Paying for Services When There’s a Free Alternative

Sites around the web, including this one, are always pushing free or DIY alternatives to lots of things.  And, in most cases, I think that they (and I) am right.  There are so many things that we pay other people to do that we can just as easily do ourselves.  Just about a year and a half ago, I built my own deck.  It wasn’t necessarily easy, and it certainly wasn’t quicker than hiring someone to do it for me, but boy did it save me some money.

I truly believe that there is little that you and I cannot do ourselves.  With a quick search on Youtube for the DIY project, and a few quick web searches, we can have some pretty detailed instructions on how to do anything.  Well, OK.  Probably not something like brain surgery.  There’s probably a bit more of a skill/knowledge gap there. But, certainly, most everything else.

Occasionally, I find a service that I decide I’d rather outsource to someone else.  Oil Changes are an excellent example.  Can I change my own oil?  Absolutely.  But, for $30, I get someone else to do it for me.  I don’t have to mess around with getting the filter loose, disposing of the waste oil, and I certainly don’t have to crawl around under the car doing it.  For me, it’s well worth the $20 or so difference to have someone else do it.  That’s more of a choice of convenience. Meaning, for me, that it is just more convenient to have someone else do it and save me the time and effort.

There are, however, some services that have less to do with convenience, and more to do with some other factors.

Paying for Services when there are Free AlternativesSaving Time

In the case of my DIY deck, I could have saved a whole lot of time by having someone else do it for me.  For a professional with a crew of a couple of guys, it probably would have only taken 3-4 days.  Maybe less.  It took me several weeks.  Obviously, it saved me a lot of money to do it myself, but if I had been crunched for time, it would have made a lot of sense to factor the time it would save into my choice.  I had the time, so it wasn’t that big of a deal.  (note: I say that now.  At the end of the project, I was seriously wondering why I did it myself)  The choice to have someone else change my oil isn’t weighted so heavily on saving time, but that is a factor.  I can have someone else do the work, and all I have to do is drop the car off.


I think this is one that many people discount too often.  In many of those cases, people choose to do something themselves strictly to save themselves some money and then fail at it.  In my case, I’ve tried, for many years, to control my weight.  I used to be an athlete, so I’ve always thought that I had the tools to lose the weight myself.  I’d start by finding some calorie counter that was free and start tracking calories.  But, what inevitably happens is that I forget to count for a day or two and then it stretches to a couple of weeks.  If I had lost any weight, it goes right back on.  Sometimes, paying for a service that has free or DIY alternatives can be motivational.  You’re paying for it, so you better get the most out of it.  I recently joined Weight Watchers Online and that factor has helped a lot.  There are other factors, but you better believe that the fact that I’m paying for the service is playing into it as well and keeping me working at it.


How could I write this post without adding this factor.  There are just some things that you hate to do.  For one reason or another, you just hate doing them.  To you, not doing that task is worth the money to have someone else do.  Maybe it’s mowing the lawn.  Maybe it’s changing the oil in your car.  Maybe it’s losing weight.  Wait, maybe not that one.  But, how cool would that be! For me, I tend to avoid major electrical work.  There’s just something about the possibility of electrocuting myself that I don’t like…  Another would be doing anything very high off the ground.  Can’t do it.


As much as I (and you), would like to think that there isn’t anything outside of our realm of possibility, we always seem to find something that we just aren’t capable of doing.  While I truly believe that you can learn to do many of the things that you think are impossible, I recognize that sometimes there are things that are physically impossible.  It doesn’t happen very often, but it does happen.

Saving money by doing things ourselves is a good trait to have.  It helps us keep our budgets from overrunning. It keeps us learning new things.  It gives us a sense of self worth by developing new skills and knowledge.  But, sometimes, there are other factors at work and we make the choice to have someone else do the work for us.  Maybe the cost difference isn’t worth the time you’d put into it.  Maybe the extra time you’d spend on it isn’t worth the savings.  Or, maybe you need some monetary motivation.  Whatever it is, we develop our own factors that go into the decision, and make a choice over whether to do something ourselves, or to hire someone to do it for us.

What are your factors in deciding whether you DIY or not?

What Christmas Expectations Are You Setting for Your Children?

What are your children’s expectations for Christmas presents?  Do they expect many Christmas presents under the tree and their every wish to be met?  Do they expect a modest Christmas?

Believe it or not, the answer to this question doesn’t really depend on your kids; it depends on you.  From the time your children are small, you set their expectations, and what you set by example is what they come to know as “normal” (until they get married and find that their partner has a different “normal” than they do, but that is another post).

If you have small children, think carefully about what expectations you want to give your children.  Yes, retailers would prefer that you shop ’til you drop and give your credit card a work out, but it doesn’t have to be that way.  Here are what some people do who have chosen to have a different Christmas celebration than retailers would prefer you have:

1.  Give some new gifts, some used, and some homemade.

Amy Dacyczyn, the original Frugal Zealot and author of The Tightwad Gazette had six children to buy for.  Each child got one new gift.  Then, they got a few gifts that were used items that she had purchased at garage sales and thrift stores.  She also made her children a few gifts.  If I remember correctly, she spent $50 or under for each child.  (Of course, this was 20 years ago, so accounting for inflation, she spent no more than $82 for each child in 2012 dollars.

