those issues that I was sure I needed a professional to take care of. But about 5 minutes on the Google machine left me with enough know-how to tackle this myself. You can read the whole story by clicking through.
So, When Should You Hire a Professional?
As you can see, it’s really fact dependent on your situation. There is no magic formula to estimate your time value and you should evaluate each situation separately as they come up. I set my criteria (would I pay someone else? can I hang out with family while doing it?) and go through the 4 questions above every time we approach a project. So far, it’s worked out pretty well, except the time I bent the flex plate in my transmission by forcing it into the motor when it shouldn’t have fit. Lesson: if it doesn’t fit, don’t ratchet it in with a 6″ bolt.
Comments: So, what are your criteria? What is your time value? Have you ever hired a professional when you could have done something yourself for much cheaper? Or have you done something yourself, screwed it up six times and ended up hiring someone to not only do that task you were trying to complete, but also repair the damage? Also, anyone up for a picnic?