While you might balk at the idea of giving garage sale gifts for presents, I can tell you that I followed Dacyczyn’s practices when I had my own kids, and some of our kids’ presents are nice finds that we got at garage sales.  My oldest is 8, and he has yet to complain about it because it is what he expects.  He still does get new presents, but there are used ones in the mix.  (I like the term recycled better, though.)

2.  Give a charitable donation instead of gifts.

Ann Voskamp, the blogger behind A Holy Experience, recounts that one Christmas Eve 10 years ago, her son asked her, “Why don’t we give up things so we can give to Jesus for his birthday?”  The question radically changed Voskamp’s way of thinking, and from that year on, her family has foregone giving Christmas gifts to one another.  Instead, each day during Advent they make a charitable donation using the money they would have spent on gifts.

This is a radical idea, to be sure, but it is the norm now for her family.

3.  Only give 3 gifts.

Another idea based in Christian roots is to only give your children three gifts.  Some do this because the Wise Men brought Jesus 3 gifts.  Others take a spin on this and give their children three gifts–something they want, something they need, and something they can experience.

4.  Meet needs as gifts.

Gifts don’t have to be all luxuries and things you want.  When I was growing up, my parents’ money was extremely tight.  I got some new clothes during the back to school season, but my winter clothes and sometimes even my uniform clothing or new backpack were all given as Christmas presents.  I was always excited to get these things and never felt deprived.  My mom told me a few years ago that she had to give gifts this way because money was so tight, but I never knew.  This practice was normal for me.

Christmas gift giving was not always the extravaganza it is now.  As an adult, I reread the Little House in the Prairie books, and I was struck by how happy Laura was to get her very own handmade tin cup and an orange for Christmas one year.

If you are a parent of small children, you can start your Christmas gift giving traditions now, and they don’t have to involve credit card debt you can’t pay off until March or April.

What is your favorite way to give gifts at Christmas?

img credit: South Granville Live on Flickr

Spend Less with this Unique Money Advice

To save money, people usually get the ball rolling by creating budgets. It’s true that a budget is an indispensable part of being fiscally responsible, but it’s generally not enough. To spend less and save a lot more, it’s important to implement as many money-saving techniques into day-to-day life as possible. The good news is that those techniques are typically quite simple. A selection of especially unique tips for saving cash is highlighted below.

Unique Ways to Save Money

  • Pay Bills Online – Between online bank accounts and bill pay services, there’s no reason to mail a check again. Many major companies accept payments through their websites. That’s especially true about credit card companies. Even if a company doesn’t accept online payments through its website, most banks offer online bill paying services that can be used to sidestep the problem. Postage isn’t necessarily expensive, but it can add up over time. It’s also easier to pay bills on time through the Internet because the check doesn’t have to arrive in the mail.
  • Get Rid of the Land Line – It’s wasteful to pay for a cell phone and a land line. The majority of people have cell phones and smartphones these days, and most of them can do without traditional land lines. Even if a monthly land line bill is low, it’s still money that can be set aside for something else.
  • Spend Less on Kitty Litter

    img credit: deborahdegolyer on Flickr

    Stop Using Kitty Litter – Pet lovers can save huge amounts of money by potty training their cats. It sounds silly, but this trend is rapidly growing in popularity, and it’s a legitimate way to spend less on pet expenses. There are even products out there that make it easy to teach cats how to use regular toilets. The average cost to supply litter to one cat for one year is $100, so it’s possible to save a lot of cash by putting this tip to use.

  • Be Strict about Grocery Shopping – In addition to creating a strict grocery list and sticking to it, shoppers should give themselves specific time limits as well. When the clock is ticking, a shopper is less likely to dawdle around and be tempted to make random purchases. One good option is to set an alarm on a cell phone and to be in line by the time it rings. We go grocery shopping directly after Church while our oldest child is in Sunday school.  It gives us exactly 45 minutes to get all the shopping done and get back to pick him up.
  • Paint the Roof – Buying a new roof is a major expense, but painting one isn’t so costly. By painting a roof white, it’s possible to slash energy bills. Air conditioning results in extremely high electricity bills. White paint deflects the rays of the sun, which keeps a home much cooler. In turn, summer energy bills tend to be a lot lower.
  • Periodically Shop for New Vehicle Insurance – Instead of assuming that their vehicle insurance rates are fine, people should get into the habit of shopping around regularly for vehicle insurance. Rates often drop, but auto insurance companies don’t always pass those savings on to their customers voluntarily. It only takes a few minutes to get free online quotes for car insurance.
  • Turn Trash into Treasure – Garage sales are fine, but it’s possible to make even more money on used items by selling them online. Posting items for sale on auction sites like eBay is easy. They are exposed to a much larger audience, so it’s often possible to rake in a surprising amount of money. In some cases, this can even turn into a nice way to earn extra money on the side.
  • Get Discount Haircuts and Dental Work – While they are in training, fledgling dentists and hair stylists often provide their services for free or for drastically reduced prices. This is an excellent way to spend less on cleanings, haircuts and many other services.

To stay motivated about these unique money-saving tips, keep a running list of the amount that is saved every month. Then put that money towards your debt snowball, or split it between debt and a vacation fund! Most people are pleasantly surprised by how much less they spend after implementing just a few of these simple, offbeat techniques. Over the course of a year, these unusual tips can produce some truly incredible savings.